Thursday, April 11, 2019

Don't Define Your Book By What It ISN'T!

Your story needs to have an identity of its own if you want it to stand out. Whether that identity is, "A gritty, back-street noir tale, but all the characters are animals in New York City," or, "A pulp adventure through the wilderness as a lone man seeks to rescue his wayward kin," your book needs to be something you can clearly define before you can get someone interested in it.

Well, it's a fantasy story... but not THAT kind of fantasy... it's like... uh...
One problem that a lot of writers run into is that they try to define themselves by what they are not. It doesn't work for politicians, and it doesn't work in sales. So before you write one more word, sit down, and ask yourself what your story's identity is, rather than just making a list of stuff that it isn't.

By the by, my two examples were my story "Stray Cat Strut" in the collection From A Cat's View, and my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife respectively. Go check them out!

Focus on What You're Actually Giving Your Readers

Have you ever heard what I call the Nice Guy Refrain? You probably have, even if you've never heard it called that before. Generally speaking, it's when single guys complain that a girl (or just girls in general) doesn't want to date them, and then they list off a bunch of negative qualities they don't have, as if that should make them more desirable. For some reason.

I don't do drugs. I don't catcall or get physical. I don't, I don't, I don't...

You never shut up, is what you don't do, Kevin.
The problem with this, as you've no doubt noticed, is that the Nice Guy Refrain doesn't include positive aspects of the person. Never do you hear about how they're a dedicated guitarist, or how they have an active Twitch feed where they paint portraits, or how they have a side hustle where they fix cars for family members who can't afford to go to a garage. Because as soon as you mention those things, the Nice Guy Refrain stops, and we can look at what they do instead of what they don't do. 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person over on Cracked really puts this in perspective, and I highly recommend reading it.

The same sort of logic applies to your book.

Telling someone your book, "Isn't like Tolkien," or that it's, "Not a cozy murder mystery," doesn't actually do you or your potential readers any good. Not being something doesn't help give your story form or shape. And thinking of it in terms of what it isn't, or what it doesn't do, can often leave you with a story that can't stand on its own two feet.

So, instead, ask what your story is. Define it by the things you consider positive qualities, rather than the negative qualities you feel it lacks. Is your story a sweeping epic, or a claustrophobic journey into the human psyche? Is it monstrous, sad, brutal, or intricate? What does it offer the reader, and why should they pick it up?

Because not being a different book tells us nothing about what you've actually written, and you need a hook if you want to haul readers into your boat.

That's all for this installment of the Craft of Writing. Hopefully it gave all of you readers and writers out there something to think about! For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page to get a full list of my books.

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