Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing a Book That Will Interest Others

by Stephanie Morrill

I took a video last week of Connor, my 2 1/2 year old son, brushing his teeth. It's about 90 seconds long and follows him through his brushing and spitting, captures him pulling himself up on the counter so he can put his toothbrush away, and sliding over on his belly to borrow McKenna's Cinderella cup to rinse his mouth.

I love this video. It captures so much about his age, about our daily routine. I get teary at the part where he notices his toothpaste is still out and he pauses what he's doing to put it back in the drawer. It's something I imagine I'll cherish even more as the years pass, this snapshot of the efforts Connor once went to for something simple like brushing his teeth.




But I'm his mom. I know this video isn't something that interests anyone but me and my husband. It's so long, I think even the grandparents might find it a bit too tedious.

Our books can be like this too - interesting because it's personal to us - and it took me a very long time to figure that out.

If you're writing something in hopes of catching the eye of an editor, of getting published, you have to ask yourself, "Who will want to read this book and why?"

This can be a very difficult question for a writer to answer, especially when you're in the early stages of your writing journey. I finally found it worked best to think about the books I enjoyed and try to pinpoint what it was - good writing aside - that captured and held my interest. Here are a few random examples:

Memoirs of A Geisha: I liked how it exposed me to a completely different culture and lifestyle. Same goes for several other books on my shelf - Gossip Girl, The Poisonwood Bible, The Help, and The Passion of Mary-Margaret.

This Lullaby: The main character makes this book for me. I love how on the outside she's in-control and is the one who holds her household together. But on the inside she's a complete mess and so needy and tender.

Pride and Prejudice: Part of this was reputation because I knew Darcy and Elizabeth ended up together, yet I could not figure out how that was going to happen.

White Oleander: Not only did I love the main character - so sympathetic, so broken - but I found the peek inside group homes and the foster system fascinating.

(Sidenote: It's also interesting to do this with back cover copy when you're browsing a bookstore. What descriptions are enticing enough that you open the book up to read the first page? Which descriptions make it easy to put a book back on the shelf?)

One thing that I struggled with early on was many of my stories had autobiographical elements to them. I thought it made them extra interesting. And it did ... to me. But most readers don't care if a novel really happened. They care, above all, about reading an interesting story.

This isn't to say you should cut all the stuff in your book that really happened to you, or all the things your friend really did say, just that you should look beyond that when considering what will interest others.

What's a recent book you read and enjoyed? What about it held your interest?

What about the book you're writing? Would it be a story that interests others? Why?

28 comments:

  1. Hmm, that's good to think about, especially since what you don't want to do is *only* write what others want to hear. It's one of those balance things, I guess.

    As for a good book I read recently? "The Dragonfly Pool," by Eva Ibbotson. I guess maybe there are two main reasons why I enjoyed it; the characters, which were easy to relate to, and like your first example, it showed me about a different lifestyle.

    As for mine, well, mine's a mess right now :P It's not actually getting added to right now and I'm not sure which of the stuff I've written previously are actually part of this "draft"...yeah, basically, my book is non-existent at the moment. Yuck.

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    1. Amanda, it is indeed a tough balance. Because the story, obviously, must matter to you as well.

      And, ugh, I've SO been where you are with drafts. I know it can feel overwhelming, but it's normal. Stick with it!

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    2. From Amo Libros:
      I ADORE Dragonfly Pool!
      (Ok, just had to say that).
      Mrs. Morrill: That's normal? I'm SO relieved!

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  2. Very insightful! I'll definately use this in the future! XD
    But if you want the truth about the Japanese geisha culture I recommend reading Geisha, a Life (US) or Geisha of Gion (UK version). This is written by Mineko Iwasaki (the real geisha Arthur Golden used as a source for his novel). You will see a very different picture from the one told by Golden.
    She even sued him for defaming her character and breaching the protection of her anonymity. He clearly listed her in his acknowledgments and Iwasaki was met with backlash and even death threats by the geisha community because of its strict code of silence.
    Support the real story!!! :D

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    1. Though on the cover it says "a novel." As a reader if something says a novel on it, I have zero to little interest in if any of the characters are real. Some readers do, of course, but the majority of fiction readers care about a good story first.

      If I'm in the market for a good, true story then I'll head to the nonfiction shelves.

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    2. Yeah me too, it's only when a story is based on a REAL persons life an is then altered, purely to please others, annoys me :) The real version is perfectly fine the way it is and is much more insightful as to the 'culture'.

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  3. This was good...thanks for sharing your thoughts; I needed to hear it!
    I, too, have a tendency to write *very* auto-biographically. I have had to take a half step back & constantly re-evaluate my current WIP that it *is* not only interesting but engaging to the reader...& not just me, it's writer. ;)
    I'm *always* in the market for good, solid, "inspy" historical fiction. What makes it good for me is how real history is at the front & center of the plot, not on the back burner. Lynn Austin is a great author for that, as is Tamera Alexander. Ms. Alexander, in her latest two novels, uses her hometown of Nashville as both settings, both are set in 1866--post Civil War. You can tell it's her passion, her hometown, & studying the fascinating history of it after such a tumultuous time in history. In GOOD historical fiction that I can't put down {& normally finish in a week!}, the characters are not overshadowed by the history & plot.
    While I love these novels, I also love learning a lot *from* how the unique authors write them...how each author has a different mix of characters, plot & history. Not to mention their very unique styles in writing alone.

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    1. I adore historical fiction! I wish I wrote it, but so far my historical writer muse hasn't spoken to me :)

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    2. Your use of "inspy" makes me smile, Meg.

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  4. I recently read This Lullaby. While some of the elements kept me from 100% loving the story, Remy is incredible. It held my interest because, although she is so different from me, every now and then something stands out that I relate to. That's the mark of an interesting book to me: It shows me a different perspective on life, but at the same time, there are pieces I can relate to. That's what keeps me engaged in a story.

    I'm aiming for that in my current book. I'm hoping to write something interesting to more people than just me (and my parents, grandparents, etc. haha) while incorporating threads of things that resonate with me and people similar to me.

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    1. That's a really good way of putting it! I guess that's what I'm aiming for too :)

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  5. I think that my book will have interest because many Christian teens want fantasy without the whole "magic" thing, and it is also very similar to our lives; typical teenagers, every day school, and suddenly WHAM! Elements of fantasy! I love taking everyday people and throwing them into impossible situations.
    If I pick up a book from a shelf and read the back cover, a huge turn off is finding stuff I am absolutely not interested: 1) a romantic situation involving dating (typical YA stuff) 2) morals I disagree with 3) an uninteresting subject (I usually don't get interested by historical anything). I will likely pick any traditional fantasy over a YA fiction about a girl trying to get the popular guy to date her. YA definitely has an audience, but I've never felt called to it. I do enjoy Christian YA fiction occasionally, but "eh"...

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    1. From Amo Libros:
      I've found some decent YA fantasy out there. I stumbled into YA when I was around 11 or 12 with a bit of a sense of relief: It was easier to spot books with skewed morals by reading the back or the inside flap, and the stories were still compelling and the writing exciting.

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  6. Love your illustration with your kids. I have to remind myself of that with my dog, lol. People think one picture or video is cute but they don't care about EVERY trick I've taught :)
    I'm in the middle on the autobiographical stuff. There's a number of things that have happened to me that I want to put in mt writing but they are SO quirky that those around would know exactly who I was talking about and I'm too afraid of offending anyone. But then a plot to close to my heart once became too emotional to finish. Now charcters like me sprinkle themselves in there. I'm a pretty passive person and so my MC's tend to be and it makes it hard for me to come up with snappy dialogue or something a meaner character would say. Really having a character yell "you un nice girl." Isn't going to cut it in a published book.

