24

I'm starting to wrap up the gestation period of my first book - right now I have a notebook filled with a lot of observations of life and topics I want to deal with in my book. I'm now starting to piece these bits together into a bigger picture, and soon I'll have the first drafts of the plot together. Then I'll be on to actual writing.

But something's keeping me awake at night - how do I know that what I'm writing is interesting to the reader? I find this stuff really neat, but I'm worried that won't carry across. The creator of The Room found his work as interesting as the creator of Star Wars, but the results couldn't be more apart.

  • I know people who'd watch The Room with me any day, but would take some serious convincing to watch Star Wars again. – sgf Dec 22 '17 at 14:13
  • @sgf My boyfriend, while otherwise being an exemplary human being, literally loves The Room and hates Star Wars. There's no accounting for taste. – user3067860 Dec 22 '17 at 19:36
  • 2
    Plot twist: Nothing can be interesting for everyone, aim at a certain type of people and pray. – Mephistopheles Dec 23 '17 at 20:10
20

The Room is about a man whose love life runs off the rails and ends in a brutal break-up. This is a topic that a lot of people are interested in. La La Land is about the same theme. Shrek seems like that's how it's going to end leading into the final act. I can't begin to list how many breakup songs have hit the top 10 charts.

The reason people don't like The Room isn't because the premise of the story is bad. It's because the movie was poorly executed. Honestly, you can probably make a story about any premise you want to. Would you be interested in reading a book about someone learning how to work at a post office? Apparently a lot of people would, because Terry Prachet's novel Going Postal is held in high regard. Would you read a book about a bunch of rich, stupid twenty-somethings going to Spain and getting drunk all the time? That's the plot to The Sun Also Rises, a cultural touchstone written by Ernest Hemingway. Heck, you can describe The Room as being about a spoiled rich guy who has awful relationships and then dies, and that's also the synopsis of The Great Gatsby.

Don't worry too much about whether your premise is workable. I contend you can make a good story out of literally any premise. What determines whether people will read your story or not is how well you've executed on your idea. So practice writing a lot, make multiple editing passes on your story, join a writing group, ask friends who can give honest critiques to read your work - do whatever it takes to be certain that your writing is solid, and your story will come alive.

  • Did.... did you just ruin The Sun Also Rises for me? RIP beloved adolescent pretensions :'( – Dan Bron Dec 24 '17 at 16:46
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Only an outsider can help you. Find someone you can trust to honestly review your work, such as a close friend or relative. Internet critique groups might be helpful.

Be very specific that you want them to read looking for flaws, otherwise they'll just look at the good parts and give you the generic "that's good". Parents are specially prone to this.

After you get one review, get another. And another. 5 or 10 should be a good number. Then look at all those reviews and try to find the parts most of them complained about. Those are the parts you need to worry about fixing right now.

Also, don't oversweat this. When you start to actually write, a lot may change.

12

You really don't know.

But here's the thing. There are 7.5 billion people on the planet. Let's say that you want to sell 100,000 copies.

That means you only need to be interesting to 1/75000 people.

Your story interests you. Are you so special that you find something interesting that 75000 other people don't? Maybe. Who knows.

Just write the thing. You have so much ahead of you in that process... and it will so look different at the end from where it's at anyway. Just write it. Don't let fear that 'people won't like it' stand in your way.

8

The story must interest YOU

When I started out, I did exactly that: tried to do stuff specifically for others, and well I did not do so well. The material I came up with was... underwhelming. Then I started reading other people's stuff. I quickly realized that the material that interested THEM interested me ME.

I asked myself that exact same question, followed by "what am I doing wrong?" In a moment of frustration, I decided to write something I wanted to, ignoring all the data I read about what people want.

To my surprise, my readers thought it was awesome, fresh, and filled with excitement. By doing something you love, it will come through your writing. Write the story for YOU first and foremost...

  • 2
    If asked at Music.SE this'd be the same answer. Not even in Soviet Russia does creativity make you. – Mazura Dec 25 '17 at 3:45
7

If anything kept me awake at night (and some things have) I'd presume it was likely real trouble.

Look for groups or websites online that deal with the topics that interest you. If you can't find any with significant membership, those topics may not be worthy of exploring in book length form.

As far as "observations of life", it depends on the observations. If you find realistic observations or patterns, you can incorporate those into your book. If you plan to teach "life lessons" in your book, I think very few people are interested in that. People read fiction for entertainment, adventure, and the "life lessons" of fiction are pretty much always the same (and in large part aspirational and seldom apply to real life). The good shall prevail, crime does not pay, persevere and you will win, risk it all and you shall not be disappointed, in your darkest hour you can still find a way.

So I'm not going to tell you everything will be all right, just keep writing and hope it will work. The goal of writing fiction should be to entertain an audience, and audiences are pretty predictable. Look at what else is selling, if they don't include the kinds of things that are in your notebook (in the same quantity you hope to infuse your work with what is in your notebook) then chances are high your work will not be a commercial success.

We do like new characters, new heroes, new villains, new settings, and other original and imaginative components. But they will still, like nearly all commercial fiction, fit into the three act structure and teach the standard, well-worn, tried-and-true lessons of fiction that everybody loves to hear again and again.

5

I upvoted the answers about writing for yourself and noting what you find interesting. Go over and make mental note which areas you tend to skim over or feel confused on. Sometimes it take a few cycles of reading, editing and rereading before realizing a section needs to be cut out or changed.

As for the subject or the story. If it interests you, then you're going to enjoy it a lot more and likely put more effort and work into it than if you don't care.

The downside is (at least with me) is that I know so much about my story world so things may be clear in my mind but not clear to anyone outside. I'll gloss over ambiguous areas, things I need further research on to make it convincing, or things over explained, repetitive, etc. That may be when having a friend or some other person reading and giving feedback is helpful.


Edited to add, while it might be socially awkward at times, I find talking about my story to other people (anyone willing to listen) helps me get an idea on a number of things:

  1. How to get to the point (which helps me clarify in my writing and figure out the main plot/ theme). The first few times I do this, I tend to be all over the place rambling about everything and every little detail. That's a sign I need to figure out the point of the story, the main plot and possibly weed out unnecessary things.

  2. Find out which parts interest the listener the most. What times do they seem really engaged or say "Wow that's a really good story."

  3. Find out what areas they scratch their head and be like "You've lost me." or "Wow there's a lot going on. or I can't remember who is who and all those names. (this is a problem I'll have to sort out.)

2

What is interesting to the reader completely depends on the reader (the targeted and reached audience). For instance, people at a library will like different kind of books than people commuting by train.

The only way to know if people find your book interesting is to let people read your book (or parts of it, and then hope it represents the full quality of your book). Let 10 people rate your book (chapter) on a scale from 0 = most boring stuff I've ever read to 10 = most interesting I've ever read. Let 10 other people rate a book with a similar amount of pages. Don't disclose which is your book. Then perform a T-test between the two groups.

If you're targeting a wide audience use popular narrative techniques. You might look at popular recently publicized books for techniques and constructs.

If you're targeting a niche audience, use in-group language and technical terms. Communicating with an in-group language that is understood by the reader gives a sense of belongingness.

If target audience is only one person writing an interesting book is the easiest. When there are 2 or more persons there will always be disagreement.

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