What I learned from Harlan Coben

What I learned from Harlan Coben

Break the rules!

You may already know Harlan Coben as the internationally renowned best-selling author of more than 36 novels published in 46 languages with many of them adapted into movies and television mini-series. He has won the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – and was the first writer in more than a decade to write fiction for the New York Times op-ed page.

Harlan Coben’s credentials are worth mentioning because most writers who are selling advice on creative writing and how to write a thriller are seeking supplementary income because they haven’t sold enough books. Harlan Coben does not need the money!

However, like many other best-selling writers of crime fiction, he is generous with his time and support for other writers and wants to share the joy of his success to encourage the rest of us to keep on striving to get better and to offer his advice on how to get there. His BBC Maestro series on Writing Thrillers is worth the $60.00 for Coben’s version of the rules and when to break them.

I recently watched all twenty-three of his short videos (10 – 20 minutes each) and l have a few nuggets to share with you. The series covers all the essentials, in Coben’s personal style, including, Being a Writer, Inspiration, Preparation, Desperation and Perspiration, Procrastination (i.e. research), Plot Twists, Suspense and Secrets, Reframing Writer’s Block, Audience, and more.

Writers will appreciate the insights, and readers and fans of Harlan Coben and other writers will get a brief tour of the master chef’s kitchen and learn what’s on the menu for a thriller and how the meal is prepared.

My summary of notable highlights:

  • Harlan’s goal: “Pretty modest. I want to change your life!” “There’s nothing bad about being a best-selling writer.”
  • Being a writer: Base your creative fiction on your own true-life life stories.
  • Observe everything and analyze – why, who, what. Get creative, write it down. Fight for the time to keep on writing.
  • Know your target market and zero-in on a typical reader give them more of what they love.
  • Ignore the advice to focus on the all-important opening lines. Yes, it gets the reader to start turning pages, but you have to keep them turning pages until the end.
  • And more importantly, it’s a satisfying end that will get them to look for your next book.
  • Plot twists and surprises should be creative and pushed to the limits – but they need to be believable. The truth may not be believable, but the fiction has to be.
  • Readers will fall in love with the characters, never with the plot. They’ll forgive flaws in both if the story is intriguing and the writing is good.
  • Raise questions with every scene. Answer the early questions early, but raise more questions and continue to more shocking plot twists.

Harlan Coben is a very engaging personality and has a unique perspective on what has worked for him to deliver so many best-selling thrillers. His enthusiasm and generosity are an inspiration and my next thriller in the Dale Hunter Series will definitely be better.

Thank you Harlan Coben!

Enjoy your reading and writing.



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