Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dogs Are Magnets

Not for everyone, of course. But pups in particular magnetize many of us the way any body of water summons Labrador retrievers to plunge right in. For fiction readers, too, certain possibilities magnetize. Most prominent of these is name recognition. Until you’re famous yourself, you can’t do much about that one. Not to worry. You can choose among plenty of other magnets.

~ Concept.
The actual definition is simply an idea. But screenwriting has elevated Concept much the way it elevates everything else. The concept is A Big Idea. BIG! Not a skirmish—a world war; not a failed romance—a love or death dilemma, not just intriguing— but ensnaring. Concepts differ across genres. The Concept might involve a new way to think about baseball (Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding) or art (Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch), or genetics (Richard Powers’s The Gold-Bug Variations).  But whatever the genre, the idea must feel BIG.

~ Scenario.

Whether or not you liked Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the scenario’s unbeatable. Murder. Secret sects. The Holy Grail. Sex. The Louvre. This doesn’t mean you should ever write something only because it might sell. Who wants a write for the market? After all, by the time you finish your Vampire Trilogy, space might be the new thing. However, if your heart lies with parent/child relationships, it helps to have the integrity that The Memory Keeper’s Daughter offers. Where’s the gold in your own scenario? Seek it, and you’ll strengthen not only your novel’s premise and marketability, but the novel itself.

~ Darkness laced with levity.

For whatever reason, many people adore that forbidden underbelly in the venues of tabloid, gangster movie, True Crime, and memoir about victims defeating catastrophe. If you’re willing to plunge into those murky waters, do it. Probe the dark secrets of whatever you’re writing about. The intrigue of nightmare, childhood memory, and buried fantasy resides in those depths. But! Unmitigated darkness reeks of gloom. How to balance it? Irony, wit, humor.

~ Triumph against all odds.

People love heroes. Also underdogs and people who help themselves.  Probably most of all, people love the athlete who wins despite disability; the insecure guy who lands the huge contract, or the singer who emerges from the woodwork to become an international phenomenon. Leave your protagonist room for an arc. But never start with a protagonist arc that’s under the cellar.

~ Truly sexy sex.

Unsexy sex bombards us. Nakedness rather than nudity, crudeness rather than innuendo. What about that flash of Ginger Roger’s ankle beneath her long, twirling chiffon dress? Or Matthew McConaughey’s half-open white shirt? Hints generally seduce better than blatant exposure.

~ Dogs.

As a last resort, you could always add some sort of puppy. At least for this reader. Works every time.

Tip: Write the book you want to! But if you want readers, magnetize them.

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