Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Narrative Traction - Part 1: What Is Narrative Traction?

Welcome to my new, six-part writing series: Narrative Traction.

What Is Narrative Traction?

Narrative traction, as defined by CS Pacat, is the promise that something more interesting will happen if you keep reading.

We are often told in writing classes that tension and stakes are what keep a reader turning pages, yet I think we have all read scenes, or even entire books, that are not overly tense, but are still riveting reading. After all, thrillers are not the bestselling fiction genre, romance is. Romance, of course, often has a lot of tension of the will they, won't they variety. But sweet romance sells just as well as the high stakes ones. So, we can not ONLY credit success with tension and stakes.

There is a thing Pacat calls 'the sparkly' that needs to be explored before we can look deeper at narrative traction. It's something I rarely hear other writers talking about, as I think it is something we have been taught to be ashamed of, despite the fact it is one of the most obvious and powerful driving forces of book sales. That's right, we're all being told to be ashamed of what sells books. (Though I think romance is the genre where the least shame is felt about 'the sparkly' and maybe that's why it is the bestselling fiction genre.)

We all have stupid tropes, architypes and clich├ęs we love. Meg, my co-author, loves twins and unique magic systems. I love dinosaurs, girls dressing as boys and a certain character trope—cold, intelligent, unobtrusive characters with glasses. Maybe you love 'enemies to lovers'. Maybe you love grizzled, middle-aged detectives. Whatever it is, if you pick up a book and the blurb mentions that trope, you will probably at least consider buying it.

This is 'the sparkly' and every person has their own sparkly.

It is very important to first, identify the sparkly that appeal to you as a reader and then to identify the sparkly in your book as a writer. These are the things you need to highlight in your pitch to an editor/agent and that your publisher needs to then highlight in a good blurb. Because, as I have said, they are the ideas and tropes that make you, as a reader, want to buy a book.

Sparkly that some people love can put other people off, but that's not a bad thing. If someone dislikes dystopia, you don't WANT them to read your dystopian novel. They're not going to enjoy it, they're not going to recommend it to other people and if they write you a review, it will be along the lines of: "I hate dystopia novels."

I'm telling you about sparkly, because they are an important part of identifying the promise you are making the reader, when you tell them something better will happen if they keep reading.

Think about a book recommendation from a friend. They will likely highlight a few key themes: genre, maybe a character or setting element they love, then they will tell you it's awesome. They are promising you you will enjoy it if you read it. They are giving you something to look forward to.

Or, maybe you pick up a book, read the back cover and it mentions your favourite sparkly—ninjas girls riding dragons. You want to read the book, because you are anticipating ninja girls riding dragons.

However, you can also do this in the text itself. At the start of Harry Potter, when the Dursley's won't let Harry open his mail with his invite to Hogwarts, we anticipate that eventually he will get his letter and go to Hogwarts. We are looking forward to that, we want to see what Hogwarts is like and learn about wizard school, so we keep reading, eager for that to happen. Harry going to Hogwarts is a promise that Rowling has made us in the text and we want to see that promise fulfilled.

When you start to examine best sellers, you will see this pattern repeated. A promise is made that readers want to see come to pass. Not just one, but hundreds. Even before a promise is fulfilled, a new promise is made, so by the time you get the satisfaction of Harry reaching Hogwarts, you are already focused on the next promise, and the next, until you're at the end of the book and you're desperate for the next one, because the book ended with even more promises.

So, pick up your favourite book and identify the first element that interested you and make you want to keep reading. Write a list of all the other promises that are made before that one is fulfilled. I'm guessing there will be at least one, otherwise, you would probably have put the book down as soon as you got what you wanted.

To master narrative traction, you must be able to answer the question: Why am I reading this? What do I want to know?

Once you have identified it in other's writing, you will be better able to apply it in your own.

Come back next week for part two of narrative traction: Types Of Narrative Traction.

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1. What Is Narrative Traction
2. Types Of Narrative Traction
3. Infomational Narrative Traction
4. Event Based Narrative Traction
5. How To Create Narrative Traction
6. Troubleshooting, Plotting & Identifying

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Confidence: Selling Yourself

Last week I addressed what I think is the biggest cause of insecurity in writers: a lack of knowledge. This week, I am going to talk about marketing yourself, when you feel like you don't deserve people's attention.

Again, this is an area where I am talking about a problem I don't really have. So while I strongly advise you at least try my methods, take this blog post with a grain of salt.

It can be very hard to promote yourself and your writing. I am super confident when it comes to talking about myself, but I am not the sort of person who pushes sales or hounds people to read my work. However, I am happy to talk about it and I do love it when people read my work. That is, after all, the goal. A lot of people seem to really struggle with this though. They feel if they talk about their own work, they are being narcissistic and will risk boring people. However so much of being an author these days is about promoting yourself. There is a lot of competition in the market and you're crazy if you just leave discoverability to chance. So without further ado:

Promote Yourself As If You Are Your Favourite Author.

How many times have you encouraged friends to read a book you love? Hopefully a lot, since word of mouth is the most powerful success tool for books. If you want your favourite author to keep writing, recommend them to people, so they can quit their day job and write for you full time.

Remember the passion and excitement you expressed? You're not sharing a book you love for selfish reasons, you're sharing it because you are hoping it will bring your friend the same joy it brought you. You are recommending it, because you think they will like it.

And how awesome is it when a friend recommends a book to you and it's AMAZING? And you love it. And you recommend it to everyone else?

When you are promoting your book, I want you to pretend you are promoting a book by someone else. It's an author you love, a story you love. And if you use the same sort of language in promoting your own book as you do promoting other people's books, you'll have more success.

How do you usually recommend a book to someone? Usually with one or two lines that summarise the key appeal (or key sparkly, but more on that in another blog post). I'll give you some examples of me pitching novels I love to my friends:

'Three words. Gay slave prince. Its trashy, and angsty and fantastic. Its every guilty pleasure you ever wanted in one super gay fantasy trilogy.' (Captive Prince – C.S Pacat)

'It's grimdark, subversive, really intelligent political fantasy and one of the characters is a disabled asshole and I love him.' (The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie)

'It's world war one, but the Germans have mecha and the British have genetically modified animals and there is a girl dressed as a boy who runs away to join the air force and it is everything I ever wanted.' (Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

How would you describe your book in one to two enthusiastic sentences? What are the key elements that would appeal to readers? Work it out, memorise it, and next time someone asks what you book is about, that's all you need to say. Pitch your book as you would your favourite book. Even pretend it was written by someone else if that helps. It will make a difference.

Be Aware Of What You Are Offering.

Obviously if you are going to pitch your story to people the same way you would your favourite book, you must be aware of what you are offering. If you have no idea, go back to stuff you love and write down why you love it. Just the basic, simple things. It's entertaining, you like the characters, you're hooked on the romance—whatever it is. Be honest. You don't have to be ashamed of what you like. You don't have to like things for high-brow reasons.

Now, it's more than likely, you write similar things to what you like. You're going to have similar elements in your books to the elements you love in other books. This is where you might get caught up thinking 'but I don't do it as well as my favourite author'.

If you ask 10 people what their favourite book is, you'll probably get ten different answers. If you ask ten people who their favourite character is, you'll get ten different answers. Opinions vary. A lot of my friends do not like one of my favourite authors. They find him elitist and inaccessible. And boring. They prefer my style of writing to his. He is inarguably richer and more famous, but if they had to choose between one of my books and one of his, mine would win every time. But I IDOLISE this guy. I think preferring my books over his is crazy. I think he writes like he was touched by God.

You can't really compare your tastes to everyone else's tastes. There are people out there who think your favourite author is crap dusted on a crap sandwich. So don't think just because you think you are terrible when comparing yourself to your idols, that everyone else does too.

It's egotistical to think your opinion on what is good and what is bad is more valid than everyone else's. Tell people what you love about your writing and then let them make up their own minds. Some people will like it and some people won't, just like they do with your favourite author. Which brings me to:

Love What You Have Written.

A friend of mine was looking for people to review his work on amazon. I said sure, and to toss me a copy. He didn't. I messaged him, a little confused, to ask why not. You can never have enough reviews, after all. Had he reached a quota? No. He confessed he didn't want me to read his book because he 'cared about my opinion'.

I was baffled. Completely stunned. I would PAY to have people I respect read my books. Nothing in the world would make me happier than having someone I respect ask for a copy of one of my books. I would deliver it to them on a unicorn with banners and a marching band.

Why? Because I love my books. I am proud of my books. What I want, more than money and fame and a harem of gorgeous polymaths is for people to read my books. Want to impress me? Want to get on my good side? Want me to ADORE you? Read my books. Tell other people to read my books. Talk to me about my books.

I don't want to be an asshole, but why would you spend hundreds of hours writing and editing a manuscript if you didn't want anyone to read it? Isn't that a huge waste of time? Or do you just want stupid, boring people to read it and praise you? It's good enough for the people you don't give a shit about, but not the ones you respect? That sounds pretty dicky to me.

Don't let anyone tell you you're not allowed to be proud of the things you create. Imagine if someone said: "Oh, you're proud of your daughter? I don't think you should be. She's not that great."

Would you let someone talk to you like that about your child? About your partner? About your parents? I wouldn't. I'd punch someone in the fucking mouth if they said that to me. Try me. Tell me I shouldn't be proud of my friends. I will fight you.

Your creative work is the same. You are the same. You are allowed to be proud of yourself and your creations. Just like you are your children. You created them too.

No more bullshit. I am giving you all permission to be proud and talk about your books with enthusiasm. Be excited to share them.

And if you still can't bring yourself to do it, be excited to share mine. They're awesome.

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