Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Reader/Writer Contract

Here, the only signing is an autograph or credit card. There’s no lawyerly language, and the contract’s easily broken. Readers just donate unread novels to the local library.

Who wants to write an unwanted novel? Or even start one? Fortunately, readers come in as many varieties as writers hoping to reach them. Here’s your part of the contract: the better you identify your potential audience, and the more you satisfy their appetites, then the happier everyone involved will be.

So what’s in this contract?

~ Opening hook.

Get their attention. Don’t wait. What’s the hurry? Keep those library donations in mind.

What happens in the first moments of a book? For William Gibson, author of The Peripheral, a kind of invitation is extended—when  readers will or won’t feel what he calls “the click.” But this transcends connecting with an audience. Gibson adds that “the first sentences invite the writer, too: they contain a blueprint for the book that will be written.” – “The First Sentence Is a Handshake,” by Joe Fassler (The Atlantic)

~ Accessibility

Mark Twain observed that “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” Why does this make us laugh? Because we may admire Wuthering Heights, but it’s not necessarily what we’re rereading. Gripping novels blend suspense and emotion with depth and insight. One without the other is like all protein or all dessert. Who wants that?

~ Context

Wait a second. Where are we? If you can’t tell in the first pages if you’re in Venice, California or Italy; whether it’s right now or fifty years ago; and fantasy or satire, you’ll likely replace this ambiguous novel with one you can follow.

~ Improbable probability

If we can’t believe that this could happen, we won’t care. Nor will we care if it’s obvious on page one who will end up with whom, how the sleuth will solve the mystery, or what gives the protagonist that happy ending. As Don Maass has observed, no reader wants an obvious plot device. No reader wants an unearned ending, either. 

~ Inconsistent consistency

Characters won’t seem credible unless all their traits fit together as a whole. But unless they occasionally surprise us, they’re neither believable nor fun.

~ Room to breathe

Novels that “tell” everything—even almost everything—suffocate. They’re as much fun as consistent consistency or probable probability. You can do better. Your readers deserve better.

Tip: Use the opening to promise readers what they can’t live without. Then deliver it.

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