Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Selling Out?

So, in my last post about universal appeal, Riss asks, “If you're writing about a subject because it has universal appeal, rather than because you care about it, don't you run the risk of insincerity?” She then implies that it might be akin to selling out. I respond to that question with another question – “What’s your purpose in writing?”

If you’re writing just for your own personal enjoyment or enrichment, universal appeal is moot. But if you’re writing to entertain, to educate, to get a point across, or even to share your opinion with others, your reading audience will be quite small if what you write does not appeal to your readers at some level. In my opinion writing to “appeal” is not selling out, it’s simply writing about something that others care about or can connect with at an emotional level. The more people that care about or can emotionally connect with the subject, the more universal it becomes and the greater chance you have that more people will read it.

If you don’t care how many people read your story, then it doesn’t matter if your story appeals or not. But that’s just my opinion. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Appealing to the Reader

For a book to really succeed, it has to have universal appeal. This means readers from all walks of life need to be able to relate to your story at an emotional level. In other words, they need to care about your story. For children’s picture books, this applies to both little people (the listeners) and big people (the readers and buyers). It seems obvious, but it’s often an overlooked fact that if people don’t care about the subject matter of your story, they’re not going to want to read it.

A problem that many beginning writers have is that they’ll write stories that have significant meaning to themselves, their children, or family members, but outside of that small circle it’s just a nice story. The story has to have significant appeal to a very large circle of people that encompasses the country, and better yet the world. That doesn’t mean that it has to be a story of interest to everyone in the world, just a large cross-section or percentage.

However, a word of caution. Many of the subjects with the greatest universal appeal have been so overdone that they have become cliché. Unless you can present them in a very unique or fresh fashion, you should stay away from these subjects.

So as part your of writing efforts, you need to search for subjects that have universal appeal. For children’s books, you have to discover what kids care about.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does it cost to quote stuff?

In the course of writing a story, occasionally you might want to quote a line from a movie, a poem, or song. Maybe you want to mention the name of a restaurant, a book or something else. Or, maybe you're afraid to because you don't know if it's allowed or if it will cost you. Well, Rachelle Gardner, an agent at WordServe Literary, answers many of those questions in her blog post today called "Stuff You Pay For".

The blog post initially talks about whether an author has to pay to have an index put in a book, but then delves into other stuff that authors have to pay for and get permissions for. Some of the more detailed information is actually found in her comments, so don't skip the comments.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Let the Creative Juices Flow

Too often as writers we hole-up in our little writing nooks, hovering over our keyboards day in and day out, and seldom coming up for air-- all in an effort to be as productive as possible. Unfortunately, not only can this be unhealthy, but it can lead to un-productivity as well.

To keep our creative juices flowing at their peak, we need to get out once in awhile and explore this world we live in. Talk to people. Visit places. Interact with the world around us.

I spent part of last week visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. What a beautiful and inspiring place. Often when I visit places like this it stirs the imagination and creates inspiration for my stories.

What places have you visited that have been a great inspiration for setting or other aspects of your story? What gets your creative juices flowing at their best?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Name that Theme - Part 3

While I’m not a big fan of fiction that focuses more on teaching than on story, that doesn’t mean stories shouldn’t teach. In fact, the best stories are the ones that do the best job of teaching. I’ll explain what I mean.

The best stories often take protagonists through a series of events where they have to face their most terrifying fears, overcome their biggest weaknesses, endure their greatest challenges, live through the most devastating crises of their live, and so on. As a result, protagonists often must make a journey of self-discovery where they realize they need to make internal changes in order to come out on top. If these discoveries come by way of the natural turns that the story takes – and not through author intrusion or some obvious manipulation of the story to get a certain point across—then they can ring true for us and can lead us to discover things about ourselves.

These stories with unintended messages teach us best because they let us go on our own journey of self-discovery, where we uncover our own pearls of knowledge. These might be stories that create such intrigue that even after we’ve closed the book we can’t stop thinking about what we read, pondering and wondering about its hidden meanings. It could be that certain characters, events or the whole story simply resonate with us, triggering thoughts, ideas and emotions that go beyond the pages of the book.

What do you think of this? Does any of it ring true for you? Does teaching, learning, or lack of it affect your enjoyment of a book?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Name that Theme - Part 2

Yesterday, Lois commented on my blog that “themes emerge in all types of writing” and that “stories that don't try and shove the theme down your throat are much more enjoyable.” I agree completely with these comments. In fact, I had already planned on talking about this aspect of theme or preachy-ness in today’s post.

A few years ago, another author asked me if I ever felt that something I had written had become too preachy? In answer, I indicated that it might have been the case in some of my earlier writing, but now if I find something that sounds preachy, I try to get rid of it. The problem with setting out to preach a message or make a point in our writing is that all of us carry with us a certain set of ideals, standards, or morals that we live buy. In most cases I believe that those ideals and standards will seep into our writing subconsciously without us trying. I don't think that's a problem, as long as we're aware of that and we make sure to temper it and not let it take over the story, but instead keep it in the background.

However, when we set out to create a story with the goal of preaching an ideal, making a specific point or addressing a theme, that message usually comes across so strong that it not only alienates the reader, but squashes any chance of resulting in a story that the typical reader will enjoy and want to read.

So, as I said in my original post, you have to focus first on the story, but that doesn’t mean stories shouldn’t teach. In fact, in my next post I’ll discuss how the best stories do teach us.