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    1. My computer isn't letting me finish the comment. :p perfect example is the question I posted on the fb page last night, I was the girl that was araid to tell her mom she didnt like the clothes she bought me because I didn't want to upset her, yet I internally struggled with times I knew wearing the clothes could get me picked on. Seriously, this Christmas was the first time i told my mom I didn't like something I got! But I have cousins who squat like nobodies business and would never think of accepting something they didnt like,

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  7. I like to think my book doesn't have a problem. I think it would be interesting to other people as well as myself because I'm not the only one in the world who likes a good teen adventure story. I just have to make sure I'm not overloading the narration with research I did on the setting while trying to make it seem more realistic. I'm really into post-apocalyptic and dystopian society fiction right now, especially with a realistic female lead and a hint of romance. I've always been sort of fascinated by all the end-of-the-world scenarios authors come up with. Great post, Stephanie! By the way, your son is adorable!

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  8. I have a 2-year-old nephew and I can totally understand the teeth-brushing-episode. :) Except, if he's at my house...the toothbrush in question usually happens to be mine. Not so fun. But he thinks it is.

    I've been reading the Gallagher Girl series (they're too cool!). The spying element is awesome, but the characters are also lots of fun too. Books I read (and write!) I like to have lots of character depth and development.

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  9. How can you make interesting to readers your character and their hobby? Like if your character loves to skateboard, and the typical reader your novel is targeting doesn't, how can you make your readers get absorbed in your character's interests and personality?

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    1. Using your skateboarding example - first off, you've got to know what you're talking about. If you've never skateboarded, your readers will be able to tell you don't know what you're talking about.

      But as for getting readers involved in the character's interests, the key is emotion. Your reader may not know what the heck a kickflip is, but if you can explain it well and capture the thrill of doing it perfectly, your readers will be hooked - whether or not they've ever been on a skateboard in their life.

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  10. I've been semi-struggling with this. My last WIP didn't get very far, partially because it didn't have a plot, but also because the MC was very similar to me and very passive and avoided conflict. And novels are supposed to be all about conflict, so that was kind of a problem.

    My current MC is my complete opposite in some ways but still similar to me in a few and I feel like this makes her interesting to others, but also someone I can relate to enough to make her real.

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  11. I find that the books I read and enjoy are ones that are speculative or historical fiction - books that are in a different world or time to our own. I've never really been a fan of contemporary books, as a reader, they don't interest me.
    I write what I like to read - so I hope that others would like to read my WIP too!

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  12. Always the hard part - making sure I'm not the only one who thinks I wrote the Great American Novel :) That's why I have my friends read my projects. If it's some melodramatic autobiography with changed names, they'll let me know.

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  13. I just finished reading Sarah Sundin's new book, With Every Letter! I LOVED it! I really enjoyed how it would always grab your attention with all these little twists and turns that your were not expecting!

    I think with the book that I'm writing, I think it will interest others. I sent it to many of my friends and they loved it to so I think it interests others... I guess it's sort of hard to tell. When you are so proud of all your work, you think it's the best and that it's so interesting but what about others?

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  15. *Next time I borrow a family member's computer, remind me to log out of their account. My name is not Danny. :P*

    I looove Pride and Prejudice! A year ago, I had no interest in such books. Now I love them. Sense and Sensibility, I absolutely love that one, too!

    I think my story would interest others (hopefully!) because it's about a girl who messed up and so... she runs away. I reckon all of us just wish we could escape sometimes and run away, you know? So I hope people will be able to relate.

    I recently read The Kite Runner. Has anyone else read it? I read it for school but I didn't put it down. I think what held my interest was probably the fact that I was learning so much, I felt and cared deeply for the characters and had to see them home safely.

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    1. That's hilarious, Emii/Danny :)

      Yes, a common theme or familiar desire like that (to run away) can be really effective in drawing in readers.

      My husband read The Kite Runner and found it really fascinating as well.

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  16. I hope people would be interested in mine. I try to avoid what bugs me/turns me off other books - for example, a paranormal romance CANNOT just be romance with fangs. It has to have a paranormal plot that is at least SOMEWHAT separate from the romantic element. They can be intertwined/one affect the other, but I HATE when the romance totally steals the spotlight. I like to think my main character is relatable too. She's recently lost someone very close to her. On the outside she acts like everything's fine, but on the inside she's broken. Her friends are none the wiser. I like that it shows that she's deeper than meets the eye, and I think we've all had a point where we've pretended to be something we're not, for whatever reason. I struggled for ages to make my MC interesting and not "perfect" - because that poses relatability issues.

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