RU contributor Christine Pride provides a thoughtful and interesting analogy on love and attraction and how it applies to writing.
Welcome back, Christine!
Recently I fell for someone, an attractive banker I met the old-fashioned way—in a bar. I know what you’re thinking: why is she getting all Carrie Bradshaw on us? This is a blog about writing! Bear with me. Being in the throes of a brand new relationship got me thinking about the capricious nature of love and attraction.
Of all the people we meet over a lifetime what draws us to potential partners? What qualities do they display that reel us in and pique our interest? And conversely, what are the instant deal breakers that can sour our feelings with even the most promising start? Which is, in essence, to wonder about the age-old question that has flummoxed everyone from poets to psychologists: what makes people fall in love?
Actually, I’ll go ahead and leave that question to the experts because, really, I have no idea. But from a writing standpoint, I do frequently get asked a variation of that inquiry by aspiring writers who say (often with frustration), “Editors always say they are looking to “fall in love” with a submission, what the heck does that even mean and how can I make them fall in love with my book?”
That’s a very fair question, because editors do say over and over, “I’m just looking to fall in love…” as if that explains everything. And even though I’ve said it hundreds of times myself, I admit it’s actually not very helpful. However, the truth is, wanting to acquire and publish a book is so much about that intangible connection, that elusive spark that you feel when you start reading a particular story and it consumes you like just like a new lover would (without the need for make-up or condoms!). You instantly know that you want to spend as much time as possible in the world that the author has created.
Think of the books you love, I mean truly love and return to time and time again—mine include The God of Small Things, The Age of Innocence and The Liar’s Club. Of the thousands of books I’ve read, why do I adore these above all others? It’s an interesting question because on technical merit there are likely better or equally accomplished books. They each feature sharp writing and observations, rich characters and dynamic plotting. Though again, so do lots of books. But to me these books are just special somehow. The same way many potential partners may look fabulous on paper, (Ivy League education? Check. Fabulous job? Check. Good looks? Check.) but at the end of the day, it’s not about the stats, it’s about the spark.
Often what ignites that spark is an elusive and mysterious alchemy of chemistry, pheromones, and timing.
Yet, beyond the X-factor there are certain elements and strategies that can help foster a connection between two people (there wouldn’t be a billion dollar relationship help industry otherwise) and that same paradigm can be applied to what attracts us to a book. Thinking in terms of this framework could be another helpful and interesting way to evaluate what is and what isn’t working about your manuscript.
Granted, I don’t have a foolproof strategy for getting someone to fall in love with you—I’ll leave that to the relationship experts and women’s magazines—but I do know a thing or two about what makes a good book and what strategies are vital for a book to resonate with audiences and to some degree there is interesting overlap, like:
*Make a good first impression: First dates can be painful and awkward, first chapters shouldn’t be! If you want to get a second date, you really have to bring your A-game to the initial interaction. Likewise, you must open your book with a strong first chapter that introduces us to the characters and the world you’ve created in compelling and interesting ways. Don’t overload the reader with a lot of exposition and explanation just as you want to tell a first date, “here’s what you need to know,” and offer up a bullet point list. Rather, use vivid scene-setting, dialogue and character development to illuminate your world and draw your reader in.
*Be You: As a writer, all you have is your voice. It is what makes you special and unique, so don’t be afraid to be yourself and don’t try to emulate another writer’s ideas or style. And don’t overthink what your audience (your date) wants and try to tailor yourself accordingly. Just as with a romantic partner, that is never going to work because you can’t be an imposter forever. A partner should like you for who you are, not who you hope to be and not who they want you to be. So write the book that you want to write, that’s true to your vision because audiences crave and can recognize true authenticity and originality.
*Charm him (or her): When you first start dating someone you try to have your most interesting stories at the ready. The time you went sky diving, a funny story about your close-knit family, how you’ve been saving up to go to Kenya for your next birthday. Those experiences and anecdotes are designed to show the type of person you are: adventurous, funny, cerebral (or even all of the above). You use stories to curate a persona for a potential partner, at least at the beginning, and similarly with your book, you have to offer dynamic and vivid story-telling. Every conversation between characters in your book should be one that you’d want to overhear in “real life.” Every plot point or premise should be interesting enough that you’d want to re-count it to another person as a good story (maybe even on a date!).
*Keep The Pace: We all have had friends who move in with their partners within two months and friends who have been dating for ten years before they go down the aisle. The trick is to sync pacing with your partner so that you are growing consistently together. You don’t want to start out with a bang and then suddenly start pumping the brakes or move along slowly and methodically and then suddenly leave diamond catalogs around. Likewise, be mindful of your pacing through your book. If it starts out with a page-turning bang, you need to keep up that thrilling pace throughout. If it’s a slow build, make sure the payoff is worthwhile for your readers.
*Keep Him Guessing: Everyone likes a little mystery. I confess I am one of those people who tends to share too much, too fast. But revealing yourself to someone is a delicate dance, as is parsing out your storylines and characters. You should always keep the reader wondering. So think about what specific questions you’ve planted in your readers’ minds about the characters or how the plot is developing. Answers that will be revealed over time as the reader is propelled through the pages. Don’t give away too much too soon.
*Keep It Spicy: No one likes a boring date and no one likes a boring book. We all crave a little spice and unpredictability in our relationships to keep us on our toes. Yes, there is something to be said for a comfortable complacency in relationships over time, but every now and then your partner wants you to surprise them. Your readers are the same. The best narratives are not a straight line from Point A to Point B, that the reader sees coming a mile a way. Offer twists and turns and ups and downs that the reader doesn’t anticipate. That will keep them wanting more.
I can’t guarantee these tips will help you land the man or woman of your dreams, but if you apply this line of thinking to your writing, it will go a long way to creating a book that is abundantly lovable and will drive them wild.
Happy ever after,
What makes you fall in love with a book? How do you create that elusive spark that keeps the reader riveted to your story?
Debut author Reese Ryan presents: The Primary Purpose of Secondary Characters, on Wednesday, July 24th.
Bio: Christine Pride is a ten year publishing veteran, holding positions at Random House, and most recently, at Hyperion Books, where she was a Senior Editor. In fall of 2012, she decided to leave the corporate side to become an editorial consultant, working with publishers, agents and aspiring writers. In her career she has published a diverse range of critically acclaimed and bestselling projects, including nine New York Times bestsellers. Please visit her website www.christinepride.com to learn more.
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