A Writer’s View: Audience Interest

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

One of the things I always worry about my return to writing is “will people want to read my work?”  My friend Serdar has analyzed this in one of his blog posts (with the winning title “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Novel“).  He focused on novel length in many cases, and asked himself why some large works are worth the time and others are not.

What’s interesting is his next book is 230k words.  “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” is probably clocking in around 110K.  But we both ask ourselves “Why do people care.”

We have to make it worth their time (and money), it must engage them.  I can think of two ways we may do this off the top of my head:

Something To Care About

Serdar hits on one by noting:

. . . the trick, I guess, is to package them up and offer them in a way that other people can pick up on, in their own way, what the interesting things are. Anime and manga have whole subgenres that revolve around the mastery of a skill (a sport, a game) or the deep investigation of a mundane everyday occupation. They take something that to an outsider would be meaningless and they invest it with the urgency of The Great Work Of Life And Death. It makes a striking contrast to stories that involve casts of thousands and the fate of nations but evoke little more than a gurgling snore.

You have to write about stuff people care about or make them care by getting them invested in the characters, the setting, etc.  If you can connect people to the work (often through characters) then they will buy into it.  They will give a damn.

For my own example, let’s take Yuri On Ice, the gay romance men’s figure skating drama you didn’t know you wanted, and that is a runaway hit.  I have watched it twice because I like the characters, I like humor, and I like all the substories.  I felt like things were happening to people, and thus was engaged on a subject that I frankly didn’t care about – skating.

OK I didn’t like Chris, he’s a creep, but anyway.

Something To Learn

I am a very detail driven person – which makes sense as I write books on Worldbuilding.  I love bits of revelation and backstory as the world comes into focus, as we learn more about the characters.  Even if the details aren’t relevant to the story, they help you understand things.

You can also get interest if you’ve got plenty of things revealing and being found out and pace yourself.  If people keep learning, keep finding out new things – plot-related or not – they’ll be interested.  The best things of course are revelations that tie to the plot, but having fun little details also just makes the story and characters real.

An example I’ll give from this is the under-appreciated military-sf-horror film Spectral, which I strongly recommend (warning, link has spoilers).  You get slow revelations over time, and only truly get the full story in the last five minutes.  Each little bit, each finding about the horrors the characters face, each choice to fight back, each revelation as they try to out-think the forces against them, kept me hooked.

Keep People Engaged

You can make a 10 page short story a slog and make a 500 page novel that people loose track of time reading.  It’s all how you can get them engaged.  And it determines if it was worth their time.

(Remember I do all sorts of books on creativity to help you out!)

– Steve

My Agile Life: Trust

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

More on my use of “Agile” and Scrum in my life! This one actually gets into my writing – and someone else’s writing.  And work.  Let’s get to it.

So last week I wrote about how the Second Agile Principle helped me deal with changes to my book.  Short form, I learned how to better embrace change and my writing is better for it (despite my resistance).

This got my friend Serdar thinking about his next book, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, and he did his own post on change.  Here’s where he hits on something very important to Agile – personal and professional:

To wit: At one point when writing Flight of the Vajra — in the first draft, mind you — I abandoned several thousand words and backed up a fair distance in the story so that I could explore what seemed a far more fruitful plotline than the one I had cul-de-sac’d in. Better to turn around than to keep fighting against odds I hadn’t a chance of bucking. It meant losing several days worth of work, but when you put faith in the process rather than the resulting artifacts, those hard decisions aren’t so hard anymore.

Agile relies on a lot of trust.  Without trust, Agile falls apart (which I’ve seen plenty of times).  Think about it:

  • You have to trust your Product Owner that they know what they’re doing with their directions.
  • You have to trust your teammates to do their work.
  • You have to trust the Scrum Master to have your back.
  • You have to trust the processes to help you get the job done.
  • You have to trust yourself to do things right.

In personal agile it’s the same thing.  You have to trust yourself, build processes you trust, and keep improving things so you trust they get better.  Personal agile like I use will very quickly show you places in your mind where you don’t trust yourself.

But here’s the funny thing – you trust a lot of things.  But you don’t trust the product or even the product backlog as some kind of perfect result or guide.  Serdar rightly says the artifacts of writing aren’t to be trusted, and I’d add even the artifacts that lead to writing – or any other actions – aren’t to be trusted.  Be it plans for software or a book, they will change.

In fact, trusting your current plans on anything is going to trap you.  Change is inevitable.  The most trustworthy plan will fall apart because the world shifted around it.

Instead you have to trust the processes that keep you going forward. Your sprint standups, backlog planning, the act of writing or coding or whatever.  You trust in them to do good work, get feedback, and set direction.  Good direction – in the forms of backlogs, plans, user stories, etc. – is the result of trustworthy people and processes.  But it is not as important – or as reliable – as they are.

It’s not the map, it’s the confidence of the person giving you directions to help you get to your destination.

In your life, in your own projects, in your Agile (at home and at work) – are you trusting the people and the methods?  Can you?

If not, my guess is you’re none too happy.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve