Politicians, preachers, and advertisers are great storytellers. They enrapture, enrapture, enrapture. What do they have that we don't? Let's talk about that; Episode 98 of Horrible Writing.
Welcome to Horrible Writing. The rawest, most candid, in your face writing show on the interwebs because none of us have time to suck. Let's do this.
Hey everybody; Paul Sating. Welcome to Horrible Writing. Oh yeah, I'm your host by the way. I usually say that. Almost a hundred episodes in, and I can't remember to do the simplest administrative things. But that's because I have a lot on my mind.
Mainly, a great conversation that happened over in the Horrible Writing Writer's Support Group on Facebook - if you're not there, why aren't you there yet? - that has a lot to do with storytelling. Sometimes I think we get so deep into focusing on the mechanics of the craft that we tend to forget why we're there in the first place. Regardless of whether you're a poet, audio dramatist, memoirist, non-fiction, fiction, we're there to tell stories of some form or fashion. We are storytellers. Working on grammar, mechanics, plot points, beats, voice, all of these things - you know they can be exhausting, And then especially if you're an Indie, you've got to worry about how to get publish, where to get published, where to advertise, how to advertise. Where do I get a newsletter? How do I get newsletter subscribers? Right? There's a ton of things that we take on our shoulders when we decide to go do this.
So in that group, a wonderful member of the group - a wonderful writer - JR Rogers had a great point from a recent political party's debate. Now, I don't like defining these things because I don't want to ostracise anybody. So I'll keep it very general. But her point was right on, right? That advertisers, preachers, and politicians are great storytellers. That's how they get movement. They weave a story, and they do well with that type of stuff. What do they have that a lot of us writing types struggle with that we could do better?
In JR's point, it was about the power and effectiveness of story. And I agree with her. Absolutely. If you look at those elements - those people who work in those capacities - yes, they are absolutely amazing storytellers in general. Obviously, right? So what can we learn about them as writers? That's the question. And this is something that I've been thinking about, but it wasn't until her post in the subsequent discussion that it dawned on me. And I replied to her, and she told me I exhausted her. But it was very clear to me because obviously, I'd been thinking about it forever because in not very sharp. I need a very long time to come to conclusion on things.
But there's a reason why, and it's apropoed to writing and finding that following; sustaining that following. Finding those fans - the true fans of people who love your stuff, not because it's free, but they maybe find you because you have free stuff out there - but they stay with you because they love what you're doing. And here's my argument about it, right? And I want to break them down into the different sections to really make this kind of resonate, I hope, with you regardless of where you stand on these. Because I do realize, with the exception of advertisers, that this can be polarizing topically speaking, and I don't want to push anybody to the fringes. So you think about this the way you need to. But entertain me.
We talk about politicians, right, as one of these wonderful storytellers. Talk about preachers as one of these wonderful storytellers, and some kind of advertisers. Think about an effective company who's really good at advertising, and how their message sticks with you. I want you to put these people - these three categories - in your brain. Now here's my argument.
The reason that they're effective and powerful, and almost seamlessly so - strip away the practice and the work they put into it because we practice and put work into what we write as well. So were all even there, so where is the difference? Is it just some kind of talent - inherent talent - that very few writers have that the rest of us don't? Or is it that we're not seeing the gorilla in the room?
Now I'm not going to be so pretentious to say that anybody who hears this could be the next [i.e., fill in your favorite author here]. I'm not saying that. There is something to be said for just natural talent. But hard work - ten thousand hours to master a skill, right? That's how long you have to work on something to approach mastery. So a lot of those people that we admire and adore didn't - the story didn't fall out of their face in the elegant prose - or whatever it is about their writing that you adore, that you love - you know they worked on that; they perfected that. They had a lot of mistakes along the way. So all work being the same, what is the next element that they have - the preacher, the politician, and the advertiser? What do they have that we don't maybe? And I want you to think about yourself. You're keeping those people in your mind, right? The advertiser, that preacher, that politician.
All right. Here we go.
Here's the thing they have that we might not. And it's something I'm trying to focus on myself.
Now I don't mean them particularly. That would be a pretty broad brush to paint everybody with. What I mean - think about that pastor, preacher, think about that politician, think about that advertising company - what do they do in their message to you? Their message resonates with you, or does not, based on whether or not they trigger that selfish need that you have.
So for example, let's start out with a politician. Just pick a side. Okay, whatever the side is - let's just say the left; the liberal side. Their effective storyteller will get people ramped up, impassioned, ready to get to the voting booth and move, right? So you've got that segment that's moved by a speech, or whatever it may be, but that doesn't mean everybody. Because the conservative - people far on the right - it's not resonating with them because that plea, that message, didn't trigger their selfish desires slash needs. And vise versa. The right does that and moves their voting base, and the left doesn't respond that same way. They don't all of a sudden become right-leaning conservatives, right? If anything else maybe, in this day and age, pushes people further apart.
And what about that preacher? If you've ever been religious, and you've ever gone to a service of whatever denomination you may have been, you've seen it. You've seen people moved by a pastor's storytelling. Why? Because the pastor is using themes and language that triggers the selfish desires and needs in you and in those people who are reacting. But if you put an atheist in the middle of that congregation, most likely they're not going to respond at all. Or definitely not to the level that the parishioners are because it doesn't flip that switch for them.
And then the advertisers. One of the things they do here in the States - I don't know if this is a worldwide advertising thing - but one of the commercials that we'll see from time to time here is home security systems slash networks. And the commercials are all pretty much the same: the scary night time setting - always, for some reason - taking advantage of a child in an advertisement, right? You get a picture of the wonderful, cherubic sleeping child, and this creepy, menacing presence outside the bedroom window. And then the home security system goes off, and the bad person runs away. They're playing off fears; that lack of safety - triggering the selfish need slash desire to feel safe. Getting people to go spend a $1,000.00 for that system plus $39.99 a month for monitoring.
Whereas somebody living in the middle of Kansas - because I've lived there so I can mention Kansas - they're doing the dishes while that commercial's on, and it's not even peeking their interests. They don't even hear the commercial because it doesn't appeal to that selfish need and desire. Matter of fact, they go to bed at night, and their front door's not even locked because that's how they live.
So that's why I believe those people are easy examples of effective, powerful storytelling. Doesn't mean that we shouldn't study how they do it, but that's a different conversation. This conversation - what I need is for you, my Horrible Writing family, to understand that they have that advantage. But they don't own that advantage. We can do that too.
Look at your current work. How is that appealing to your reader's selfishness? The reader's selfish desires and needs? Is it? Is it not? And try to be honest with yourself. Analytically neutral. What this story does, whatever that form may be - you could be an author, audio dramatist, whatever - you've got this cool story. Yes, it's cool, but does it appear to your fan base's selfish needs and desires? If it does, it becomes effective. If it doesn't, not so.
An easy example for me to think of, and it may not resonate with all of you because some of you might not listen to podcasts, but if you think about LGBTQ+ audio dramas - they're very, very popular for the last year and a half-ish. Very popular. One comes out, and the branding and the message, and all of the messages - the social media messages that are coming out - don't necessarily focus on the stories as much as they do this character, or these characters, are LGBTQ+ characters. And they get immense support right out the gate just because of that. And they've got to earn it with the story, but it starts out with that. They, for over the last year and a half that I've been watching, are very effective at leveraging the selfish need and desire of their fan base to draw that attention for themselves.
What is your fiction doing? What do your fans want? What are their selfish needs and desires?
My moment of epiphany - some of you have checked out my older stuff - so Athiest Apocalypse is an audio drama. It's a satirical comedy, in a fictional place in nowhere America, with a news crew with all these outlandish, just silly things, that happen and they report on it. And it was really political satire. The entire show was created - written - for that purpose; told as it was for that purpose. To communicate that, "Hey folks, we don't have to buy this lie that you have to vote for either this party or this party. There are other options. And those options would be viable if all of us started seeing that." That was the entire message. It was high brow. Even though the comedy was stupid - because I love stupid comedy. You think Napoleon Dynamite; that's the kind of comedy I love - and what I realized was, from that, is it didn't dwindle because that was one of the first things I did. But the fans that who have come after don't necessarily go back to that and check it out, though they will go back to my other earlier work and check that out. And it's because it makes them think. It challenges their biases, and their assumptions, and their preferences, and it makes them look in the mirror sometimes. And I like that in my fiction. I like when a creator makes me do that.
That's not necessarily what people like. And I had a conversation with somebody I really respect once, and he was talking about RIP; the book that will be coming out Summer 2019. He read it as a script form way before the podcast - the Subject Found, Season 2 podcast came out - and he loved the story. And he said - I don't remember the entire conversation - but one of the reasons he loved it was because he looks for fiction to be entertained and entertained only, and he doesn't want to think at all.
