Seducing Your Readers

morguefile-lipsLet’s talk about sex.

Those of you who are uncomfortable with the subject, feel free to bail out now. I’m likely to get pretty raunchy.

Still with me? I thought so.

When we make love, most of us have a particular goal in mind: that moment when your entire body seems to stem from one central point, when every nerve-ending tingles wildly as fireworks assault your brain. That moment, of course, is orgasm, and anyone who has experienced one (or two or three)— especially with a willing and enthusiastic partner (or two or three)— knows that it can be an exquisitely pleasurable sensation. You’ve probably seen it in a video (or two or three) somewhere on the internet, like ww.vrpornmovies.net!

But are all orgasms created equal? Of course not. The quality of our orgasms is directly related to the quality of the fun and games that precede them, not to mention our emotional bond with our partner, and our willingness (or unwillingness) to surrender ourselves fully to the moment.

So what, you’re probably wondering, does any of this have to do with writing?

YOUR WILLING PARTNER

Writing is an extremely intimate act. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King describes it as a form of telepathy. You put your thoughts on paper, and days, months, or even years later, someone reads your mind.

Think about it. With a simple arrangement of words, you have the potential to pull your audience into your mind where they can be stroked and fondled and toyed with— sometimes gently, sometimes rough. The result is often a partnership so strong and emotionally satisfying that neither of us ever wants to let go.

Who of us here can forget those times when we’ve read a book we didn’t want to end? And when the end did come, we felt drained, elated, and thoroughly satisfied, much like we do after a night of unbridled passion.

Getting to that place wasn’t an accident. The writer of the book—at least in most cases—didn’t merely fumble his way toward climax. If he (or she) did his job, every step was carefully choreographed to lead us around the third act corner toward the final pay-off. And the quality of that pay-off is related to one important thing:

THE GENTLE ART OF LOVEMAKING

We’re often reminded in how-to books that the typical story is broken into three acts: Set-up, Confrontation, and Resolution.

But it sounds pretty cold and uncaring, doesn’t it? Not to mention dull.

But what if we were to beat the lovemaking analogy into the ground and refer to the three acts in this way:

Seduction, Foreplay, and Climax.

That certainly puts a whole new slant on things, doesn’t it? And if we’re to have a successful story with a successful and satisfying ending— one that keeps our partners wanting more— we must pay careful attention to these three words.

Seduction.

The beginning of a story, any story, cannot and should not be referred to as anything other than a seduction. It is our job to make our audience want us.

How do we accomplish that?

First we start with character. We must create characters that our audience won’t mind, figuratively speaking, getting into bed with. Particularly the lead. Is he or she someone we find attractive? Does he have a problem or flaws we can relate to? Are his life circumstances universal yet unique enough to pique our interest?

The next element is mystery. Every story should be a mystery. Remember the girl in college the guys all wanted but knew so little about? A big part of her allure was the hint of mystery she carried. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you should never, never, never put all of your cards on the table at the beginning of the game. Instead you must reveal them one at a time, each new card offering a clue to the mystery of our characters and their stories.

The third and most important element of seduction is giving your characters a goal. And, again, not just your lead . Every single character you write should have a goal of some kind. Put two characters with opposing goals in a room and you have drama. But the goal of your hero must be compelling enough to intrigue us and hold our interest.

Foreplay.

Once we get our reader into bed, however, we certainly can’t let them down. As you would with a lover, you explore and tease and make new discoveries—which can often lead your partner to discover something about his or herself that, until that moment, remained dormant.

The foreplay in the second act is a continuation of the seduction but on a deeper, more intimate level. This is when we really begin to understand and root for the characters, and when their stake in the outcome becomes more and more important. Surprises are sprung, secrets are revealed , and our emotions and feelings build with each new scene, gradually working us toward the moment we’re all waiting for:

The Climax.

And this is why we’re here today, class, to talk about that most crucial of Act Three moments: the time when all of the work you’ve done for the last three hundred or so pages comes together like the pieces of a puzzle, where plot and subplot intertwine to create the only ending that makes sense within the context of the story you’ve told—a thrilling and, hopefully, explosive orgasm of emotion. The final kiss; the final death; the final revelation that sends your audience soaring.

