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Nicholas Sparks
Join author Nicholas Sparks and create a story for USA WEEKEND. / Nina Subin Photography
Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in "The Lucky One" ...: A Marine travels to North Carolina after serving three tours in Iraq and searches for the unknown woman he believes was his good luck charm during the war. This film stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling,

Join author Nicholas Sparks and create a story for USA WEEKEND.

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Visit http://firstsentences.usaweekend.com to participate. Plus, register to win a signed copy of Sparks’ latest book.

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Nicholas Sparks has sold about 52 million copies of his books, so he knows something about how to write a compelling tale. Hollywood agrees: Seven of his novels have been made into movies. The latest love story, The Lucky One, stars Zac Efron and is due in theaters April 20. Looking to crack Sparks’ best-selling code? “There’s no magic answer,” he cautions. That said, the author has some guidelines on how to weave an authentic love story:

First, determine your characters’ ages. “Age informs dilemma. If you’re going to write a novel about everlasting love, the characters can’t be teenagers,” Sparks says.

Ask questions. A protagonist without an obstacle doesn’t turn pages. Sparks drums up dilemmas by asking “what if?”

Decide on the answers. Sparks says he needs to answer essential questions before he starts writing: “I have to know the age of the characters, I’ve got to know how they meet. I have to know the conflict that’s keeping them apart and what brings them together. Finally, I have to know how it ends,” he says. And for this author, there are only three possible endings: “happy, sad or bittersweet.”

Hit the right tone. “You don’t want to be cliché or melodramatic, and you want it to evoke genuine emotion, and that’s tough,” Sparks says.

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