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Everything I learned about Writing Fiction
I learned from Commercial Copywriting.

Fiction writing is a lot like professional Copywriting. A lot of the rules are the SAME. For example, the “AIDA Formula” is the basic formula for Advertising: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

> Get their Attention.
> Develop Interest.
> Create Desire.
> Get them to Take Action.

In Fiction it becomes:

> Get their Attention – with Unusual circumstances.
> Develop Interest – with gripping Drama.
> Create Desire (to know more) – with Hints, not Answers.
> Get them to Take Action – KEEP them READING

The 3 Rules of Selling Anything - such as Your Story

1) People hate to be Sold.

In other words: Don’t offer something you don’t intend to give them.

Certain genre labels, like Romance, have very specific connotations that lead to very specific Expectations. People get really pissed if you MIS-REPRESENT those genre labels.

For example... Don’t advertise your story as a Vampire Romance if the Vampire ISN'T the Hero, even if the story IS a Romance! In fact, ESPECIALLY if it’s a Romance!

Labeling a story as a “Vampire Romance”, leads a very specific group of readers to think they’re getting "a Romance about a Vampire". If they buy that book and it’s Not what they expect, or WORSE the TRUTH has been used against them, it’s a Romance with a Vampire in it, but the Vampire is the VILLAIN…! They not only feel Cheated they feel SCAMMED. NOT a good way to keep Readers.

2) People Buy for Emotional reasons, Not Rational reasons.

People buy what they think they can USE. What do people get from a book? Knowledge and Information. This INCLUDES fictional stories.

Everybody is looking for solutions to their personal issues. To make your story a “must read”, offer an ANSWER to a BURNING QUESTION! (Ahem, PREMISE = the story’s ISSUE.)

  • “So, how do I get the handsome guy I just met?”
  • “How do I deal with my new stepchildren?”
  • "How do I deal with a sucky job, and a boss I seriously loathe?"
  • “How do I know I found someone worthy of being my husband, or lover?”
  • “How do I deal with a monster in my closet?” (VERY popular among Young Adults.)

Ever hear the phrase: “People are People”? No matter who they are, or where they live, human issues Never change. "People are People." Embrace this phrase, love this phrase, use and abuse this phrase! THIS is the key to fiction people WANT to read.

Sure, you could be writing a Horror or a Fantasy, but the people in your horror or fantasy should STILL be dealing with the same issues everybody else deals with:

From: Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
-- Sucky bosses - How do you think Saruman really felt about working for Sauron?
-- Love interests - Arwen Evenstar's Dad, the king of the elves, did not approve of her dating that scruffy human.
-- Family issues - Eowen of Rohan had to deal with a senile dad PLUS several bossy older brothers.
-- Monsters under the bed - Wringwraths & Orcs. Need I say more?

No matter how fantastic or unusual, people STILL suffer from the same issues. The trick is making those issues INTERESTING.

Traditional hard-core Sci-Fi answers theoretical (scientific) questions such as, “What if we lived on another planet?” but few of them talk about PEOPLE Problems. This is all well and fine for those interested in scientific theories, but the average reader is far more concerned with personal issues, which is why the popularity of hard-core Sci-Fi suffers.

NEVER FORGET: People only buy what they think they can USE RIGHT THEN – not tomorrow, not next week, not a hundred years from now. And people have only ONE true interest – Themselves.

People read Erotic Fiction for a REASON:

The plain truth: People read erotic fiction to get the warm tinglies. No if’s, and’s, or but’s – they are reading it for the SEX.

It doesn’t matter if you have the most fabulous story in existence, if you have labeled that story as Erotic, no matter what kind of pretty words you couch it in, or sit it next to, (and that includes the word Romance,) that story had better deliver on the SEX.

ANY story labeled as Erotic, MUST deliver on the SEX and that Sex better get the reader Hot and Bothered, because that’s what the reader reads Erotic Fiction FOR.

If you can’t deal with this basic truth, DON’T label the story as EROTIC!

3) After they Buy, people seek to Justify their emotional decision with logic or reason.

After a Reader selects your worthy product, they need to be reassured sure they've made the right decision with logic and reason. You have to deliver EVERYTHING the reader expects, seriously, to make their selection seem worthwhile.

It’s as simple as: DELIVER on that excitement you posed in the blurb. ANSWER your story’s problematic Issues, and make it Good! Writing about a relationship problem without delivering on a Satisfying Conclusion to the ISSUE makes Frustrated Readers.

Frustrated Readers = Won’t read your next story.

Oddly enough, a Happy Ending doesn’t seem to be as important as delivery on that satisfactory Answer. However, if the genre you are writing in has a reputation for Happy Endings, you better deliver that Happy Ending PLUS a Satisfactory Answer. (And people think writing Romances is EASY???)

