Thursday, May 5, 2011

Themes, Threads, Platforms: Axis of Ads

Putting your best props forward can get some readers interested in your story, as in letting it be known that your main character smokes a certain brand, or is addicted to marinated Omaha steaks on the grill, or drinks Miller Bock, etc., and so it goes.  Putting it out there can draw attention to your story. So never back off use of such brand names in your story, even if the bad guy is the one who likes to chug Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Even more attention-getting for your novel or story are the thematic issues, the threads you pull from beginning to end of tale, and your platform or platforms if you wish to call them as such.  To be honest, there is typically a major theme or platform *issue of some sort that is your chief thread, but more often than not in a novel, you will have sub-categories of theme.  Some novels can have manay threads being pulled at once.

Each such thematic issue, be it as simple as a love interest for your lead character or as complex as the human condtion...what the flesh is heir to, is of interest to readers. When we set out to describe our books on to synopsize the action, we typically concentrate on WHAT happens rather than the deeper questons. In most descripts we get the WHEN, that crucial bit about the time period. One way or another it is made clear. We're always treated to the WHO of the story--whose story is it anyway.  This is elemental for a book description that goes forth to entice readers into the setting, that other elemental: WHERE. So yes, all of these are crucial when discussing your book for the purpose of gaining readership. Let's recap:  Who, Where, When, What happens (plot in brief).  But there remains the other two journalistic questions:  Why?  and yes, How?

The why and the how of your story is going to deal with these threads, these themes your characters wrestle with.  Why should we care about the story?  Why should fictional characers care?  Why is it important?  Beyond why lies the How?  How could it be?  How could it happen?  How could we sit idlely by and allow it to happen?  How is it in our control, and how is it out of our control?

If karma plays a part in your story, can you use the term and the concept to entice people into reading?  Fate?  The inevitabilty of human interaction that leads to tragedy?  Tragedy and tragic failure and tragic characters - these bigger picture issues?  Perhaps we can't hope to cram them into the single paragraph or two required of a back flap on a book cover, but are there ways to utilize them in talking about our books to maximize reader curiosity that might lead to more purchases and thus more readers?

I have certainly not restrained myself from talking about the How and the Why in discussing my novels online whenever I find the opportunity to do so. I believe most readers are fascinated by the larger issues underpinning the dramatic and episodic elements of your novel.

It is for this reason that in discussing my Childen of Salem, for instance, on Twitter, Facebook, even Youtube, I am often asking the reader about their interest in a layered tale of human triumph as well as tragedy.  In my Titanic 2012, I speak of the curse on the ship, the plague, the tragic end which was planned at some point and no accident when men have their backs to the wall. I have no qualms about calling my Inpsector Alastair Ransom a tragic hero as he is precisely that, and his own powerful, strong character traits for which we ambivalently love him and hate him will be his undoing.

Of human bondage - loved it as a title but what about as a theme or platform? Heir to flesh, heir to failure and ultimately death.  When is death not with us? The heroic facing death heroically, stoically, or less than firmly?  Loss of a loved one?  Reactions of characters to tragic loss... all part and parcel of the bundled package tied round by the various threads of the novel.

Do we stay at the superficial level of the basic outline of story, lamely depicting four hundred pages in a matter of sentences that only state the obvious surface happenings of a who, a what, a when, and a where only to lob off the how and the why and the wherefores?

Okay, okay....there's little room for such in a synopsis the size of an envelope, I know. I even had to cut out the word 'ecumenical' before the word 'spy' in my descript of Children of Salem which might've helped with the how and the why of Jeremiah Wakely's going into the village to spy on his former neighbors, and why he held a grudge against them in the first place....but there's the limit of space and speed.

However in other venues, 'ecumenical' can and perhaps should be returned to the discussion as who else speaks of 'ecumenical spies' running about in his/her book but I?  It makes the book unique. It behooves me to find venues to speak in more detail about the various 'platforms', issues, threads, and themes found in the novel, to cast a wide, wide net across the landscape of the ebook world.  And so I do not hesitate to do blogs and speak of issues of interest to my featured characters in my various series of books or stand-alones.  Witchcraft may be a word that 'begets' readers to the novel, but Religious Intolerance may also be a word that 'begets' other readers to open the pages of the book, as might the practice of Excommunication and Shunning as in The Scarlet Letter.  The closeness of the book to Scarlet Letter, as Hawthorne's great grandfather figures as a character in my book and a quite flawed one at that. What of interrogation techniques in an American Colony called Massachusettes?  Or what was considered a jail aboard the Titanic in 1912?  What other cargo than passengers was aboard Titanic?

There can be an endless list of discussion points plucked from your novel which you can take to facebook, twitter, and other social media and chat groups such as a history forum.

