Tips for Writing Popular Fiction: Part 2

Update: Click to read Part 1 or Part 3.

Writing Popular Fiction: Part 2

Last week I talked about writing at an accessible level to expand your audience and the art of subtlety in writing. This week, I’m moving on to two new tips that I’ve found to be really successful in my own writing. Perhaps you already use them, perhaps you’re only now being introduced. Either way, using these tips for writing popular fiction are a great start toward pushing your craft to the next level.

1. The Cliffhanger.  Everyone has been reading that book that always seems to be begging you to read one more chapter to find out what happens. Why is this? Usually, it’s a factor of the author using psychological tools to leave the reader, you, wanting more. How do they do it? You’ll often find that chapters end in the middle of a dramatic scene or right before something big happens. In television, this is known as the commercial break. It’s something that’s been used on the small screen for decades to build anticipation to ensure you won’t change the channel when you’ve seen your third Charter Spectrum commercial in a row (This actually happened to me once and the theme song is still in my head. Curse you Charter!)

How can you as a writer build this into your story structure? It’s simple. As you’re writing your scene, imagine it as a TV show. If you were watching a TV show, where would the producers pause for a commercial? Use this trick as a basic guideline and it will take you a long way. The key here is not to do it every single time because it can be a bit formulaic if every chapter ends in the same way. This is where it’s good to throw in some twists. Instead of ending just before a big reveal, end a little further back, but put in some choice words so that the reader knows it’s coming, whetting their appetite to continue reading. This method is how you get readers to pick up your book and be unable to put it down until they are finished. In case you haven’t been paying attention, that is rarely a bad thing.

Note: If you are writing in a series, it is paramount that you put in at least some kind of cliffhanger to get the reader to click ‘buy now’ on the next book in the series. This doesn’t have to be epic, but the reader must know that there is more to the story and that they would benefit from continuing on this journey with you. Readers who have already read one of your books are incredibly more likely to read more of your work, especially if there is a series involved. Why? If a reader has already invested time in an author and if that author is any good, readers would rather read more work by an ‘acceptable’ author than to venture into unknown territory. Prior readers should be one of your main target audiences.

2. The Audience. Literary Fiction has its function. It is meant to be thought-provoking, but at its core it is all about the author. The author is expressing a feeling from deep within and is writing a story without regard to the reader. It is, perhaps, the loneliest genre an author can write. Popular Fiction is a different story. Popular Fiction exists because of the reader. The story and the emotions of the characters are far more important than what is under the surface in popular fiction because it exists for a different reason. Popular Fiction exists to evoke emotion in the reader, to get them to care about a character or situation, and to spin a story that will live on in their memory as though it were their own. While Literary Fiction can manifest some of these traits, its purpose is not to do so. The reader’s desires are under the surface. When writing Popular Fiction, it is important to always have your audience in mind. Why are they reading this? Are my characters likable, and if not, is that intentional? Your audience can differ depending on what genre you choose to write (or combination of genres), but truly it doesn’t matter, as long as you know who you’re writing for.

Very few people write a novel without the expectation or desire that someone will read it (mostly academic types). A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself as you’re writing if this is something you would read as an objective reader. If it is, great, keep it up! If you aren’t sure, you might want to take some time and read a few books from the genre you’re writing. I don’t say this so you can write a carbon-copy of something that’s already out there. Instead, you should see what elements worked and what elements did not work for you. Find out what drew you into the story, or perhaps what did not draw you in. Perhaps you’re writing in a genre because you haven’t found a story (say about vampires) that you really enjoy. Maybe the book you’re writing is exactly what the market needs to freshen up that genre, giving birth to a new sub-genre. In that case, you won’t know until you publish (and likely years after you publish).

For example, a novel I published five years ago has recently seen a second life and the sales have spiked. It’s taken a while (without much of a marketing plan) for it to begin to shine. That novel is particularly polarizing, where many people like it, but the writing is not for everyone. I drum this up to some experimental styles I used with an interrupting narrator that is a subconscious voice within the head of my main character, inspired by Kurt Vonnegut. Was it commercially smart? Probably not, but it sure was fun. The point here is that writing for your audience is generally a smart thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the right thing to do. You see, maybe that strange thought in your head is just crazy enough to resonate with that very same audience. Maybe they don’t know they want it because they’ve never seen it before. The only way to know for sure is to publish and engage in what I like to call “The Long Wait.”  If you’re not interested in waiting, I’ve learned some great marketing techniques that can help to boost your sales.  I’ll update this post with a link when I’ve written that post.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next week’s post, Tips for Writing Popular Fiction: Part 3, in which I discuss the Fallacy of the Love Triangle and the Red Herring.

Three Authors Who Inspire Me

I found this great question floating around on the interwebs, so I’ll try my best to answer it.

“Who are the three authors who most inspire you or your writing?”

1. Philip K. Dick – I love his work.  Author of 44 novels and 122 short stories, he was an incredibly prolific writer when he died at the young age of 53.  He is best known for the novels and stories that would become the hit films Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and more.  Beyond the sheer number of original stories he produced, he wrote about authoritarian governments, drug abuse, reality, parallel universes, androids, and the future in general, just to name a few common themes.

One reason I love his work is that he was able to tell a story quickly, without sacrificing detail.  Most of his novels were around 220 pages in paperback, which in my opinion is perfect for a science fiction novel.  By doing so, he was able to express more ideas, taking his readers to more worlds and more alternate realities.  For the most part I strive to keep my novels around the same length for that reason.  I have far too many ideas in my head to bloviate for 500 pages in each novel.

2. Kurt Vonnegut – Vonnegut was a master of satire and dark humor.  Probably best known for his novel Slaughterhouse Five, about the fire-bombing of Dresden, I actually like some of his more obscure works even better.  Novels like Deadeye Dick delve into the minutiae of how Hitler might not have come to power if not for his art teacher, who told him to quit and try something else.  Vonnegut creates characters that interweave his novels regardless of the non-related plots.  A character in Deadeye Dick might be a cousin of a character in Breakfast of Champions.  Vonnegut tries to tie the world together in a way we can understand by trying to remind us that we’re all related in one way or another.

I am guilty of trying to emulate some of his style with regards to narration, which I really used heavily in my debut Science Fiction novel Memory Leak.  Vonnegut was such a master of the English Language, that he could break rules for the sake of breaking them, flaunting the standard way of doing things just to prove a point.  When people would try to correct him, I imagine him sitting back and laughing.  His views on the hypocritical nature of society is something I believe more authors need to incorporate into their writing.

3. Ernest Hemingway –  Like Dick, Hemingway kept most of his novels and stories short, which I appreciated because I felt I could spend more time analyzing his meaning rather than making it through a story.  Call it ADHD…  As an example, in The Sun Also Rises, one of my favorite books, Jake Barnes takes a woman for a ride in a taxi through Paris.  If you were a casual reader, you might have thought it took forever to get to the destination because it was far away.  In reality, if you mapped it out, Jake was directing the cabbie to take the longest route, which took them all around Paris, just so he could spend more time alone with her.  I try to put ‘Easter Eggs’ like this into my writing for the reader who cares enough to find them.  There are many more nuances to The Sun Also Rises that Hemingway doesn’t come right out and say.  In a novel that’s only about 250 pages, there are a lot of subtle aspects to it.

I understand that Hemingway was misogynistic and hyper-masculine which puts some people off to him.  What I respect is that he told things how they were according to his feelings.  It’s a trait I try to portray in some of my characters.  For instance, in my upcoming novel Symbiote, Detective Yuri Markov is a bit of a misogynist, has strongly held political views, and is about at secular as they come.  These are not my views, they are the views of my character.  I think any good novel has people with varying beliefs and value systems.  Some of my readers might relate to him, while some might relate better to his partner, Detective Karen Hall, a tough female cop who often buts heads with him.

Who are your favorite authors who inspire you or your writing?  Leave a comment in the space below or tweet me @TrevorSSchmidt

Memory Leak: A Science Fiction Thriller

Memory Leak: A Science Fiction Thriller

My first novel is a science fiction thriller called Memory Leak. It was just released about a month ago by Salvo Press. Here’s a synopsis:

Every night, Jonathan Hart dreams of a cracked wasteland in the setting sun. By morning the image retreats to his subconscious mind. Again, he finds himself in a city of symmetrical people, where he is anonymous in his perfection. A voice in his head tells him there is more to life than following the will of his supreme leader, Liam Mail, and that there is more to his own life than he can remember. That there are things he can’t remember about the city of symmetricals that could tear down the fabric of his world. Now, Jonathan must fight against the forces that suppress his memories before his mind is damaged beyond repair. Can Jonathan expose the twisted truth about the symmetrical elite, and in doing so restore society to its flawed asymmetrical origins? Or will his efforts explode and create a MEMORY LEAK?

I was inspired to write this novel because of my interest in authors like Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut. The general premise is rather Dickian, while the voice and main character could have come form a Vonnegutian romp. It is rich with themes of morality, reality, and the science of choice. I recommend you give it a try. If you like what you read, tell a friend. If you review sci fi books on your blog, shoot me a message and I’ll let you have a review copy.

Memory Leak on Kindle

Here’s an example of a blogger who reviewed Memory Leak (in case anyone wants to follow suit): Ric’s Reviews

Buy it, Review it, Do whatever it is you do with it.