Tuesday, March 19, 2019

3T Writing Tidbit

This is another in my 25 Ways You're Losing Readers (and what you can do about it) series.

Ignore your readers' expectations at your own peril.

As I write this,  I've just seen How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. I'm a big fan of the Netflix series How to Train Your Dragon: Race to the Edge, and was looking forward to the movie for several months.

The day before we went, I was baffled by the relatively low score on IMDb (and relatively high on Rotten Tomatoes).


If you haven't seen the movie How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and don't want any spoilers, don't read this post. I will discuss the ending.

If you don't know what the series is about, this is a DreamWorks animation series based on Cressida Cowell's children's books. There are three movies and a large number of shorter adventures that follow Viking chief's son Hiccup as he meets and befriends a dragon enemy. Hiccup starts as a young boy, but by The Hidden World he's a young adult and chief of his village, and all the Vikings there have befriended and work with dragons.

The basic plot is that Hiccup is looking for a way for humans and dragons to live together in peace. There are greedy human dragon-thieves and nefarious human dragon-hunters who keep trying to destroy Hiccup's dragon friend. There are further complications, but all you really need to know to understand my point is this:

  • Hiccup yearns to create a home for his people and their dragons.
  • And that's exactly what we want, too.

So when we get the more tragic (and adult) ending of Hiccup letting his dragons go instead, it's a resolution that's flat. Because Hiccup suffers, not to get his happy ending--he suffers to get nothing he wanted.

And by the sobbing of the little kids in our theater, his audience didn't get what they wanted, either.

Contrast other films. Once Dorothy suffers Oz, all she wants to do is go home--and she does. The Ghostbusters want to be taken seriously and to vanquish the ghosts--and they do. Luke wants to avenge his aunt and uncle, rescue the princess, and learn about the Force--and he does. Harry Potter wants to end the threat of Voldemort--and he does.

And these are all things we wanted, too. So when the protagonist accomplishes these things, it's satisfying.

Here's the big one. The Avengers are a bickering mess of would-be superheroes who need to give up their egos and learn to work together.
  • They don't want to be a team.
  • But we want them to be a team. (There's even an audience substitute, unabashed fanboy Agent Coulson.)
We're pulling for them to be a team, so when that epic moment comes and they circle back to back to back to fight together (can you hear that triumphant horn tune?) it's cathartic and jubilant and most of all deeply satisfying.

I understand now why the critics on Rotten Tomatoes love The Hidden World--and why the general public didn't. It's not satisfying. Not because it doesn't do things right, because it does. It does things wonderfully well--for an adult tragedy.

But the kids in the audience didn't go to see an adult tragedy. They went to see an uplifting kids' movie. The movie broke their hearts, and it broke mine a little, too, when what I went to the theater for was to be made whole.

Remember this when you write your next story. What are your readers expecting? If they're coming to you to be made whole, or even just to be entertained for a while, the best story in the world will fall flat if it doesn't fulfill their needs.

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits. Click here to see all 25 Ways You're Losing Readers

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Some Irish posts from Pinterest.
There's a reason it's Murphy's Law...

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

2T Repeat Performance

In December 2016, the lovely Magical Musings crew decided it was time to close down their blogging shop. I had three wonderful years with them. This is another of those posts.

photo credit: The Quest via photopin (license)
Readers--I need your help deciding something--originally posted September 16, 2015.

I've been re-reading one of my favorite mystery writers lately--Rex Stout. Stout began writing his 1/7 ton, orchid-loving gourmand genius detective Nero Wolfe in the thirties (just after the end of Prohibition, Wolfe's first recorded words are, "Where's the beer?"). But the stories are lively and readable for today's audiences, thanks to entertaining narrator Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's feet, eyes and ears on New York--and ours, too.

I admit that I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy reading Stout as much, since my author training means I see the puppet strings and the puppeteer behind the words.

photo credit: Puppet via photopin (license)
But no. I actually enjoy Archie and Nero more, because Stout's such a freaking great writer. There's an impact seeing a genius use the tools of writing that a teacher's telling (even with examples) doesn't have. Don't believe me? Think of any occupation where you've seen someone who blows you away. For me it's Brett Favre, whatever you might think about his career. I see anyone throw a football and it's caught and I think yay, amazing, because frankly I can't throw a ball a foot to a receiver dressed in two-sided tape. But Favre...when he threw the ball, the receiver didn't catch it so much as Favre seemed to place the ball directly into the receiver's hands. Artistry, poetry in motion.

Anyway, the point to all this is that Stout made me reconsider one aspect of writing that has plagued me my whole career. What makes something mysterious? Frankly, I always thought you had to write vague unsettling creepy stuff.

Here's what I now think is true, and this is what I need you to confirm or not: The way to be mysterious is to be crystal clear about your mystery.

Example: Which is more mysterious?
  • Jen thought she saw a shadowy figure in the dark bushes.
  • Jen saw the bushes stir. Not a cat-size stirring, but man-size.

Or this:
  • The victim wrote something in her own blood before dying.
  • The victim wrote "rache" in her own blood before dying.

So which is more mysterious to you? First or second point in each example? Please let me know!!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

1T Status Update

The countdown continues! Only eight more months until Night's Kiss, second book in the Ancients trilogy and sixteenth book in the Biting Love Universe! Enter to win one of two copies of The Bite of Silence here.

Times Square. New Year’s Eve. This year, it’s a Countdown to Death.

Twyla Tafel has uncovered an insane plot to unleash vampires on the unsuspecting revelers. She’s armed only with her great admin skills, her useless art degree, and Nikos—a seriously hot vampire she’d love to paint as a Spartan king roaring his muscular challenge at the Persians.

This one's super-hot.  Adults only, please.

In other news:
  • Tentative release date for Night's Kiss is November 18, 2019!
  • I'm still anticipating Night's Kiss edits this month. They should hit just in time for spring break (no rest for the wicked--or authors, lol).
  • I've finished the first draft of the first novella in the NEW VAMPIRE filler project I mentioned last month. Super excited about these.