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What’s Popular?

January 9, 2015

By CP Bialois

CP Author PhotoGood morning everyone!

This morning I thought about delving into a topic that’s been on my mind since, well, I started writing. I’m a huge fan of the classics like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, but I’m also a Stephen King and Tom Clancy lover to the core. What does that mean?

In short, I’m a fan of everything. Because of that, I also developed a semi-formal writing style based mostly on Third Person Omniscient. The problem with a semi-formal style and Third Omniscient is neither are popular at the moment and are often considered wrong.

It wasn’t until this past week that I was able to put my thoughts into words, and for that I have to thank Stephen King’s Firestarter. It exemplifies my style and points perfectly. When reading it, I noticed slight differences between it and his newer work. In short, his newer works are quicker reads.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for evolving our style through experience and learning. My style has settled into something I’m pleased to call my own, but how much of this evolution is due to enhancing our writing instead of catering to what we expect from our readers?

While Mr. King has tweaked his style, it still remains roughly (And this is just my own estimate) 90-95% what it used to be. While he’s switched to more of a Third Person Limited style, he’s also trimmed down on his description early on and gets right to the story.

It was a smooth transition for him, but how many of us take doing something similar to the extreme?

I see posts all the time about starting the story with a bang (Explosion, fight scene, war, etc), end every chapter with a hook or cliffhanger to keep the reader entertained, and don’t look to books twenty or more years old to learn due to the evolution of writing.

There’s nothing wrong with doing any of that, so long as it does the story justice. But (Here’s where I kick over a beehive and get into trouble), I’m a firm believer in not doing those just for the sake of doing it.

I like to let the readers get to know my characters before I start killing them off or explode on the scene like in a super hero movie. I look at using constant hooks and writing fast pace stories that last as long as a movie as gimmicks unless they are in the best interest of the story.

Here’s why I think the way I do.

Simply put, I’m a firm believer that if you’re telling a good story, then your reader will want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens. It’s up to us to give the reader a reason to be invested in the characters and care about what happens to them. Obviously, you don’t want to write something akin to stereo instructions, but keep the characters and their actions believable.

As far as pacing, I’m a fan of it when I write horror stories for the simple reason I look at them as being similar to an episode of the Twilight Zone or from the comic, Tales from the Crypt. I’m usually on pins and needles while writing horror, but if I’m not or I’m too comfortable, I’m sure my readers will be as well. It’s my personal feeling as far as my writing goes, but it works for me.

Now, I’m going to take the same thought process to my epic fantasy or other genre that has a scope beyond a couple of characters for the sake of doing so. If I do that, I may miss some great character building moments and cheat myself and my readers out of something special.

As far as my last point, I call BS on that thinking. Yes, writing has evolved, but those books also continue to sell because they are good stories told in an engaging way. In many ways, we have started talking down to our readers by explaining every intricate reasoning within our books instead of trusting our readers to think.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many writers out there that don’t do this, but there are just as many that fall into the trap of explaining everything, including me. I’m the type that loves to know as much as possible, so this is a line I find myself walking on a regular basis as to how much information is too much. It’s easy to second guess ourselves, but that’s why it’s important to have other eyes look through your work, but that’s another post for another day.

Of course, there are authors that do so purposely, as it’s their style and that’s great. Nothing is ever wrong with being true to yourself and doing what you feel is best for your writing.

Not everyone will agree, and that includes editors, agents, and publishers, but I don’t believe in sacrificing something, whether it’s popular or not, unless it benefits the story.

We each have our own voice that deserves to be heard. We each also have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure we put out something we would want to read and is as well written as possible. That doesn’t always mean giving up and doing what others say, nor adopting an “It’s my way or no way” approach. Be open to thoughts and criticism, but also be willing to learn and grow to better your story and yourself.

At some point, we all face the choice between doing what’s considered popular at the moment or what we feel is quality. If we’re lucky, they’ll go hand in hand and the decision is academic.

In the end, it all comes down to my firmest, most basic belief as a writer: Do what feels right for your story. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing or art in general.

We all have our own thoughts and opinions and I’d love to hear yours.

  1. January 9, 2015 12:14 pm

    I wrestle with this, tool. I just started a book of short stories by Russian novelists (Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chechov, etc.). Their styles would have landed them in the reject pile today, yet they are masters. Is the answer we must write for today’s readers?

    • January 9, 2015 5:36 pm

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      I think you hit the nail on the head. I hate to say it, but I doubt Stephen King would be a household name if he started writing today. We definitely need to keep in mind today’s readers, but the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the blanket term of what readers want is misleading. When I asked random people in bookstores, they didn’t have a clear preference whether a story was fast paced or slower and rich. Sadly, I think it’s more of a method for publishers to stay relevant in an age when more kids watch TV than read.

