Now that I have your attention, I’d like to talk to you about getting attention.
You all know I’m in school, and many of you will have fond or not-so-fond memories of college, yourself. This semester my classes are a mixed bag, as always, of things I enjoy and things I must endure. I am taking (it’s a requirement for my major) a public speaking class, for instance. Yesterday the professor outlined ways to get the attention of your audience, and it seems to me they are also relevant to a non-verbal form of communication, like, say, a blog post. Or a book.
The first was Familiarity: audience like to hear about, or talk about, things that are familiar to them. Shared experiences, like my comment above about college. Or when I post on facebook about what book I’m reading, and ask others to share what they are. I always get lots of likes and comments on such posts.
Second is Vital. This, she told us, is anything that is important to everyone. Safety, health… I realized that this could be Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, when you boil it down. We all need food, water, shelter, clothes, and sex. Which is why it’s a little odd that today’s neovictorianism seems to have gotten the stick by the wrong end and rather than being discreet about sex, as the Victorians were – at home, they were deeply sexual and passionate, they just weren’t public about it – the pendulum has swung from summer of free love, to a ban on booth babes and ‘sexy’ cosplayers at the big game cons. Is cosplay important to everyone? Probably not. However, it is a great way to get attention, unless of course people decide that you are getting too much attention. Freedom is important to everyone, that I think we can agree on.
Activity is the third one, and the hardest to do in a textual manner. Although I will say that gifs work rather well. And puppy-dog eyes.
And yes, of course we can go back to the cosplayers here, although frankly I think it’s a cheap out, because, well, I know it works!
Ahem, where was I?
Oh, yes, the one that is perhaps least relevant to us fiction writers: Reality. In a speech, the audience wants reality, she told us. Frankly, I really enjoy some fantasy – again, look at the popularity of cosplay, for a brilliant illustration. Why, when there is obviously so much joy taken in that escape from reality, would we take that away from the people who enjoy it? Because they succeed at getting attention?
Novelty: plan to have a back-up plan, she told us. Some things only work once, she told the class, and if you don’t get your timing right, they can be a big flop. I know I’ve seen this in writing. ee cummings, for instance, was pretty much a one-off with throwing out punctuation and being successful at it. The rest of us schmucks need to face up to grammar and get it right. Labeling it as racist is just a lazy ploy.
Suspense is one we fiction writers know very well. In the real world, you might never know how that situation turned out, in a story you’d better let your readers in on at least some conclusion.
No one said suspense has to be frightening…
And finally, the last thing she gave us for getting attention is Conflict. You know the old saying, if it bleeds, it leads. Although that’s not always what conflict means, as we writers already know. You can have plenty of conflict with the build-up to a first kiss. Or conflict over just how much skin are we allowed to show in public, now? How can they reconcile these two images, where one is perfectly acceptable, and the other is asked to leave her place of work and go change? We are indeed entering the new age of judgement, and it’s not a pretty conflict, at all.
I suppose this is as good a place as any for my book cover. Pixie Noir is on sale this weekend. I caught some grief over this image – and yes, Sarah used it on one of her books as well, since evidently we share a taste in chicks. But it gets attention!
Postscript: I have a Pi(e) recipe over on my blog today, in honor of Pi Day! Happy eating…