But you can’t get there without laying the proper groundwork. Author Mickey Spillane once said that the first page of a novel sells that novel and the last page sells the next one. This is certainly true, but what he doesn’t say is that what comes between is what sells that last page.

Without masterful seduction and foreplay it is virtually impossible to reach a satisfying climax. Act Three is a culmination of all that came before it, and if the preceding two acts are anything short of spectacular, you’ll be lucky if your readers even stick around for number three. It’s all up to you.

Every time you sit down to write, you must remember that the reader is your partner, your lover, and in order to make him or her happy you must seduce, thrill, and most importantly, satisfy.*

*This blog post is an excerpt from my book, CASTING THE BONES: An Author’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.

 

 

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Do You Really Need an Editor?

by Robert Gregory Browne

The short answer to the above question we most often hear is this: Yes. Every book needs an editor. And while Joe gave us a nice set of tools for self-editing last week, I’d like to take a moment to answer this question on a more philosophical level.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. And one day I floated the idea that not every writer and every book needs an editor.

That’s right. I said it.

I’m sure you can imagine the howls of protest. One author was so incensed by this suggestion that he simply would not leave the comment section in peace, and I, of course, took the bait (never take the bait) and engaged in a fairly heated “discussion” about the topic.

The point I made then and will float now is that in nearly every solo creative pursuit I can think of—painting, songwriting, composing, sculpting, furniture making, origami folding, calligraphy, graphic design, illustrating, etc.—you never hear anyone say to these artists, “Make sure you pass that work through an editor.”

So this begs another couple of questions:

Why do people assume—including many authors—that a book simply can’t survive without the help of a good developmental editor? Why is it a commonly held belief that every writer needs someone to help him or her see the forest from the trees before they embarrass themselves with plot holes and shaky character motivation?

Now keep in mind that I’m not talking about a copy editor. I will join the chorus in that regard and say every book needs a copy editor and proof readers, simply because the size of your typical book requires that grammar and typos be caught.

But why do we automatically assume that every author needs a developmental editor?

I’m not suggesting, of course, that some authors don’t need one, but I also believe that many veteran authors—the guys and gals who have been doing this job for years and are pretty damn good at what they do—already know how to tell a fine story, and can quite successfully produce and publish a compelling, well-written book without any help from anyone else.

I know an author who uses only a copy editor on his books, and he’s extremely successful. His books sell like hotcakes, so he must be doing something right.

My own books get a light edit from a writer friend, but the notes are usually minimal and she often says, “this is how I’d change it, but really, it’s great the way it is.” My only real reason for passing it through her is that a) I highly value her opinion; and b) my confidence as a writer is lacking just enough that I figure I should get a second opinion.

But the truth is, after writing about twenty novels, I’m not sure I need an editor at all.

I’m not huge on conspiracy theories, but I suspect the “required” editor/author meme started decades ago when authors were forced to stop self-publishing and go through publishing houses to get their work out to the public. I think the idea of each book needing an editor grew out of the publisher’s desire to make his services more attractive to the author, and to give said publisher greater control over what should and shouldn’t be published (and how much money he could grab in the process).

Now, as I said in my last post, some writers highly value the back and forth they get from an editor and it helps them write the book they want to write. And if that’s they’re particular desire, and it works for them, that’s wonderful.

But I firmly believe that many authors are seasoned enough that this step in the process is unnecessary and they can simply use Joe’s tips to edit their own work.

Just like painters do. And songwriters. And composers. And…

And lawyers writing a closing argument. If a guy who’s writing to keep someone from going to jail doesn’t need an editor, then why should we?

We are, after all, only writing to entertain, and it’s ultimately the readers who will decide whether or not our story sucks.

If you feel, personally, that your work will benefit from the back and forth an editor brings to the table, then by all means go for it. But if you have the chops, going without an editor is not a sin against literature.

Or is it? You tell me what you think.

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The Other Side of the Desk

When the folks at The Kill Zone asked me to join their blog, I hesitated.

Not because this isn’t a wonderful blog. In fact, I think it’s one of the best going and I’ve long been a fan.

