This September will mark the eighth year that we have had a student-led creative writing club on the campus of my university. The Rough Writers have become a home for many would-be writers who never had the courage to share what they have written, or to dream of writing something in a genre they enjoy. We are an accepting community, and students bring fiction and non-fiction, poetry, short stories and would-be novels in any genre to be viewed and reviewed. One of the things I try to get across to them is that if you enjoy a particular genre, or even something that doesn’t really fit into a genre, somewhere there is a reader who is looking for your story.
That’s the encouraging part. I try to get them to publish their work, either traditionally or as an indie writer. When they do, the learn the harsh reality of what life as a writer is really like: it’s tough out there. Sometimes even I wonder what it is I should be writing to attract the attention of readers.
Well, the answer’s relatively simple, yet hard to deliver. From my viewpoint, readers are looking for three things:
1. Authenticity. They are looking for a story written as if by an authority, not just in facts, but in feel. They want to believe you know what you are talking about. They want to immerse themselves in the world of the story without worrying whether the way a person, a place or a fact is portrayed is accurate or not.
2. Caring. They want to care about the characters. This is not to say that they need to love all of them. In fact, hating a villainous character can be as powerful or even more than the love you feel for the protagonist. But you need to feel some satisfaction or unease when a hero or villain succeed, fails or dies. Much of this comes not from having them embrace absolute good or evil, but in making them human, flaws and all.
3. Spectacle. They want to see something they don’t see everyday, or possibly ever in their lives. An interesting character can only take the story so far. They need to see something happen that puts the character or the character’s plan in jeopardy. And the more amazing, the more they will enjoy the ride. It doesn’t have to be a spaceship landing and aliens getting out. It could be an attempted suicide, or someone with claustrophobia being trapped in a cave. But it has to be something that captures the imagination.
Like I said, if you’re able to deliver these three things, I can’t guarantee you’ll be the next Hemingway, but it will be a good start. Let me know if you agree or disagree with this short list. I’ll talk more about them in days to come.
* * *
In other words, tomorrow we do our drawing for the autographed copy of If Tomorrow Comes. If you want it, make sure your name is in the drawing.