Food for thought.  If it gives you ideas, so be it; then I have done my job as I see it!

Please do leave a comment or question!
Rob Walker
http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/

20 comments:

Franz McLaren said...

Thanks Rob. Like many writers I tend to write a description for the back cover and use it over and over again. However, this article has given me a bit to chew on. It makes sense to discuss different aspects of each book in order to broaden the interest. The idea had just never occurred to me. It looks like I'll be spending a bit of time reviewing my books to develop different perspectives to describe each one.

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

All important points, as ususual. I too have used the same synopsis far to many times for my latest novel "Sebastian Cross." I have a nd do share different passages that I feel are strong and might entice a would be reader. But I have lost a little interest in self promoting it over the months, just want to move on, get tired of revisiting it, and that's bad when I'm the only one promoting it-lol, And a few interested parties I guess.
I like to hear others interpretations of my themes, characters actions, quialities, and motivations, even if they're light years away from mine. That's where a writer can take a fresh look at something he's done and learn, and say, "yeah, I never thought of it that way, but sure, I suppose, why not."

I wanted to say something about the first paragraph of Robs Blog. not brand promotion but, all my books have a couple of re-occurring items. Someone is always wearing a Navy pea coat, a pair of Dan Post,cowboy boots, no matter where they live, and somebody is always using a Zippo lighter. Not always all three or in relation to one character, But they show up somewhere. I noticed it a long time ago and realized first: these are my personal accessories, and second, I used that before, I should take it out, and third, no, so what, I'll use it again, because I can and I want to.
I like to take some of my favorite things around me and kinda sneak them in.

Robert W. Walker said...

Yeah, I have noticed Stephen King jusgt likes the sound of Redman Tobacco...I have overused the word Tarmac...not that I carry any around with me. HA!

Glad you guys could take something away from the article. It was inspired by my KDP thread on the kindle community forum "What Moves Kindle Bks. off the Shelf?" now nearing 30,000 views and has now 90 comments over 61 pgs. WowsAaaa!

Rob

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

I got more out of it than that Rob. I like to use real places, towns settings, certain landmarks. Even if I've never been there, I research the area, streets, busnesss, common names. I write slice of life literature, or ty to, and people are connected with where they are from, maybe conflicted-eithier love it or hate it. Still.
Clovis Point was set in Fallon NV. I have never been there, but I found out all I could about it, or at least all I needed. One scene takes place in a flea bag Hotel down town, once a grand jewel in better day's boasting that Mark Twain had slept there. I completely made it up, didn't excist as far as I knew. I did a radio interview for KHWG, (in Fallon NV) and the station manager/dj/interviewer, brought it up, and told me that it was there, that when he read it and thought I must have been there before. That I had described this place perfectly right down to the broken, black and white tile foyer to the creaking wood staircase, even the desk clerk. I assured him that it was just a coincidence,"That's cool, but I have never been there," I said. he didn't buy it, I don't think. kept going on about it for a while.
It's things like that, that really get me. I love it. Connecting with people through a small scene of fiction to the point they'll almost argue with you about it. And what of this place? This old hotel I'd never been to? or had I?
These are the little pay offs for the reader but also big pay offs for the writer.

Morgan Mandel said...

After I write a book sometimes I'm surprised to find out what is hidden beneath the surface of my words and compelled me to write what I did.

Morgan Mandel

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

Morgan-yeah, things creep in. things going on in your life or peoples lives around you. Things from childhood. sub-conscience. I think we're way off Robs subject but it's fun to discuss and contemplate where those hidden things come from.
During the final draft of "Sebastian Cross" I bought a book at a flea market by Robert(I think) Shattuck, "Forbiden Knowledge." It's about the effects literature and science througout history. Facinating. I was barely into it when I discovered, this is what I wrote about, this is what Sebastian Cross is about, under the surface. I knew this as I was writing it, but to read about it, in a non fiction format, an analitcal way, was pretty cool. I thought I was being clever and original. Ha-vanity I guess.

Rob Walker said...

Spinoff conversations are what this ACME place is all about, Kevin. No problem. Glad to hear these details.

rob

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

I had always been interested in this. The John Lennon/Catcher in The Rye, senerio is probably the most infamous, But it goes way back...before Dante, before Homer, One drops in, in the right time and the right place in every centry and changes everything.

But I'm not qaulified to write a book on human psychology or cultural behavior. Plus... it wouldn't have been near as much fun.
I first read about it in High School. in the author's notes in the back "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Of course Lennon was shot about the same time, and I was like, what the hells going on? What's the big deal with Catcher? Well...nothing really, if your of a sound mind, but if your not, well...

Rob Walker said...

In a word, Carl Jung's ideas on SERENDIPITY.

rob

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