Justifying Erotic Fiction to the Reader:

You absolutely, positively MUST reassure the Reader that they are NOT Reading PORN!!!

Yes, they selected that story for the SEX, but they Don’t want to admit it! Your job is to make sure They Never Have To! (Unless of course, they want to.)

This means you better have a Damned Good STORY with the Sex, so they can turn to their husband, wife, or granny and say: “Oh, it’s just a Fantasy, a Suspense, a Sci-Fi, a Romance…”

To make that argument convincing, you had better make darned sure that story is EXACTLY what it’s co-labeled as: a Fantasy, a Suspense, a Sci-Fi, a Romance..., in addition to being Erotic. And you better make it GOOD. That means: worth talking about, so they don’t have to mention the sex-bits if they don’t want to.

Other Copywriting & Marketing Wisdom Bits

Write like You Talk

You’ve been hearing it everywhere – “Use snappy dialogue!” Why is that? Because that’s how people in this day and age talk, it’s what the Reader is used to HEARING. Anything else just sounds…wrong.

You’ve also been hearing “Cultivate your writing VOICE!” Boy, has that one been misunderstood big-time.

VOICE = “Write like the POV CHARACTER talks.”

How simple is that? The story is ALWAYS told in the POV character's style, snotty, aggressive, sweet, whatever... Anything else is AUTHOR INTRUSION!

Know Your BUYER Cold

What's your typical Readers’ age range? Are they still in school? In College? Working a full-time job? What things do they tend to read? Their gender? Marital status? Have any children? Own their own home? Are there any hobbies that a lot of your readers seem to have in common? What do a lot of them do for a living? What kinds of things do they consider "good" "bad" "great" "awful" "a sin" or "saintly"?

Readers identify with characters. They like to think that THEY could handle your story situations EXACTLY like your characters! Possibly better! Your job as a writer, is to ENCOURAGE this impression.

Knowing your typical Reader allows you to TAILOR your Fiction to your Readers. Make your characters the same kind of people as your Readers, with the same likes and dislikes. Use situations that your Readers face, such as relationships issues and careers problems. This automatically makes your characters sympathetic – and Likable.

Okay, so you have a totally fantastic landscape with totally fantastic characters, how do you make This type of story sympathetic to Mary Ordinary? Give them a problem, a situation, and issues similar to a situation your Reader might have to deal with.

Say you have a Unicorn in a fantasy land. How could a creature like this possibly be similar to Mary Ordinary? Have the Unicorn fall in love with a Dragon. Now there are some serious Relationship issues!

Know Your Product - Intimately

Want to get hate-mail fast? Write about something you don’t know a gosh-darned thing about. I can’t say it enough: RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH!

Whether you are writing a Vampire story, a Historical, a Fantasy, or a Sci-Fi, be aware that your reading audience has very likely read every single book on that subject they could get their grubby mitts on – for YEARS. They're going to know your subject backwards and forwards. Do YOU?

NEVER write about something you don’t know backwards and forwards, because the Readers will KNOW if you don’t know diddly-squat about your subject.

Have Passion for your Product!

If you're not sold - completely and utterly - on the story you are telling, you can forget about selling it to the Reader.

Your level of passion for your subject and characters SHOWS in your fiction. This is where “bleeding on the page” comes in. When you write about issues and situations truly close to you, something you yourself have lived through and suffered, that passion, that feeling, comes through on the page.

If you want to make the Reader laugh or cry or scream with rage use issues that make YOU laugh, cry or scream with rage in your fiction. BUT make darned sure you only use issues you’ve already handled. Remember, you are not just presenting Issues, you are delivering ANSWERS. Don’t write about an issue you Don’t have an Answer for or you will paint yourself into a corner Really Fast.

Educate Your Buyers

Expose the reader to new ideas, new cultures, and give them new experiences that no one else can give them… BUT never in big honking "no-action happening here" paragraphs!

Info-dumps are bad. Okay?

Don’t just TELL the Reader stuff, make the reader LIVE through that stuff in your story. Make them EXPERIENCE your worlds, your situations, and SEE what you have to say! Back-story should be dropped in bits and bites through out the action and dialogue. Description is the same way, keep it Short – keep it TIGHT.

Make everything - characters, settings, objects - do Double-Duty! If you don't USE it more than once, Don't bother putting it IN the Story!

The law of Mystery Fiction: “If the gun is shown in Chapter One, it better go off by Chapter Three -- and there had better be a damned good reason for that gun to be there.”

The law of Erotic Fiction: “If the Kiss is shown in Chapter One, the Sex better happen by chapter three -- and there had better be a damned good reason for that Kiss to be there.”

A Final Tip from:
~ Walt Disney ~
"Do what you do so well and so uniquely that your customers can't resist telling others about you."


DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.
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February 2012

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