How Bestselling Authors Perform Literary Kung Fu



One of the great secrets of best-selling authors is global action, movement, forward motion, dynamic energy that drives the narrative.

Active writing is intense, immediate, visceral. It’s literary kung fu. 

The polar opposite is passive writing identified by a plot populated by unmotivated characters puttering through drama-less scenes. Passive narrative is slow – mind numbingly slow. As you might imagine, these kinds of stories, at best, serve as barely readable narratives that teach us how not to write gripping novels. At worst, young eager writers slap a story together, throw on a generic cover image, give it a title like “Best Darn Novel You’ve Ever Read!!! – EVER” and upload it to internet book selling site. 

Active writing separates bad writing from good, and paired with a few techniques, easily transforms good writing into great. 

Here are a few markers of active narratives

  • High-stakes plot where really bad things will happen
  • Highly motivated characters
  • A hero or protagonist that actively works against the villain
  • An active villain who clock constantly thwarts the hero
  • Minor or secondary characters who help or hurt the hero
  • A series of scenes with escalating tension of immediate threats and imminent danger
  • Dialogue that is snappy short quick and ping-pong’s between characters
  • Characters who are engaged, who are constantly doing something to achieve their goals
  • Descriptions that are active rather than passive. For example, a flag is whipping in the wind versus a flag but it’s stationary. Even descriptions can be active. 
  • Sentences driven by strong vivid verbs
  • Active rather than passive tense. My favorite way to identify passive sentences is to see if you can add “by zombies” to the end of the sentence. If so, the sentence is passive.

Active narrative is a literary stimulant, a fictional “upper”. Bestselling novels embrace constant, pervasive movement in all story elements.

How can you spike your story with literary kung fu? 


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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