Storytelling, “People Don’t Care…

“People don’t care about an idea, but they might care about a person with an idea.”

A fictional author on the House of Cards tv show has given me this storytelling mantra.

I must hook readers with a character. They must care about him/her from the first page if not the first paragraph or even the first letter of the first word.

Blue-eyed Ishkur
His eyes are supposed to be light green and his ears pointed.


Hmm, too ambitious. How about this:

Ishkur dances for life as his audience stabs and grabs. A spontaneous performance answering an ambush that interrupted the half-elf’s revere.

I’ve written as a hobby for a long time, but now that I’m publishing refining my storytelling has become essential. I can’t get by with Nanowrimo stream of consciousness. This isn’t just therapy anymore; this is business, and I need to get better at it.

First professional attempt at storytelling.My first published book.

Destiny’s Hand hasn’t caught readers’ interest. It’s been hard to see it sit mostly unread, but I am thankful for the lesson.

Storytelling trumps setting, plot, characters, and even quality of writing. It is more important than anything else to get read.

It has a good beginning I think:

Artim Drakkin’s left hand shakes. He’s woken standing over a body on the floor. Naked and sweaty with an unfocused anxiety, he doesn’t know what he did.

It seems to loose people with shifts in point of view and a prolonged conversation between protagonists to set the stage.

I also think I got too descriptive:

Artim and Katelle lie together in a soft bed that fills the love pod like water frozen while splashing in a bucket. Sweat dries in artificially low humidity as their hearts slow to match their languishing. Deep breaths express contentment, and they absorb the meditative moment.

Yuri hooking fishGood writing isn’t good enough. It has to engage with storytelling.

I can write beautiful prose, and readers can enjoy the flow and imagery, but novels are a magnitude larger than poems or songs. To reliably hold a reader for hundreds of pages they need to be hooked on protagonists and antagonists, characters that they can get emotionally invested in.

Storytelling can reel in the reptilian brain.

Working on my swing.

After I’ve made a page turner, I’ll come back to Destiny’s Hand and streamline it with my adjusted style. It will be the same story with the same characters, just told in a more engaging way.

Storytelling style change upSeeker of Truth

A solid attempt but got too complicated and not enough fun early on:

A man marvels at the golden hilt covered with specks of red as the length of its blade splits his soured heart. A betrayer presses a muddy boot down on his chest to pull it free with a pearl white gauntlet. Blood sprays as numbness replaces pain, dark replaces gray and bleating animals replace mocking laughter.

It’s better spoken.

An audio attempt on a draft of the first chapter garnered some appreciation and a lot of teasing from friends. It was fun and I plan to make audio versions of everything I publish.

My son still believes.

Almost everyday my five-year-old son asks me to tell him more of the “Seeke story”. The main character of Seeker of Truth is based on him, and he’s very invested.

Still I’m putting it aside half-finished to build up the background with a book that takes place earlier in the timeline. It’s a less complicated setting, which I hope will translate into easier storytelling.

Ranger of Path

Ishkur is a cool ranger. The girls love him.Not a popular book name, but staring a main character that’s more fun.

I seem stuck on violence as a first hook. Maybe I should flavor that with more personality:

Ishkur preens in the sun as his sweat-soaked armor dries on a log. With a heaving breath he trills and sings a song of bells and chimes. His elvish has the deep resonance of his human half rather than the birdsong lightness it’s intended for. A few of the men coming out of the tall grass cover their ears and wear scowls with matching sneers.

“Ah critics with spears. Don’t worry, I get the point.”

More fun but this Ishkur sounds too mature for this point in time. I don’t want to sacrifice everything for good storytelling. I want to be proud of what I’ve written.

I want to learn from 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, not write the next hated bestseller.

“Are you a planner or pantser?”

I got this question and had to look up “pantser” to understand it’s writing by the “seat of my pants” and is just asking if I outline or not.

I think anyone intending to write a series of interconnecting books must outline, otherwise it will end up a muddled as a Marvel/DC crossover or a Lost tv show.

I also think that writing organically is essential for good storytelling. It doesn’t have to be an either or. I can wear pants while I outline.

Ishkur of my current project is based on a DnD character my brother played within a campaign I DM’d for several years. I keep him alive in my head and have him run through the sparse scripted outline. My mind fills in the details as Ishkur explores, and I often have to adjust the script to keep him happy.

I write in present tense, which I think is a modern form of storytelling that’s acceptable because of movies and role-playing games.

Essentially I try to live the story in my head with the characters being real enough to make a mental health professional nervous.

So, look for my next published book in November of this year and see if I can hook you.




3 thoughts on “Storytelling, “People Don’t Care…”

  1. I don’t think that’s true, much as I love House of Cards. Plenty of people can be hooked with an idea, in fact many of the most famous scifi and especially dystopian novels of the last century are driven by ideas. 1984 hasn’t stuck in the collective consciousness because of the quality of Smith as a character.

    What a book has to do is offer something up to the reader, and deliver on it. That might be ideas, it might be setting / world (a big appeal of things like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter is the world they offer the reader), and it might be character. Chances are it’s going to be a mixture of the three and other things as well.

    But it needs something, and it needs to be shown within the first 300 words max. If you can get it in the first sentence, so much the better. If the reader has to fight with purple prose and nebulous concepts, if the opening lines confuse them, they won’t engage with the story. The passages you have here all have promise, but they tend to be overwritten and verging on purple in places. You’re burying your hook.

    And that hook, that promise, has to hold up through out. Storytelling is essentially fulfilling that promise you made to the reader in the opening. If you promise them ideas, you must deliver on those ideas. If you promise world, then they need to come away wanting to return and play more in your settings. If you set up a sharp, witty narrator who the reader wants to spend time with, they can’t lose that personality.

    1. Fair points. Whatever I say needs a grain of salt until I find some success.

      I think in the market we’re in, self-publishing on-line as unknowns, storytelling must be primarly driven by characters. Ideas and world are important and can hook as well, but I’m not seeing them hold readers like they use to.

      A 1984 book today I think could easily be never read.

      Also 1984 begins:

      “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”

      I think maybe Smith’s quality as a character is that a reader can become him easily. He explores and experiences the world and readers care about what happens to him. He doesn’t have to have a witty personality. The important part is that we care.

      1. Smith’s an archetype, an everyman. It’s not that the reader cares for Smith, but they can insert themselves into his position. People don’t care for Smith as a person, but what he represents – the loss of the individual in the totalitarian machine. While the society of 1984 is an extreme, there’s enough reflected in the current world that it plays on our subconscious.I think that’s why it’s invaded public thought so successfully. Even people who have never read the book, who have never heard of George Orwell, will recognise and understand concepts like Big Brother, Double-speak, Room 101, thought police etc. And for that reason, I think it would build up a following once people were aware of it.

        In terms of self-published books, there’s a massive market for self-insertion characters, blank slates the reader can project themselves on. Mostly in romance / erotica, but also other areas. Again, it comes down to offering the reader something and delivering what they are after – from dark dystopian vision that haunts the subconscious to titillation. Every market is limited, but you have to find yours and convince them you have something to sell that they want.

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