So I’m walking into the house with my shopping, and the neighbour says, Hi, and I say Hey, how’s it going, and the neighbour says, Well, Nick is swimming now, he loves it, he was terrified of the water at first but he’s taken to it like a fish... The question is, do I care? No? Why not? And, what would it take to make me care?
A story is like your kid. You brought it into the world, you helped it grow, everything about it is fascinating to you. But why should anyone else care? Obviously they care about their own kids, if they have any. But they also care about some kids they’re not related to, so why not yours?
Taking a step back, what would it take for you to be interested in the activities of your neighbour’s kid?
Relevant – if their kid is of a similar age, into similar things, maybe goes to the same school as your kid, then that makes Johnny Next-door more interesting. So, a story that revolves around something you’re already into will catches your ear. Niche interests provide a hook, but the audience size may not be very big.
It’s also worth bearing in mind if something is a bit of a fad, that can catch your interest too. If the neighbour mentions she’s just bought an iPad, and you’ve been hearing a lot about this iPad thingy, you might be curious to hear more about it. However, if you’ve been hearing nothing but iPad this, iPad that for months you may have the opposite reaction. When it comes to fads (even iFads) timing is everything.
Impressive – if the neighbour’s kid is a bit of a genius, if he’s a musical prodigy or a newsworthy savant that might also hook your attention. Stories about remarkable people or events (or both) are usually worth hearing.
Surprising – if the kid is doing something you’d never expect, if he’s formed his own political party and entered the upcoming election, you might want to hear more. Unexpected, odd, surprising events get noticed.
Peril – danger, whether it violence, or illness or stupidity, gets on the news and will hold a person’s interest. Until you find out the level of peril is being exaggerated (turns out he had the flu), and then it’s just annoying. A story where the stakes are high enough to be life-threatening immediately draws interest.
Emotional Connection – if you know the neighbour’s kid, if you like him, if you feel for him (having to live with those people!). If you sympathise or just like the protagonist, that can pull you in.
Funny – a funny story s always a crowd pleaser. Although, what you think is wonderfully cute or amusing about your kid, might not get the reaction you hoped for. Comical stories are great when they work, but not everyone’s going to get the joke.
Overheard – the thing that is always interesting is what you aren’t supposed to know. If the neighbour doesn’t realise you can hear and is talking about something personal, embarrassing, secretive or criminal, that can keep you with your ear up against a wall all night.
And also bear in mind the things your neighbour tells you that are never interesting. The factual, mundane, background information; the going off on tangents; the story with no point to it; the list of people you’ve never heard of...
Do you have a strong idea of why anyone would care what happens to the characters in your story? Any more ideas to add to the list?
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