Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Key to Writing a Wildly Popular Novel

My sweet four-year-old daughter
desperately wants this for her birthday

This post will be short because I’ve been running around all day trying to find the perfect birthday present for my youngest daughter.  She wants this Monster High doll named Toralei Stripe (werecat), and apparently it’s sold out everywhere except on e-bay or amazon where they are asking $77 to $100 for this toy that is normally $20.  I love my daughter, but I just can’t pay that much, so please if anyone finds this toy for a decent price, let me know.   I really want to make my little brown eyes’ birthday wish come true. 

Anyway my adventure of trying to hunt down this doll, along with Trisha’s recent post, has gotten me thinking about how these toys, movies, books become so wildly popular.    I know it is the million dollar question, the secret formula that everyone would like to know, and here I am giving it away for free on the internet.    

So here’s my quick and dirty theory.

Concept-Something new and different, but still the same.

I can see why Monster dolls are so popular.  The concept is rather clever.  They are the children of the classic monsters like Draculaura (daughter of Dracula), Frankie Stein (daughter of Frankenstien’s monster),  Clawdeen Wolf (daughter of the wolfman), Ghoulia Yelps (daughter of zombies), Deuce Gorgon (son of Medussa), and even my favorite monster The Phantom of Opera  has a daughter, Operetta.  These monsters are put in a modern high school setting with clever word play like fearleaders instead of cheerleaders and creepateria instead of cafeteria.  The whole thing is pretty fun.

But honestly these dolls aren’t that far from the classic Barbie dolls.  These monster teens are all very beautiful and thin.  They all dress in stylin outfits with way too short skirts and way too high heels.  There are a lot of similarities to those Barbies I played with as a child and that are still on toy store shelves today.  So the Monster High dolls do have a unique concept (monsters in high school), but still shares many of the features as those classic toys that have successfully sold for years (Barbie dolls).  A little bit different, and a little bit the same.

Novel example:  Hunger Games.  Collins took the classic concept of Roman gladiators and twisted it by having them be children in a futuristic society. Also the strong romantic subplot and love triangle had already proven very successful in the YA market.

Theme-Needs to resonate with the readers

I believe that every story, no matter how shallow and inane it may seem, has a theme.  Some themes are complex and amazing and make us ponder them for days.  Some are very obvious and even trivial, but still every story has a theme. 

These Monster High toys are more than just dolls.  There is a much larger design behind them that is adding to their appeal.   My daughters love the Monster High website which has character bios, short videos, and games. I think there is a cartoon series on TV (not sure because we don't have cable), and I've even seen Monster High novels. From what I've seen, there seems to be a theme running through the whole thing about being inclusive and being okay with what makes you different.   Individualism is a theme that resonates with most Americans.  I think this adds to the dolls’ appeal.

These dolls do come in every skin, hair, and eye color imaginable, but all them are pretty, very thin, and hip which kind of detracts from that theme.  A little bit of conformity is going on there too.  So I guess the overall take home message is be yourself, but make sure you are pretty, thin, and stylish in the process.  I think that is as much depth as we can expect from these types of toys.

Novel example:  Harry Potter:  the themes of friendship and sacrifice resonate with most readers which I think contributes to its appeal.

Love-you gotta love it or no one else will

I’m a big believer in writing or creating what you are most excited about.  That passion slips into the text, and the readers can feel it as they read, almost like magic.

I really think the creators of the Monster High dolls had a lot of fun creating these dolls. If they didn't, it sure looks like they did. The way they worked monster elements into the characters' personalities and story lines is clever and funny, and I know I would've fun coming up with them.  But the creators didn’t slop through this.  They put thought and energy into the dolls creation and story lines, and it really shows.  I think this is one of the main reasons why these dolls are doing so well.  My girls definitely have been influenced by it.

Novel example:  Twilight-There is no doubt that Stephenie Meyers loved her story and her characters.  You can almost feel it on the pages.  I think that passion she had while writing it has played a huge role in why Twilight is so popular.  Write what you love and that love will shine through.

Those are my thoughts on how to write a novel that will shoot to the top of the best seller list.  I’m not going to ask for any portion of your sales when you hit it big using my amazing advice.  Just send me an autograph copy of your best seller and we’ll call it even.  J

Happy writing,



  1. Wow--I've never heard of these (my kids are older). But I can see their appeal. I kind of want one of those cat monster dolls myself.

    BTW, you did a great analysis of their appeal and success! Thanks.

    1. Thanks!

      The werecat really is cute. I can see why that particular doll is so popular. My sweet little four-year-old loves cats, so this really is the doll for her.

  2. I'll keep my eye out for it here in Colorado. When do you need it by, in the event I find one?

    1. Thanks Trisha, you're so sweet. I need it by next Friday, so I don't really have much time, thus the frantic searching.

  3. I like barbie better, but different generations like different toys. I guess everything just keeps evolving. It reminds me of a quote from college the more things change the more they stay the same.

  4. I saw the monster dolls at Walmart today, but they didn't have the cute girl/cat one. Great tips, MaryAnn. Good luck with the doll!

  5. Nope. :( But thanks everyone for trying. She picked out another monster high doll for her birthday and is very understanding about it. But I know she still wants Toralei with all her heart. Maybe they'll get some in stock before Christmas.


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