But after several years of not blogging, and several years before that writing posts for my own blog and for Murderati, I wondered if a) I was up to the task; and/or b) I had anything worthwhile to contribute.

I guess that’ll be up to you to judge.

For most of my life I’ve wanted to be a professional writer and have succeeded in that goal in a number of ways. I’ve been published in magazines, I’ve sold screenplays, I’ve written for animated TV shows (with the distinction of writing several episodes of what is probably the least popular of all the Spider-Man incarnations), I’ve published books with St. Martin’s Press, Penguin, Amazon, written under pen names for other publishers, including Harlequin, have had books published in several countries, and I’ve even won and been nominated for a couple of awards.

Yes, I’m very tired. And old.

In 2012, after finishing a big project for one of the Big Six, I decided to say goodbye to the “traditional” publishing world and go indie. And I’m convinced that this decision (along with my buddy Brett Battles’s decision to leave Random House) was one of the underlying factors that led to Random Penguin, or whatever they call themselves. They obviously had to join forces in order to compensate for the loss of their two best authors…

No, really.

But I don’t regret the decision to go indie. I’m very happy I took that leap and so is my accountant. So it will probably come as no surprise to you that I’m a strong advocate for the DIY approach.

In 2015, however, I went a little crazy and took DIY to new heights and decided to start my own independent publishing company, which has been an interesting and educational experience so far. In the process, I wound up on the other side of the desk, taking in work from other writers and finding myself in the unenviable position of editor.

I say unenviable because editing a book is hard friggin’ work. Harder in some ways than writing the book yourself.

file1461250298916-underwearI have no idea what kind of writer you are, but I can certainly tell you what kind of writer I am. When I turn in my “first” draft to a publisher, I make sure that draft is as clean as a brand new pair of underwear.

Why underwear?

Because my mother used to tell me not to leave the house with holes in my skivvies in case I got into an accident and embarrassed myself at the E.R. Why that would be of any concern to me is a question I never thought to ask her, but you get the point (at least I hope you do).

And if you don’t, the point is this:

Back when I was publishing traditionally, I made sure my drafts were so clean that if I were to drop dead the next day, I wouldn’t be embarrassed by a story full of clunky prose and plot holes and half-baked dialogue.

I’ve always known, in theory, that not all writers are as crazy as I am. And after working with several now, I’ve learned first hand that some will turn in a draft that barely needs to be touched, while others look at the editorial process as a form of collaboration. A way to hone character, plot, story and structure with the guidance of their editor.

Neither way is right or wrong, but working with manuscripts in varying states of completion has taught me a lot about how others work, and has certainly cemented my long-held belief that there is no “single” way of writing a book. That every author must approach the task in a way that makes them feel most comfortable and gets the job done.

file000118281268-crayonsWhat I’ve also discovered is that, because I’m a writer myself, I’m very much a “hands on” kind of editor.

Part of this comes from the nature of the projects I’ve been working on. The premise, characters and series elements are created by me—in house, as they say—then passed on to other writers to do the grunt work. We work very much like a head writer and staff of a television show, and as head writer, I don’t hesitate to take a final pass on the book in order to make it conform to the “rules” of the series and the books that have come before it.

There’s every possibility that the “staff writers” have been grumbling amongst themselves about my sometimes heavy-handed approach, but most of those I’ve worked with have said they very much enjoyed the process and found the task of writing someone else’s characters both challenging and rewarding.

It’s been challenging and rewarding for me, as well.

So what’s the point of all this blather?

Well, it’s merely to lead up to this:

What kind of writer are you? When you turn a draft into your editor (whether indie or traditional) do you take the clean underwear approach, or do you consider the writer-editor relationship more of an exploratory collaboration?

Oh, and how do you feel about heavy-handed editors? I’m not talking copy editors, mind you (many of whom should be drummed out of the business), but content editors or story editors or whatever you want to call them.

And, finally, do you think editors are actually necessary? Because I may surprise you when I say that I don’t believe they always are. But that’s a post for another day.

Thank you to the folks at The Kill Zone for inviting me into the family. Let’s see how long it takes before they want to kick me out… 😉

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