Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, articles or poetry, you need to know things. Be it the times of the trains on 5th February from Oxford to Montrose, the name of the first dog to go into space, or the statistics of the Headingley Ashes Test in 1981, writers need to do their research and be sure of their facts.
Author Kate Harrison has done her own survey on people’s reading habits – what they love, loathe, buy and borrow, what they recommend and why. Fascinating and informative for writers, publishers and other readers.
Amongst other questions, Kate asked which three words best summed up what you wanted novels to be like. The top 4 words (number 3 and 4 were very close) were:
4: Funny (39%)
=2: Thrilling and moving (both scored 40%)
And number 1, with 55%:Thought-provoking.
She also surveyed publishers and agents. Here are three of the comments made:
Nicki Thornton, of Mostly Books in Abingdon, said: ‘Readers are always on the lookout for something that really speaks to them. It takes a lot of time to read a book and if it feels like time not well spent at the end of it I think people do feel disappointed. People do seem to be looking for something ‘a little more’ out of their reading rather than something very throwaway and lightweight.’
Agent Maddy Milburn said that debut authors are having orders cut, and she’s seen an increase in the demand for accessible literary books – as did Avon editor Sammia Rafique, who called these books ‘smart fiction’. But Maddy also pointed out that how the book is marketed makes a huge difference: ‘ONE DAY is essentially a love story but was given an iconic cover that appealed to both men and women.’ Sammia also called for more imaginative engagement with readers via social networking, to tap into their enthusiasm and interests.
Agent Carole Blake loathes the ‘chick lit’ label and its connotations of air-headedness – for me, she sums up the debate in the following: ‘Books that deliver a satisfying reading experience, but also leave the reader feeling they have learned something (historical facts, emotional intelligence, anything else) will leave the reader with the feeling that they have not only been entertained but also educated – they are validating their own leisure time and carrying away something more than ‘mere entertainment.’
“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”
This is the last of Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips on writing a short story.
And here’s No. 5:
“Start as close to the end as possible.”
And No.6, which I like partly because it’s good advice but partly because he gives Sadist a capital S, since it’s after the Marquis de Sade, who had one too.
“Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
The missing numbers are worth knowing as well, so here they all are. Thanks to Brain Pickings, a fantastic resource for writers. Or a resource for fantastic writers. Or both, a fantastic writers’ resource.
Huh? phobias are enriching? Since when? Since you had fictional characters to feed.
Phobias – overwhelming fear or hatred of things – can affect someone’s entire life and lifestyle, or can disrupt it disastrously. Both of these things are brilliant for fiction, creating the all-important conflict.
Phobias can be funny, tragic, creepy, surreal, horrific, even quite charming – and can work in any context and any genre, depending how you handle them, of course. You need a light touch – if every character is neurotically obsessed with something, it won’t work. Now and then, though, a touch of phobia is a very handy device.
A romantic hero, terrified of chickens, could inspire a great scene with the girl of his dreams having to rescue him from a feathery fate – a turning point in the story, perhaps.
A crime fiction villain could be trapped by his fear of heights or of closed-in spaces; a detective could be forced to break through his fear of the same in order to save a potential victim or catch the murderer.
The possibilities are endless, and the available phobias are too. It’s amazing what people can be frightened of, and you have to wonder what sparked the apparently irrational fear in the first place. Rich pickings for writers!