Monday, March 1, 2010

Attractors and super-attractors

Just another manic Monday, and here I am juggling writing, proposals, real life, bills, doctors, family etc. So as usual my head is all over the place. But what I wanted to talk about was fishing (in our case for readers) and how to make your trailed lure look more attractive than the rest. It's useful for picking up girls (or males or probably furry green aliens if your tastes run that way)too.

You see it's all about attractors... and super-attractors. We've talked about fitting your writing into the 'attractor' mould often enough here. Vegetarian fish don't bite often on bits of steak - anymore than vegetarian editors from New York are likely to bite on the "Texas Ranch-style Barbeque book" or something that stinks of unappetising - like bad grammar or spelling, or yet another prologue or murdered village with one survivor. But, very much like fishing, you are tossing your attractive (right kind of) lure into a varied environment swimming with the rare editor-fish of different diets and tastes and then... hoping they take YOUR lure, not Ed's or Mary's or Joe's or Frankie's or any one of the 10% of well presented, reasonably attractive lures/books on offer (the other 90% suck and would never be touched anyway. You don't belong among 'em or you wouldn't be reading this).

Now, this is a problem well-known and researched among the angling fraternity, who have a lot more money collectively than wannabe writers. Ergo, they had some very good biologists trying to work out just how to make your lure stand out... and the answer is actually a very simple one. It's a lure that looks and behaves just like all the natural prey items... ONLY JUST A _LITTLE_ MORESO. There are features of the prey items which fish fixate on (editors of course never do this. Perish the thought. Neither do potential partners in a singles bar) and they'll bite even if the rest of the package is unattractive. So for instance, if the fish is eating mayflies, and picking them out by the 3 little wiggly bits on tail... 1)if you don't have 3 wiggly bits on the tail of your fly you can go home, 2) those little wiggly bits need to be just a little larger than they are in life - believably so - say 10% up - to get the fish to choose your fake mayfly and not ther 5000 real ones on offer. Too big and they won't be believed, and too like the rest and you're back to pure chance. Now, without going into the wiggly bits in the singles bar (I leave this to Kate's mind, mine might explode) when you think about it (not the wiggly bits!) that's what we have to do. And while there are editors that fixate on prose, or setting or description, or even plot... it's usually character that catches their interest. Which is why the character need to be well... real, but endowed with that extra 10% and... to throw a sabertooth among the ground-quail, these often are actually stereotypes in the plane of expectations... with extra in that dimension and often quite a lot that the poor editor didn't see coming along because he/she fixated on the super-attractor - this makes the book interesting and different AND gets the reader. From Miles to Honor - to give examples.

So: how do you 'build' a super-attractor? Give them features that readers feel at ease with, can identify with... and bit more? Dumpster diving furniture restorers for example.
Or am I missing this entirely?
What do you think?

15 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good points, Dave.

You give them Harry Potter. A familiar boarding school setting, with a mystery (always popular in children's books) and add a twist of magic.

You give them a book about teenage (vegetarian) vampires, who aren't really bad and sparkle in the sunshine, with a heroine who is so bland she is 'one size fits all'.

Oh dear. I've turned into a cynic.

C Kelsey said...

You give them Monster Hunter International and Anita Blake, only less emo than Anita, more relationship-ey than MHI. I can't beat Larry's books on guns or I'd say more guns than MHI too. ;)

matapam said...

Fishing for Editors. I like it.

I shall have to examine all the wiggly bits on my characters, make sure they're about ten percent over the naturally endowed - with personality and magic, I'm very clean minded - and make sure they're dangling properly, moving in the manner of a Best Seller.

I believe in stereotypes, very useful creatures. Archetypes repeat in every mythos. I dunno about the collective subconscious, but our brains have all the same basic wiring plan. Only the details vary.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I have no idea. If I did I wouldn't be angsting over proposals. OTOH -- I'm told you promised to take shark bait off my hands. Is this true? Not many sharks in the rockies!

Dave Freer said...

Rowena, you make a valid point about the barely-out-of-ordinary-mould. I do suspect that 'runaway success' is more a measure of multiplier effects (a bestseller, mathematically, is like a pyramid scheme, based on availablity/visibility and word of mouth. Each public appearance catches a certain percentage of viewers - thus if a book is in every bookstore, prominently displayed where 90% of shoppers will see it, and of those 10% buy and of those 40% recommend to another one reader, you have a bestseller. On the other hand if a book is displayed in few bookshops and only seen by 1% of shoppers, and bought by 10% of those... even if 90% of readers recommend it to another, the book sales die quite fast. As time passes, and recommendations keep coming a book can build a following - but that requires a long availability - which is generally not true.

Dave Freer said...

Chris - MHI characters are good example of real enough but just a bit extra. We've talked about the techniques and how anyone can - with practice - master them. Here, I suspect we're talking about a judgement call - a lot more difficult. How much is too much? How much is enough to make them stand out?

Dave Freer said...

Matapam - neatly put with the archeotypes. That I think is a very real truth. I think the type of wiggly bit being focused on vaies(and yes I mean mono-focus. Humans are hunting animals, who hunt by pattern-recognition. That means when they're looking for that pattern, other things are only subliminally seen, unless they do something to attract the attention). For eg in some parts of the genre with some editors, the wiggly bit is essentially soft porn. For other parts it's military veracity etc.

Dave Freer said...

Sarah, I think your judgement (and this is art not science) is pretty good on this. Better than mine.

We can always use shark-bait around here ;-).

Chris McMahon said...

I have to admit I tend to think of my characters first. I'll often get an idea for a character, then work to flesh them out and make them as real as I can. When it comes time to put them into context in a story, I usually then try and do things - or hav the character do things - that will build a connection between them and the reader.

Kate said...

But, but... I thought everyone wanted a bigger wiggly bit? I mean, there's all those ads telling you how you can improve it for only a few $$$!

Besides, I thought all real heroes were heroically... proportioned. *sniff*. I'm horribly disappointed.

Maybe they just need bells on it?

(runs away. Fast)

Stephen Simmons said...

I think I have the character. At the moment, what I'm really angsting over (to steal Sarah's aptly-coined word) is how the heck to compose a synopsis. I mean, I went to a lot of trouble to write an opening that I thought would hook the slush reader/editor and get them to turn the page and read the rest of the book. Now I have to try to compress the whole volume down to a page or two, and STILL make it grab them?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

most synopsis are ten pages. Mine are usually 12. I've seen people do selling synopsis as long as fifty pages particularly in these tough times.

Dave Freer said...

The trick, Chris Mc, is to make them alive and real... but just that bit extra.

Dave Freer said...

Kate, but for fish it's 3 wiggly bits... :-)

Dave Freer said...

Stephen - Synopses - especially really short ones are a nightmare. All I can suggest is what I tried - to sit down and in a couple of sentences pitch the book. If you were going to tell me what a great book it was - what would you tell me? 'Slowtrain: It's about what happens when aliens get on board a slower-than-light modular starship that left earth 300 years ago. The Alien needs human help to survive, only the isolated colonists societies have degenerated and many of them want to kill him. They need each other and him in order to survive themselves.' That certainly doesn't cover the whole book - but if DON'T say that the synopsis is waste of time.