Good People writer Marcus Sakey on writing

Good People writer Marcus Sakey on writing

If you haven't already heard of Marcus Sakey, then you probably have heard of the upcoming summer movie called Good People starring the man with endless degrees James Franco and blondie Kate Hudson. Marcus Sakey wrote Good People as well as a number of other books, one of which is part of a trilogy pushing off with Brilliance, a speculative fiction novel questioning what would happen if 1% of the American population were born gifted and the other 99% (normals) found them to be a threat instead of a blessing. The book definitely lives up to Lee Child's blurb on its cover, "The kind of story you've never read before."


He came to one of my classes this week after us having read his book, to talk writing and how he made it big. Here's what you can learn from the brilliant writer.

General Advice

  • Be tactical and know what you want when it comes to your writing.
  • Educate yourself in the genre that you want to write in.
  • You have to write in a way that works for you because not every method works for everyone.
  • No matter how you write, you need to learn the three act structure. Learn how the beats work.
  • Write your book first then put it away for about a month. Then, grab a pot of coffee and read it in one sitting. You'll be exhausted but you'll be able to see your books' overall arch.
  • Redline your work like crazy, be brutal.
  • After you've finished your novel, send it out for some people (yes, people who love and hate you) to read and really soak in what they say. If they all say the scene on page 36 doesn't work, it means you're wrong not them. Fix it and don't argue with them.
  • If you're looking for an agent or publisher, look through the acknowledgements of your favorite books to find one. And only when your book is polished and gleaming do you write them a query.
  • Treat your query like a dating profile. Seriously, because it's about seduction. Simply write about your book in 3-5 sentences, teasing and hinting at the story and basically saying that you'd be an interesting person to grab a drink with. (I haven't tested this method yet but it may work to land you a book deal and a boy toy...I'll keep you posted).
  • Send your query letter out to at least ten agents that you aren't particularly crazy about first. If they say , "No," there is something wrong with your query letter because when it's right, 75% of them will say that they want to see the book.
  • When you are writing a book and are motivating yourself, treat it like a job. Create a schedule for it if possible or set a goal (like 2,000 words a day). Sakey used to get up at 9AM and try to write. He basically stared at his screen until lunchtime, badgering himself about how terrible all his ideas were and really sulking in self-loathing. It wasn't until after lunch that the writing flowed in. He realized that maybe he should just start after lunch instead of at 9AM.
  • If you miss a day or don't meet your goal, be hard on yourself. You have to be.
  • If you want to write, write with your heart and soul.
  • If you're serious about writing, get into serious writing groups and find a story-telling partner and go meet people!
  • Read everything in every genre.
  • Read good stuff and bad stuff, well-known stuff and not so known.
  • Try this exercise if you're in a rut: Take a book you love and break it apart scene by scene and figure out why it works because you'll realize that it was all intentional. You'll never be able to read the book again, of course, but it really helps.

Specifics about Sakey's Ideas & Process

  • When Sakey is searching for a story to write, he often takes all his folders of story ideas and interesting magazine clippings and spreads them out and picks from there. The idea for Brilliance came to him from an article about savants and suddenly a question emerged, "What if these savants didn't have a downside and what if there were many of them?"
  • The fun thing about writing speculative fiction is that you can play and mess around with it. Creating your own world is fun and where you make the rules.
  • One of Sakey's favorite part(s) in Brilliance was putting in ads (Sakey worked in advertisement and marketing for ten years before writing novels) every few chapters to solidify the kind of world his characters lived in.
  • Before getting into a story full force, Sakey plots his main points as an outline.
  •  In a larger frame, Brilliance is about how a large group treats a minority.
  • "Advertisement is a job that eats its young." ( a mama hamster?!)
  • Sakey sent his advance back to his original publisher and withdrew from them because he didn't think they shared the same vision (how bold is that?!).
  • Launched his book with Amazon Publishing (Thomas & Mercer) and had great success with them because they were so flexible, he even got to decide what he wanted on the cover and who would design it.
  • Big pet peeve: When people say, "That's not how we do things."
  •  Plot and ideas come to him before characters do.
  • "Don't create a character who isn't at the end of his rope." (The best advice I have every heard about creating characters because it's true, no one wants to read about a happy character with a better life than you.)
  • Finds plot on its own to be boring because there is no one to stay committed to. (He uses the show 24 as an example.)
  • Considers himself to be more of a craftsmen then a writer because he genuinely wanted to create something beautiful.
  • Sakey was fired on the day that he was about to quit his advertising job and so he fought a lot harder to write his book because he had to have a job.
  • Sakey did quite a bit of research for some of his books. Like Richard Price, he went on car rides with police officers and visited crime scenes with them. When he originally was searching for some help he called a station and asked, "Hi, I'm a writer and I was curious, what happens if a body is found in a river?" (No, surprisingly enough, he didn't have cops at his doorstep immediately asking what he had in that rolled up rug beside his bed).
  • Sakey thinks that cops are the funniest people and that you should definitely ride with them if you get the chance.
  • Most of Sakey's books have been optioned to become movies.
  • Oh, and Will Smith will likely play the lead in Brilliance. You know, no biggie.

Quick Bits & Recommendations

Favorite Book: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Recommended Reading: Save the Cat

Recommended Author: Joe Konrath

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