Thursday 22 September 2011

A staggering work of no importance whatsoever


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?


If you found this post useful please consider retweeting. Cheers.


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

The only thing I would add to this list would be sexual stimulation. Now hear me out before you go off and "judge". There are people in this world that prefer their pornography in written form than say pictures or movies. This kind of stimulation generally takes the form of erotica. And it is a legitimate way of writing just as any other kind of fiction.

Anyway...I agree with your list here. I think people would read my book because it's interesting. But it's possible that I could be biased.

Margo Berendsen said...

I sure wish more people could inject a few story-telling tricks into their daily conversation. Even the old "you'll never guess what happened!" helps a little.

I think the two critical things for a good story are emotional connection plus any of the other ones you mentioned :)

Claudia Zurc said...

Love your analogy of other people's kids, LOL ;)
Very good! But you're right, if characters are not well-developed or the story for that matter, I have no interest in continue reading.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

What an excellent post! I am going through your list and deciding that for me it's an emotional connection. If I don't have an emotional connection it's pure torture to hear about other people's kids, but if I do then I want the whole story.

Anonymous said...

Great post and nice analogies. People do need to care what happens to characters. The can form an affinity with the MC, or a love-hate relationship with the bad guy. But they have to care, especially when the bad guy gets his recompense at the end.

Samantha said...

Wow I definitely never thought of it that way, but I will so keep that in mind so I can avoid the dull stuff. Thanks mood!

Writing Through College

Cheryl said...

It's definitely the emotional connection for me. I have to like the character, or loathe them. Either will keep me reading (the latter because I want to see them get their comeuppance).

The others are all valid reasons, but without the emotional connection, I don't care enough.

Good analogy to people's kids though. :)

Nicole Pyles said...

Love that idea! Competition would also be another reason! :) but , people would be interested because of peril I would say. You brought up great points!

Sophia said...

Love the anecdotal explanation about good story-telling. Also the creation of the word 'iFads'. I'll definitely use this list to test out any ideas to gauge the level of interest.

Crystal said...

You said it all! I think the most important for me on your list would be an emotional connection and also relatability - if I can relate to what the character is going through, I will usually want to keep reading.

Christa Desir said...

I am writing a book where people will be interested in the characters bc they are such a hot mess, you can't turn away. Sort of like a car crash.

mooderino said...

@Michael - I'd agree, but not just sexual stimulation, any kind, emotions, curiosity, appetite (those cook books fly off the shelf).

@Margo - usually they don't have to, politeness keeps you rooted to the spot, eyes galzing over.

@Claudia - don't get the holiday snaps so much any more, but everyone loves talking about their kids!

@Karen - I would say emotional connection alone can still be not enough. Your sister's kids may mean a lot to you, but still, shut up already.

@Stephen - I agree, there's a difference between an intellectual response to a story climax. and an emotional one.

mooderino said...

@samantha - my pleasure.

@Cheryl - even though I didn't really think of it when writing, i think you're right, the emotional component has to be there.

@Nicole - yes, competition is always engaging, trickier to get it down on paper than other media though.

@Sophia - I wonder if someone has already come up with iFad. i would imagine so.

@Crystal - I think a lot of people want relatable characters, but I think there's room for despicable characters who are just audacious.

@Christa - I wonder if people like those sorts of stories because they expect a rise from the ashes? the worse it gets the more you want them to succeed.

Cheers for all the comments.

Ben said...

I like it, you make a good statement with this.

nutschell said...

I love this list you've posted. Definitely a must keep for characterization. I for one, need at least two of these traits before I fall in love with a character I'm reading about.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

This is a great post! I am bookmarking this for future reference. :)

Heath Lowrance said...

A great post! Worthy of re-reading. Nice one, Mood.

Halli Gomez said...

What a great way of thinking about characters. Thanks for the insight.

And of course the tip that i shouldn't bore my neighbors with stories of my kids :)

mooderino said...

@Ben - cheers.

@nutschell - i think an emotional connectin needs to be one of those (even if the emotion is hate).

@Madeline - glad to be of help.

@Heath - cheers.

@Halli - oh, if only my neighbour read my blog...

thanks for all the great comments.

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