We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
First, let’s start with what I did today:
1. I went to Powell’s Books and spent $147.65 on related books for this challenge. I’ll explain why later (and why you shouldn’t follow my lead on that).
2. I sat down for an hour and filled 6 pages (front and back) of foolscap with random ideas, thoughts, feelings and more about my story. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about my brainstorming process, but for now, just know that it has begun.
3. I ate the best french fries I’ve ever tasted at Little Big Burger in the Pearl District. Not related to this challenge in any way, but OH. MY. GOSH. So good.
4. I worked a whole bunch for SUCCESS Magazine. Saw one of my webinar scripts being read by a personal hero of mine. My words coming out of his mouth. I love copywriting.
Ok, that’s what I did today.
Here’s why I did it:
I know that I want to write stories about small country towns and the crimes/murders that happen there.
I especially know that I want a natural/rural setting to play a big part in the stories I’m writing with this challenge.
Because that’s what I love.
Have you ever seen True Detective Season 1?
50% of the greatness of that show is Matthew McConaughey.
The other 50% is the setting. The shadow cast by rural Louisiana throughout the story is haunting. And I love it. It’s almost its own separate character.
It’s also probably my favorite show.
In my research previously, I found that authors like CJ Box, Elmore Leonard, Craig Johnson, Cormac Mcarthy, James Lee Burke and others wrote really good small town/rural crime/mystery with strong atmospheric elements.
That’s why I went to Powell’s and unloaded a bunch o’ cash on books.
I bought a handful from each of these guys.
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to read each one (probably one every other day) with a notepad and pen.
On that notepad, I will be repeatedly answering one/two-ish question(s):
“What did the writer do, and why do I like/dislike it?”
That’s it. Over and over and over again.
Time permitting, I’ll read each book twice. At least. Doing this same exercise over and over again.
Why subject myself to such a repetitive exercise?
1. By doing this exercise I can quickly identify the genre tropes that are common through all these great books.
I’m not looking for WHAT makes them great, I’m looking for WHY they are great.
Two different things.
Knowing what makes them great doesn’t give me any options as a creator. I can either copy what they did (not recommended) or… I don’t know.
Knowing why they are great gives me all the options. When I understand why I am attracted to that story, I can replicated that same reaction within myself (and ultimately the reader) without having to copy.
If you know that a scene where a father rescues his daughter makes you cry and you love it…
Find out why?
Is it the action of the scene? Is it the bond/relationship of the father/daughter? Is it seeing someone sacrifice everything for something else?
When you can answer those questions, you give yourself unlimited idea tools.
If you just say, “I like that scene with the father and daughter.” you trap yourself. Now your only creative tool is to replicate that scene nearly line by line because you haven’t figured out WHY.
Let’s say you like the father/daughter scene because it reminds you of a relationship you never had with your father. Reading it in a book fills you with a sort of bittersweet nostalgia.
Now you have an emotional tool you can use for your writing.
Write scenes/themes into your book that tackle that issue and replicate that emotional profile.
You’ll never have to copy the original writer’s scene because you’ll be “copying” their emotional tone/experience/expression.
And that can’t be trademarked. We all feel. And surprisingly, we all feel very similar things.
Most newer writers approach genre the wrong way.
They look at a genre and say, “What about this genre could I possibly like?”
Again, it’s because they think they can analyze Amazon’s algo (with a $20 software) and find a ‘hidden trove of riches’.
They try and fit themselves into a genre INSTEAD of using genre as a tool to BETTER tell their stories (we’ll talk more about this in future emails).
What I do (and recommend to others) is to find what you like about stories in general, and then find a genre that fits as many of those interests in as possible.
We’re still writing to market here. Don’t get me wrong. I proudly write commercial fiction. I am in the entertainment business.
I understand that the key to succeeding in the entertainment business is to actually entertain. And if your writing doesn’t entertain you, then what makes you think it’s gonna entertain others?
Remember, fiction is an emotional experience for the reader.
In order to become a master of your genre, you must first master the EMOTIONS that genre is “known” for.
And to do that, you must first be honest with yourself.
Find out what you like about stories, and find out why.
Then search for a genre that supports that ‘why’. You’ll be able to craft stories that amplify that emotional expression through the tropes that typify that niche.
That’s how you write great work.
That’s how you master your genre.
That’s how we’re going to take on (and win) this 90 day challenge.
By being honest with ourselves.
Ok, that’s enough ranting today. Let’s get to the Q & A:
Reader Question: “I wonder if only being 27, with a relative lack of life experience, is a reason why I struggle to write the things I really want?”
Writer Answer: In yesterday’s email I talked about using emotion to find YOUR profitable genre.
This question is in response to my claim that the writer’s emotional experience is what makes for great books.
I don’t think that age has anything to do with emotional experience.
We’ve all had extreme emotional experiences. We’ve been depressed. We’ve been disappointed.
Even if you’re just turning 14 and your first girlfriend just dumped you for your best friend… that is grist for the writing mill.
The point isn’t to compare your emotional experience with others. It’s to use the craft of writing (techniques of writing) to AMPLIFY that experience you DO have so that the reader can experience it with you.
Again, I’m not saying writing should be autobiographical.
I am saying that good writing is emotional. The best emotional writing comes from YOU (not from some How To Write book).
Lastly, if you’re worried that you don’t have enough emotional experience to write fiction then you have a problem.
And every problem has a solution.
Your solution might just be you need to go outside more. I don’t know.
But gaining emotional experience as a human being is easy. Probably the easiest part about writing.
Go out and do something weird, or strange, or crazy, or dangerous, or brave. Whatever.
Do something and have an experience.
Then use it to write a great story!
Reader Question: “I wonder why did your new romance books failed? And, more important, why would a book written in the genre you like would be more successful?”
Writer Answer: This is simple (and everything I’ve been talking about in this email):
I chose the genre instead of the emotion.
I went into this trying to squeeze myself into the genre, instead of looking at the genre and seeing if it lined up with my emotional interests.
The result: I wrote a flat, stale, uninteresting romantic suspense book.
It was emotionless because I was too busy trying to fit myself into the genre…
… instead of letting the genre AMPLIFY my emotional interests.
Reader Question: “Feeling like a complete mess today — took the day off of work, trying to write / finish projects in the pipeline. Don’t know if I should wait till I’m in a better mental state or not.”
Writer Answer: Here’s my suggestion:
Write your way out of your mental funk. Use the blank page as therapy.
Practice emotional writing.
Do it for 15 minutes. Clear away distractions, write a scene that reflects what you are feeling right now. Just 15 minutes. Everything else in your life will still be there when you get back in 15 minutes.
I write for money. That is true.
But really, I write to meditate. To think on paper.
Writing is my therapy. I write my way out of bad mental spaces by being emotionally honest on the page. Most of the time that stuff ends up in my books, or turns into an unforeseen plot twist or new character.
When you feel like you shouldn’t write, that’s the best time to write.
Don’t wait until everything is calm in your life, otherwise you’ll write calm, boring stories.
Write through the calamity of your existence, and make your characters live it too. Add more pressure to the life of your character than you yourself could stand…
… and then watch them crawl out from under it.
It’ll make for a great story, and you might just find the solution to your own problem at the same time.
Hope these emails are helping. Only 87 more to go!
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover between now and then, and a lot of writing to do.
Commit to yourself to stick with me and in 90 days you’ll shock even yourself.
To you my dear friend,
Mike “Give Me More Emotion” Shreeve