A recently encountered statistic: Fewer than 50 percent of readers read the whole book. Any book, even the best sellers. That seems hard to believe, but if true …
Getting people to start reading the book is, well, just the start. The challenge is to get them to turn the page and keep reading, then turn the next and the one after that. Arouse their curiosity, get them to care enough to find out what comes next.
And no – it’s not about “their” curiosity or “them.”
The challenge is to arouse your curiosity, get you to care enough to find out what comes next.
We were taught in the radio business to talk into the microphone as if we were chatting across the kitchen table with an old friend. Radio announcing is not a public speech, the theory went, it’s a conversation. And so is writing, isn’t it?
The idea is to reach out as if it was one-on-one communication, because that’s exactly what it is: one soul talking with another.
Thanks for sitting at my kitchen table and caring enough to listen.
“Do that again.”
He folded the page back, not wanting to stop, and instructed the magic pen to pull more thoughts and scenes out of his fingers. How was this happening? How did the pen do that?
“Come on, more stories, more magic, more connections!”
But the pen just sat, poised seductively over the page, tantalizing him. He set the stylus to the paper in hope of spurring it into action again.
“Come – on – write something, for the love of God, Montresor!”
And slowly, haltingly, the words came again. Here was a woman who never knew why the house made that groaning sound at night until she opened the door that was never opened. Here were the Mars explorers who found that all the observations of dead Mars were wrong and all of the speculations of living Mars were dead on the money. Here was the scrap of paper that finally explained where the expression came from and told the story of the first person ever to be found “dead on the money.”
And then it went cold again, that magic pen.
Finally, it wrote, “Enough. Get up from your chair and give yourself a life. Fill your lungs with air and your ears with chatter and your eyes with a world. Then come back here, pick me up and exhale. I’ll be ready for you.”
People I have wanted to be when I grow up:
Ray Bradbury, Paul Harvey, Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent), e.e. cummings …
The truth? That’s pretty much the whole list.
Bradbury, for the way his words dance.
Harvey, for the voice and the storytelling.
Dent, for writing 180 novels in 180 months, give or take.
cummings, a long time ago, for being free.
There are many, many others I admire,
and many many others I would emulate if I had the chops –
but BE? Who did I want to be? Those guys.
Now that I “am” grown up, I still do.
Bradbury, Harvey and Dent showed up for work. They did what they did all the time for as long as they were able. (I never learned much about cummings and his work habits – or I’ve forgotten – but I bet he did, too.)
I want to be that guy. Those guys.
What a ride it has been.
What a ride it will be.
On a morning when each breath draws bright icicles into the soul came a knock on the heart’s door.
“Hey! It’s me! Your inner Bradbury,” came a child’s voice like a warm breeze. “Take me for a spin with a pair of new sneakers unleashed on the meadow next door, like a rocket on the launch pad gathering fuel for one grand push against the Earth, like an old lady with a gleam in her eye who tells of mysteries no little girl or boy can fathom.
“Run across fields full of stars and buzzing sounds that come from nowhere and everywhere. Take me anywhere, but take me – send me on an adventure, share a nugget of joy in the living, in the finding, in the exploring, for it’s a good world to live, find and explore.
“Settle on a distant planet only to find the challenges of men and women don’t change so much just because the scenery is different, but yes they do because the scenery is different, and yet humans are still humans.
“Do anything with me, your inner Bradbury, but don’t neglect me, for there’s the path to old age.”
“I guess I am getting old,” I replied. “But not so old that I would purposefully neglect you, old friend.”
And I reached up for a book.
Reading an essay about the legendary rebel Malcolm Reynolds, a thought occurs to me about war and rebellion and human nature.
“I must write about that,” I says to myself, I says, “after I finish reading.”
But when I finish reading, the insight eludes me like the plot of a memorable dream. I scan through the essay again, hoping the words will re-ignite my imagination, but the thought is gone.
Next time, I guess, I’ll leave pen and paper nearby.
But I always have pen and a pad in my shirt pocket.
Next time, I guess, I’ll stop and pull out the pen and paper.
Stop what you’re doing and memorialize that random thought, else it returns to wherever it came from.
Every story, every book, begins with that word. Or at least every idea for a story, a book.
If a little girl lived in a town where black people didn’t get a fair shake, and her father was a principled attorney and a black man was falsely accused …
If an alien civilization placed beacons on our world millennia ago that could only be found and activated after we reached for the stars …
If a boy and a girl met and fell in love but not only their parents but their entire families hated each other …
If books went out of style and became so despised that fire departments no longer extinguished fires but actually burned illegal libraries …
If a little girl on a small Kansas farm dreamed of having adventures far, far away …
If adventures happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …
If … what then?
That is how a story is found. That is how a story is told.
It’s so simple, in the end, this once upon a time.
International Thriller Writers have nominated Joanna Penn for a writing award – Best Ebook Original. Although she’s an internationally known podcaster and author mentor, this is the first time she’s received a nomination for her fiction writing as J.F. Penn.
Her pleasure over this recognition is obvious. She sounds charmingly giddy talking about it during her weekly podcast, The Creative Penn. Continue reading →
A few days after the first of the year, I posted “My 5 goals for 2017.” How’s that going for me, three months into this latest 12-month adventure? Continue reading →