The First Rule of Write Club

From Writer Unboxed:

Fight Club, the book and the movie, comes at you like a right hook. In my experience, you love it or you hate it. But unless you’re tragically hipster or a Gen Z nihilist, the last thing you are is ambivalent.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post.

Welcome to the Suck.

I’ve been in the publishing industry for nearly 25 years. It’s always been the Wild West. Lately, though, it’s been looking less like a Western and more like a post-apocalyptic dystopia. We went from High Noon to The Hunger Games in six seconds flat.

In this landscape, your story is either a Sherman tank, or a ghost.

“One size fits all” fits no one.

I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve talked to who say their story “could appeal to everyone… anyone from age ten to seventy, any race, any gender, any walk of life!”

No, it really, really doesn’t.

Because nothing appeals to everyone.

Hell, I know people who don’t like pizza, and if that’s not proof there is no universally appealing thing on earth, I don’t know what is.

More importantly, appealing to everyone should never be your goal when it comes to writing, especially now.

“Universally appealing” generally means average, safe, standard.

That’s DMV beige. That’s unseasoned boiled chicken breast.

That’s ghost territory.

Turning it up to eleven.

It started with the rise of the internet, when a plethora of images, information, and interaction were suddenly, literally at your fingertips. Ironically, in a time where we have the largest buffet of brain candy in the world, people are starving for all the choices.

(If you’ve ever spent an hour perusing Netflix titles while choosing nothing, you know what I mean.)

As a result, it takes something truly vibrant, amplified, and dare I say polarizing to connect with the right readers… the ones who will not only love your work, but spread it like an underground rebellion through their various whisper networks.

In this environment, “meh” is the enemy. Ideally, you want people to either love it or hate it, but by God, they have strong feelings either way.

That’s what we’re looking for. Strong feelings.

But how do you do that?

  • Start with the right project. Impact has to be baked in at inception. Start by identifying three main elements: personal passion, reader experience… and, quite frankly, a hook that could bring in a marlin.What are you genuinely thrilled to write? What will readers in that genre adore about it? And in the intersection of those two, what will surprise them, compelling them to find out more about it?
  • Amplify. You’re then going to turn up the volume on these elements. Ultimately, you want to write things that make you grin and rub your hands together gleefully. Even if it initially feels self-indulgent, a darling that’s going to be slaughtered later, toss it in.

    Repeat with reader experience. Think about what draws readers to your genre. For example, in mystery, they love the puzzle, the challenge. They want the clues, the twists, the red herrings. They want to feel smart, but challenged. They want to know they could solve the murder – but still be pleasantly surprised at a fair, believable, yet unexpected finale.

    Add depth to your characters without “reinventing” the genre or sacrificing pacing. Play off their expectations, leading them to a lull of “oh this again” before belting them with a surprise.Look for universal fantasy elements, those primal emotional hooks that are irresistible, and incorporate them as often as possible. What are the core emotions for the story and the set pieces, and how can you make them shine? How can you look at each scene, and think about adding in things that will delight your readers?

    Finally, what are your (for lack of a better term) “viral moments”… the stuff that’s going to get people talking? Not in a general “I really liked this book” kind of way. In an “Oh my God, that scene, the one at the wedding? I couldn’t believe it!” kind of way. Specific scenes that make them strong-arm friends into reading the book because they’ve got to talk about it with somebody!
  • Distill. In a world that has the attention span of a goldfish with ADHD, you’ve got mere moments to make a strong impression. Once you’ve got all the delicious and deliberate material, you’re going to distill the experience down for the most impact. Streamline and reduce. Look at every element – characterization, plotting, pacing, dialogue, setting – for ways to tighten, strengthen, enhance. Story level and scene level. This is a diamond that you’re carving for drama, and polishing for emphasis.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed