Dean Koontz is the literary equivalent of “The Beatles,” “a modern-day Swift,” and “Literary Juggler.” There is no denying that Dean Koontz has the skill necessary to write a suspenseful thriller with heart.
This is how to write like Dean Koontz:
You can write like Dean Koontz by writing in long stretches, skipping outlining, hiring a researcher, fussing over revisions, including humor, and coming up with oddball characters. You can also copy Dean Koontz’s poetic writing style and follow his bestselling book formula.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about writing like Dean Koontz.
12 Dean Koontz Writing Tips for Beginners
Koontz is that uncommon author who is both a master storyteller and an accomplished writer. His books have believable characters who leap off the page with pacing that left you gasping for air.
But to label him merely a writer is like comparing Beethoven to a guitarist.
A literary master, linguist, or sultan of suspense could be a more fair description.
Despite the fact that I don’t like everything he’s written (surprise), he has always been my favorite writer. His sentences are masterpieces. They shift. They rotate. They waltz.
Here are 12 helpful suggestions for writing like Dean Koontz.
1) Write Like a Marathoner
Koontz disclosed that he frequently works 70-hour weeks in a radio interview for his book Ashley Bell.
Yes, it means he frequently writes for lengths of 10 to 12 hours while wearing adult diapers and being fed sandwiches by his golden retrievers.
A best-selling author must carry out their obligations.
I made that up, of course. Sandwiches are for ordinary people. Koontz is a literary god.
Key takeaway: Write for extended periods of time. Write like you’re in a marathon.
2) Discard Your Story Plan
Koontz creates the narrative as he goes along. Page after page, like a reader, he learns the story.
Although I like to outline before I start writing, plotting as you go seems more natural, and it seems to work pretty dang well for Koontz.
He does not begin with a totally blank canvas.
His approach, which is briefly described below, begins with an intriguing concept that he investigates through an assortment of fascinating, frequently odd individuals.
Key takeaway: Write with a clear premise but without a clear story plan.
3) Hire a Researcher
In order to conduct research for his books, Koontz uses an assistant.
The majority of his works are written on an old computer that, until a few years ago, wasn’t even linked to the Internet, and he staunchly shuns Internet research.
He simply concentrates on the story and the writing.
Key takeaway: Avoid distractions and outsource as much as you can.
4) Write Fast and Edit Slow
Be aware that Koontz (typically) works very – VERY – slowly.
Each page is written numerous times by him. Yes, each page individually. That can sometimes entail 20, 30, or even 40+ revisions. Per page.
As a result, Koontz can (according to his own admission) truly polish the language, focusing on the finer points of the plot while still figuring out the bigger, interwoven plotlines.
He responds to the growing story in real-time.
He acts as the editorial antagonist as well as the creative catalyst. As a result, his stories seem both organic (natural) and focused (tightly plotted).
Key takeaway: Write fast and edit each page 20 times.
5) Never Glorify Evil
Fans of Koontz immediately discover that he never romanticizes evil.
All of his characters are well-developed, yet the antagonist is never a likable figure meant to inspire admiration.
This seems to be a guiding principle in his writing because it appears in most, if not all, of his works.
Key takeaway: Don’t glorify or glamorize evil in your story.
6) Strategically Use Humor
I’ll be open about this: I was delightfully surprised and amused by Koontz’s sense of humor. He makes me laugh so hard.
You can listen to his podcasts on deankoontz.com to uncover his childlike sense of fun.
His books frequently have sequences with witty dialogue, characters interacting in funny ways, and characters saying amusing things.
His book’s darker, more scary passages, elevate in terror in contrast with his comedy.
Key takeaway: Use humor to contrast the darker, grittier parts of your story.
7) Come Up With Odd Characters
Millions of readers have been captivated by Koontz’s characters.
Here are the keys to great characters (according to Koontz):
- Every character gets a compelling backstory
- Every character has a peculiarity
- Every character gets a great name (like Odd Thomas!) and an obsession
- Every character struggles with imperfections to make them more human
- Every good character possesses valiant qualities
- Every major character has something or someone to cherish (and to love them back)
- Every character faces a challenge
- Every character is passionately motivated
What aspect of Koontz’s character is most crucial? Allowing them to experience “free will” within the narrative.
Key takeaway: Design oddball characters with quirks, flaws, goals, and conflicts
8) Fall in Love With Language
One of Koontz’s works was once read by a poet who noticed that certain sections were totally written in iambic pentameter.
Koontz asserts that most readers aren’t aware of the underlying structure of his highly stylized words.
However, Koontz argues that it is this structure, that gives his writing a sense of “flow.”
Koontz is in love with language. And the ramifications of that love are felt by the reader.
Key takeaway: Infuse your sentences with a passion for language, style, and words.
9) Clone the Koontz Bestseller Map
Based on my lifetime reading of his work, here is how to write a bestseller like Koontz:
- Begin with a captivating premise.
- Think of the most interesting lead character (consider quirks, obsessions, magical powers, contrast, etc).
- Give the character a mysterious (violent? ) past.
- Keep asking, “What’s the story about?” This is how you find your theme and subtext.
- You can also learn the theme by studying the character.
- Think of a number of related ideas and themes that intertwine.
- Start writing and let the characters guide you page by page to the conclusion. This is the “free will” method of writing.
- Make ruthless edits to every page until it is “perfect.”
Key Takeaway: Start with an exciting premise and then allow compelling characters to thoroughly explore it.
10) Create a Grabby Hook
Koontz advises new authors to capture readers’ attention on the opening page of their works.
He has numerous goals for the first page (and chapter) of his own novels, including the following:
- Attract interest
- Declare who the primary character is
- Describe the story’s tempo, genre, and tone
- Add a touch of reality
Key takeaway: Create a first chapter that thoroughly introduces readers to this specific story.
11) Adopt His Bestseller Model
After researching literary greats and bestsellers, Koontz identified this secret story structure:
- The main character has just gone through or is going to experience a crisis.
- While trying to tackle the problems, the main character just makes them worse.
- The protagonist battles a number of steadily deteriorating problems, many of which result from his or her own errors of judgment and bad choices.
- The difficulties stem from the interaction between the protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses.
- The worst of the circumstances come into play.
- The conflict has a significant impact on and transforms the protagonist.
- The protagonist discovers fresh information about himself or the outside world that aids in crisis resolution.
- The protagonist frequently is a proactive catalyst for the resolution of story problems.
Key takeaway: Follow the bestseller model
12) Fall Away Into the Story
Here is a great quote by Koontz:
“Your commitment has to be to the story and to our beautiful language, not to the publisher or even the reader. You want to please the reader, of course, because if you don’t, that’s the end of your career. But what’s so strange is that the harder you try to please the reader, the less you’re likely to do so. The more you forget about the reader, about the marketplace, and the more you fall away into the story, letting characters and narrative events sweep you along, the more that readers will like it. They sense your giddy enthusiasm and find it infectious.”
- You should focus on the story and language, not on pleasing the reader.
- Trying too hard to please readers can actually have the opposite effect.
- You should be enthusiastic about your story, and let readers pick up on that enthusiasm.
Before you go, here is a good video of Dean Koontz giving advice on how to write like him:
Final Thoughts: How To Write Like Dean Koontz
Remember to find your own voice when emulating Dean Koontz’s style.
After all, Dean Koontz developed a very successful career as a writer by experimenting with his distinct and original writing style.
You want to be an original voice with a fresh story and cutting-edge perspective.