writing rengeek magpie mind

July 2014

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writing rengeek magpie mind

ten things I have learned from writing popular fiction

  1. Most people do not read. They skim, and make assumptions. This tendency, however, can be manipulated.
  2. It helps if you honestly like to blow stuff up. Or at least write about blowing stuff up.
  3. All books are broken. Some are less broken than others. Some are broken in ways that a particular set of readers do not mind in the least. If you can find out the group of people who do not mind the ways in which your books are broken, you have identified your target audience. Unfortunately, this fact does not excuse you from actually learning to write.
  4. Can't please nobody if you try to please everybody.
  5. In terms of the market, the quality of your voice is often more important than what you have to say, unless what you have to say is really interesting.
  6. What you have to say matters, anyway.
  7. If you make it too accessible, people will assume it's not artistic. If you make it too artistic, people will assume it's not accessible. Go ahead and blow something up if it makes you feel better.
  8. Despite the number of people who will write in to tell you that they never read the sex scenes, sex does, in fact, sell. It does however mean that if you put the major plot revelations in sex scenes, a certain percentage of your audience will not notice them. [8(a).] don't put the crux of the plot in the middle of the homoerotic kissing scene you've been building to for three books: nobody will notice. Even the ones who aren't skimming.
  9. Be honest. Not all readers can tell when you're phoning it in, but a significant fraction can, and they will despise you for it. And while it might in fact make rejection and critical dismissal hurt less when you can tell yourself that it wasn't your best effort, it's still cheating.
  10. There is always somebody better paid, more acclaimed, or whose books will make you turn green with jealousy. It is the nature of the universe. Carry on.

 

Comments

I'd really love to learn more about 1)
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can explain it.

"Beach books" actually rely heavily on this tendency, of the reader to fill in the story around the framework that the writer provides. It's clever because it's not very much work for either writer or reader; there is no revelation, only the fulfilled expectation.

Which is satisfying to a reader who likes that particular story-framework, because he can plug in the details he likes best.

Something like a caper movie makes use of this--it allows the viewer's assumptions to function as part of the misdirection, while some sleight of hand is going on under the table.

The thing is, some readers only want a particular species of novel, or they want a book to be other than it sets out to be, so they will judge it against the book in their heads rather than on its own merits.

If I want a tuna sandwich and you give me egg salad, it doesn't matter how good the egg salad is. I didn't get my fucking tuna, and I am gonna be pissed.

OTOH, if you can convince me I really wanted egg salad in the first place, and just didn't realize it....

..congratulations; you have subverted the genre.
More on this please, the reader filling in what she likes?

And yay for 3 and 4 -- free cards?

*g* I've posted on that before. If you rummage through the writing craft wank entries, you will likely find something.

This is a post about reader reaction, not techniques.
The way I've been thinking about it is this. Among the many reasons people read, there are vindication of expectations and surprise. When you read a strictly formulaic genre story, if you're enjoying it, you're getting the pleasure of having your expectations vindicated in genre-specific pleasing ways. Probably there are surprises in the book too, because nothing good in writing is all one thing. But the balance is the other way.
But in formulaic genre there's also the opportunity to turn the expected conventions sideways or upside down and then there's a different pleasure -- not just surprise, also something else I'm not thinking of right now.
In genres which are -- I think I'll say "mature" in the sense that a forest can be mature -- you can find almost zen-like shortcuts in some stories, pointing to the expectations the reader has brought to the story Yhe only example I can think of at the moment is the current rash of singularity stories, where almost nobody who writes them now bothers to explain or describe singularity at length. The readers can be expected to bring their own sense of what it is to the story, and even though that sense will vary a certain amount, the story will survive all those variations.

If you ask for a tuna salad sandwich, and when you go to eat it you discover that it has some interesting new pickle in it, and the bread is different from what you're used to, if it's very good, you're less likely to be pissed. Unless you're very unadventurous about sandwiches, of course.
you. are smart.