      Honestly, I think it really depends on what group we’re writing for instead of absolute or broad assumptions. I know in my case, people either love or hate my books. There really isn’t a middle ground, so that kinda helps me. lol

  2. January 9, 2015 7:14 pm

    An established author can get away with a lot, but to rise from anonymity you must push hard and quick. How does someone select one book (without notoriety) over millions of others — your blurb, your first paragraph, your title.and your book cover. Some may prefer or hate a perspective style, but most will just grab the book that grabs them at a glance..Do what you like after you fave a fan base, but you have obvious limits until then.

    • January 9, 2015 7:53 pm

      True, but at the same time everything you listed to stand apart are done at a glance and not what’s within the story. People choose what catches their eye and interest, developing their like or dislike for the author based on the content afterwards as in any market. It’s through that connection with fans that establised authors became established. For many, it’s about the substance, not the glamor. To each their own method.

      • January 9, 2015 9:09 pm

        You can write a good book with a hook up front or not, but you have to accept the inconvenience caused by little notoriety.

  3. January 10, 2015 8:36 am

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog.

  4. January 10, 2015 1:18 pm

    Well, the genre I write is definitely not popular. It’s all about overcoming adversity and personal growth. The trend in genres right now seems to be fantasy and erotica (Fifty Shades). So, I have an uphill battle with getting readers to begin with. Top that with how anyone and their dog can upload a book they’ve written despite if they’re good or not, which causes good authors to drown in a sea of choices for readers. Then, top that with a society that wants everything NOW and can’t wait for a hook to keep them interested … I’d say I have to compromise at least a little to get anyone to notice me, let alone read my work. I’m not known like Stephen King either, so I need to do what I can to be found at all. I do try to hook my reader from the start, but a hook for one person might be uninteresting to another. So, I do the best I can with a hook. I also don’t like to write anything that I, myself wouldn’t ‘t like to read. If an author jumps from pov to pov, I get dazed and confused. Eventually, I give up. So, I don’t write that way either. Probably because I’d get confused with which character’s head I should be in at any given moment. It’s a challenge sometimes to keep the story tight and engaging, but that’s part of the fun (and drudgery). Anyway, that’s my worthless opinion on the topic. 😛

    • January 10, 2015 8:56 pm

      Hi, Lori! 🙂

      Oh yeah. There’s little doubt we all have a difficult time pulling ourselves above the rest. All we can really do is keep working and improving to rise above.

      I was once told writing erotica is a gold mine, but it’s not my thing. Plus, I think readers can tell when something is written with a passion and will find something that intrigues them at some point so I leave it to those that love telling those stories.

      Personally, I’m a fan of mindless entertainment, but I aso love to be immersed in a rich story that keeps me reading for the content and story instead of constant hooks and I think most people feel the same way. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first or last time. lol.

      My biggest issue is the constant blanket statements saying we have to do something because someone, somewhere, said it works. I don’t buy into that. If it works for you,, awesome! Glad it does! If not, then keep working to find what does work for you. Honestly, as long as you’re writing what you love and your style fits into what you prefer and matches your vision, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with that at all 🙂

  5. January 13, 2015 6:45 pm

    It really makes me sad to think about all the great books of yore which would’ve gotten instant rejections from agents, editors, and publishers these days. I can just picture the rejection reasons: “Watch that word count!” “There’s no one main character!” “Too many characters!” “You didn’t write one book, you wrote five or six books.” “Too much backstory in the opening pages!” “Too much telling!” “You used adverbs and passive voice!”

    I’ve mostly read older books my whole life, so I naturally developed an old-fashioned writing style myself. That includes using the classic default of third-person omniscient, which has pretty much long been the standard in my genre, historical. I can see, in hindsight, how some older books definitely overused and misused certain literary conventions, like adverbs, passive voice, and starting by introducing a character and his or her story instead of in media res, but you can’t insist they should all be thrown out indiscriminately. It’s the same way with how, in my artwork, I tend to use a lot of blues, greens, purples, reds, and oranges, but sometimes I need to use a pink, grey, yellow, or brown too. It’s about figuring out what works and what comes most naturally to you.

    • January 13, 2015 9:49 pm

      Hello, Carrie and thank you for commenting. I couldn’t have said it any better.

      I have to admit, I have a love affair with passive voice as in, “He was beginning to worry”. It’s tough to move away from that style as I love the sound of those phrases. lol

      Robert E Howard is one of my favorite authors, but he broke every one of those rules and then some. In his case, it wasn’t so much being formal but that he was paid half a penny (I think) per word. They were different times, and that should be noted, but I love how they can still work if used right.

      I like to ask people, “How are you going to stand out from a faceless group if you’re faceless?” It’s kind of brutal, but I hope it helps others to think and stay true to their vision.

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