Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Orchestrating aid

Self-help sites and articles - they seem to be everywhere you look for every possible issue you could have. Whether the help they provide is of any use is really down to whether you feel motivated to use it. I think if you're motivated to fix what is broken, then they've achieved their goal. If you follow their advice and it fails and you fall in a heap because of it, it's your own damn fault.

I'm not saying you 'failed' at the instructions, but 'anyone' can go to a website and write a few paragraphs that sound credible (just like me). It doesn't mean they should be qualified to be doling out advise, though (just like me).

This article seems to be an example in misdirection.

From the title, it would seem that this is to help you write a great synopsis or perfect the spruiking of your book to potential readers. It turns out that the article is actually trying to teach you how to 'sell' the scenarios in your book so your reader is willing to travel with you through the implausible scenario you've concocted. Maybe there's a title in there somewhere that you can make into a soundbite. Possibly:

'Tips on how to suspend disbelief through implausible scenarios
...oh, and make readers enjoy your book nonetheless'

This seems more representative of the article, unless I'm missing something. I'll summarise this 'lengthy' article into what those four points actually are:
  1. Identify the things you need to sell and don't sell the thing that your reader is already sold on
    Which translates to 'identify the unrealistic aspects in your book and sell those'
  2. Identify the things in your novel that are not coming across when read by someone else
    Which translates to 'you need to write more, or, elaborate on the cues the reader is missing'
  3. Do you really need to sell the reader on those things that no one seems to understand?
    This one basically says get rid of that aspect of your story that is incapable of being saved
  4. Go and actually 'sell' the concept now. Go on, my job is done. Nothing left to see here
    This is where the article should have started, in my opinion.
The previous three steps are classifying aspects of your novel and are not about 'selling'.
I would write it as this:
If it's terrible, get rid of it. If it's unclear, rewrite it and/or elaborate on it.

This seems like 'Writing 101', even for me. By the time you're at point four, it's a wonder that you still know what this was actually about. Was it about trying to sell the poorly-conceived aspects of your badly-written novel whereas, in fact, you should really just delete that crud and start again? No? That wasn't it? I actually liked some of the things written after point four. It was nice to have my ideas twisted towards the concept of writing as if you are the composer of a symphony.

Let's go through the aspects that go into composing a 'good symphony' :
(played out to an 'action-comedy theme')
  • Catchy melody
    The tune needs to get stuck in your head. i.e. the concept needs to be something the reader wants to read. Something that will resonate after the book has been put down.
    e.g. 'Saving the city from destruction ... but is the evil genius really just attempting to save the world from us?' - cheesy, I know, but you get the point.
  • Set the tone of the piece
    The tone needs to be established in the first chapter.
    e.g. 'The hero is walking along singing puppy love to his one-week old puppy who has a tag with 'rusty' on it and then gets into a shootout because someone doesn't think his puppy is the cutest' - Ludicrous, but it does set the tone.
  • Evoke an emotional response
    It doesn't matter whether it's affection, anger, sadness or laughter. Whatever your focus is, ensure that your theme stays true to the intended emotional connection. Those that aren't emotionally invested in your 'music' won't listen to it again, or simply skip to the next track.
  • e.g. 'The evil genius just killed a puppy => He needs to be punished for this act of depravity'.
  • Repeat the underlying theme in various ways throughout piece
    e.g. 'Hero needs to seek revenge for the poor puppy and drinks because of it' - the cliche's keep coming!
  • Continue the tone throughout the duration of the piece, although vary it
    It's perfectly fine to focus more on action in some, comedy in other, but if it turns into a grisly novel, you've lost your reader. On that point, it's probably not wise to destroy the puppy in a grisly way. It would ruin the tone of action-comedy. It needs to be both comical, action'y and villainous. So maybe the villain gives the dog an exploding chew toy or something. Action and comedy - brilliant.
  • Get the pacing right
    It's important that there are lulls between action/comedy set pieces. Too much funny or action and it no longer has any impact. You sometimes need to hold off on giving what the reader wants.
  • Make sure the instruments in your orchestra work together
    In other words, all the plots and characters and scenarios should combine together towards the intended tone you wish to convey.
    e.g. If you have a plucky sidekick, then don't make him work against the tone. If he's suicidal, make him a pathetic suicidal character that always fails within the action-comedy theme. You could even play off references to other action flicks like 'Loaded Weapon'.
  • Solo parts
    This should fall to the hero / villain, although more than likely the hero. You want your reader to relate to him and understand the pain / comedy of his thoughts towards the evil genius.
And that's about it. To me, this guide seems to be far more useful than pretty much everything in the article I linked above ... and I'm not even published.