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Friday, February 3, 2012

Writing 101: Part 4- Why Should we Care?

The toughest of all the three basic questions a writer has to ask themselves before they start writing is: Why should we care?

A good writer understands that the reader’s time is precious. They understand that the reader needs reasons to pick up a book and read it. And they need more even more reasons to be compelled keep reading that story to the end. If the audience doesn’t care about the plot or characters in the first five pages they have no incentive to buy the book and invest time into reading the storyline.

A good writer also understands that a reader’s money is valuable. They understand that the reader has other entertainment options they can spend their money on including other writers’ books. Moreover, they understand that those entertainment options compete with their stories for the reader’s attention. So it is imperative that the writer write a story that gives the reader a story that is both entertaining and informative.
The best writers produce stories that are compelling, engaging, and provide the highest value of the entertainment dollar for the reader.

In answering the question of why should we care, a writer has to switch hats from writer to reader and see their story from the audience’s perspective. From that point of view they have to ask: What is the audience going to get from taking time from their valuable lives to read this story? What are they going to get for the money they invest? A laugh? A cry? An understanding of why the price of gas in China is so high? What lesson are readers going to get from finishing this story?

A writer has to have the question of why should we care answered clearly in their planning stages or all their work on a project is just wasted time. If the writer doesn’t have an understanding of what the audience will get out of a story, then they aren’t ready to write.

Understanding what makes the audience care requires the writer to think about someone other than themselves. When I answer the question why should we care, I take myself out of the equation and focus solely on the audience and what they’ll get out of the reading experience.

When I wrote Isis, I thought the audience would care because I was giving them a fresh perspective on the myth of Isis, Osiris and Seth and the Egyptian Gods. I thought people who liked mythology and fantasy would like to learn a little more about the gods of Ancient Egypt.

I also thought the audience would care because they would learn why some fathers aren’t in a child’s life. In most mainstream media regarding single parent homes and illegitimate children, I felt readers often got a female-centered perspective, a story where the mother tells us about a “no good daddy”.

However we never got to hear from the father or understand his reasons for allegedly abandoning his family. I wanted to tell that story.

With Isis I wanted to give a reader an insight into the complicated personal and political reasons why homes become broken and how having no father in a child’s life leads to children losing their way. Along with that insight, I wanted to show that it was possible for a father to re-establish a connection with his child and that if they forgave each other it was possible for them to restore their relationship.

When I wrote The Cassandra Cookbook/A Recipe for $ucce$$, I felt the audience would care because I was giving them an insight into life in the African-American corporate world. I also thought they’d care because they could read the story and pick up some tips they could apply to their own careers regarding interviewing, networking, and social etiquitte.

When I wrote All About Marilyn, I thought the reader would be fascinated because I was going to show them how the business side of Hollywood and the entertainment industry operated. Moreover I knew most people loved reading about what goes on behind the camera on more than what’s presented onscreen. That curiosity is why people buy tabloids and watch shows like Extra, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ and Access Hollywood.

I also thought older women would care about the story because they’re often made to feel worthless by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. In today’s youth-oriented world, most women over 35 are considered them over the hill. Past their prime. Told to sit their old behinds down somewhere and give up.

Myself being 33 when I wrote All About Marilyn,  I saw the beauty, experience, and wisdom many women over 35 have. And I wanted to show those readers that that these older women are valuable and still have a lot to offer the world.

When I wrote All About Nikki-The Fabulous First Season, I thought Black tween and teen girls would care because they’d get to see how rich Black kids in Beverly Hills lived. And I thought their parents would care about these stories because they’d get some tips on how to constructively parent and discipline their children and give them guidance.

In the case of Marilyn and Nikki I also felt aspiring filmmakers would want to learn more about the craft of film and Television writing.

when I wrote The Temptation of John Haynes, I felt the audience would care because they’d get to see how The Devil works behind the scenes of everyday lives in his quest to take souls.

What makes the reader care? What makes them invest their time and compels them to read more? That varies from reader to reader. But the writer has to provide some incentive that motivates them to buy into the story. And a good writer takes their time to find out what that element is before putting ink to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Remember, if the writer doesn't give people a reason to care about their stories, then reader won’t have any reason to invest time in reading  them. Making the reader care is paramount to selling a story to the public. If the readers don't care, then the writer can't build an audience. 

Articles will be back Monday. But Writing 101 will continue throughout the year!

1 comment:

  1. Again you've done it: given us another lesson in what makes a good story valuable to a reader. Identification is all important and you point that up.

    I've saved my copies and will put them in a folder I keep for refreshing my writing skills.

    My hat's off to you, Shawn. Many write, but few can teach. You're doing a superb job. Keep it up!