So I started deliberately writing things like that to test that theory. Is he alone or not? And I realized I'm coming back out of my high horse that just because high brow stuff works for me, the vast majority of people don't want to be asked or forced to think in their fiction. They just want to be entertained. And they want things that will entertain them. This is a bigger discussion, right, because a horror crowd - which is what I have established; a dark thriller-horror crowd. Grim, dark type stuff - what their needs and desires are might not cross genres when I start getting into fiction later this year slash next year - not fiction, sorry, fantasy. When I get into fantasy later this year slash next year. That's analysis that I have to do.
So how do you do this for yourself? You've got to know who your fans are. Who is reading your stuff? Who is listening to your stuff? That's where social media comes in. Start interacting with people; finding people. You can leverage that for surveys. Getting surveys out. Getting to know people. Asking the questions. You don't come out and say, "Hey, what is your selfish need and desire?" because people aren't going to respond well to that.
I don't put any negative connotation on selfish need and desire; it's a fact. People are selfish - we all are. Tested in the extreme, we will all do what's best for ourselves at some point. It just depends on what that sliding scale is. So it's not a negative thing for me. It's our nature; it's a survival instinct.
So finding out what makes them tick. What do they look for when they read your romance novel? What are they looking to get out of it? When they read your fantasy - is it because they live in the middle of New York City, and they're tired of being surrounded by concrete and steel? And when they read fantasy - whether it's medieval fantasy where they can get out into a forest, or a fantastical medieval world, or maybe it's more contemporary fantasy where they are on another planet and the trees are 700 feet tall and the butterflies are as big as a Boeing. Right? Maybe they need that physical slash mental escapism from their concrete jungle.
You have to be talking to your fans to know what they want. So again, social media, surveys, through your newsletter. Start sharing stories. See what kind of responses you get back. Don't go asking for information from people. Give of people, and see what you're getting back. And once you've established that relationship, that's when you can start asking more pointed ones.
Set up a Patreon; see who you get. I don't care if it's one person. See who you get there as you're giving them things, and have those conversations, and listen to what people are saying. Keep your mind open. Dive into their responses if they say something. If something really pings them, and they're enjoying it, why are they? Check-in on that. Especially patrons. They care a lot. They want you to succeed. They can be one of the most critical things you do for yourself. Get to know your fans; listen to them. Stop thinking; stop projecting. Shut down your volume control and just be on receiving end of things and see what resonates with people.
You will learn it takes time. So if you're early in your writing journey, guess what? I'm going to say next? Now is the time to start. You have that advantage - even if you have nobody, and you've got 11 Twitter followers; it doesn't matter. Now is that time to start. If you're longer down the road you know what comes next, right? You needed to start yesterday; you can't do anything about that, so what do you do? You start today. Make this a priority. If you want that powerful storytelling that's effective, this is the thing that sells books.
We struggle - especially those of us who are Indies with all the other things we have to do - and we sometimes have to complain about pay to play, right? We've got to pay on all these advertising platforms. Well, one of the things you can do to help yourself with that is to write better stories. Meaning that they resonate more strongly. They move your audience more. You all know this, this isn't rocket science. But someone you move - they are emotionally moved from your story - guess what they're going to do the next time they're at a party? They have a cook over? They're sitting with a friend at coffee? At some point, your product is going to come up. They're going to tell people about that. That's effective, powerful storytelling.
Don't overlook your audiences; your fans. Don't worry about every fan. Worry about your fan; even if it's one. Worry about what their selfish need and desire is. There are others like them out there. Start aiming it at them, and it will soon - well, I shouldn't say soon - but it will begin spreading. It takes time; it takes a lot of leg work. But these are things that we can do.
I hope this is helpful and has been insightful for you. And I hope I get you thinking about this stuff. Since it's not my fiction, I do want you to have to think. And you should want to as well, right? Obviously. Because I'm going to be thinking. I'm doing a lot of analysis now - even deeper - trying to anticipate this fantasy curve that I'm going to be doing here in the near future. And realizing I'm positioned for fans of Paul Sating's fiction, not necessarily fans of Paul Sating's fantasy. And if that's going to be my future or at least a significant portion of my future - wow, I need to figure that out and figure it out soon.
So, until Episode 99 - last one in double digits - please go leave a rating and review for this show. Those help. We need them. Please leave more.
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All right. Until Episode 99. Thank you for listening and keep being epic.
This has been Horrible Writing and hopefully, after this episode, you suck less than you did at the beginning. I am Paul Sating; your host extraordinaire. You can find me over on the TwitterVerse @writinghorrible, and over at paulsating.com/horrible-writing. Until next time, suck less.
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Originally Posted: August 2019