There are handicaps I labor under as a writer. Okay, the gentleman that just said lack of native talent can stay after class to clean the blackboards. It’s probably true mind you but not as important as most people think. My life, from learning foreign languages to writing is a testimony to the fact that a sufficient amount of hard work can overcome any lack of native talent.
No, my big handicap is that there were so few genres I loved as a kid. Or perhaps I should say so few subgenres.For instance while I loved science fiction and took to it like a duck to intellectual water, I was not exposed to fantasy until some of Simak’s half and half novels were published in Portugal (or I came across them. It’s hard to tell when things came out when you inherited a lot of your books from friends’ parents and/or bought them used.) That was in my late teen years. And when my brother gave me the hobbit in my early twenties, I thought he was out of his mind (my brother not the hobbit.)
While later, in my early married years (remember the eighties?) I read a lot of quest fantasy (who didn’t) it was still not my favorite subgenre, not the one I felt at home in.
Likewise, in mystery I was first exposed to dad’s hard boiled and police procedurals and did not fall headlong into Agatha Christie until I was 14. Although to be fair, there, I read her so often and so much it might have erased the lack of early exposure. Also mom watched a never end of mystery series, which I watched with her, so I absorbed most of the tropes that way.
As most of you know right now I read “everything.” Or at least everything that will hold my attention for more than a few minutes (there ain’t a lot.)
So of course, I write everything.
I won’t say science fiction is easier than fantasy for me — it depends on mood and idea — but I’ve long suspected there was something missing.
Look, in space opera, which was my first love, I know just what to do and what allusions to drop in to make the reader happy (these are called reader cookies, btw) because I’m one of those. I know at bone level what the tropes are, and the ideas that will make a reader gasp. In fantasy… My tastes often run to the off beat and those that have a more… “almost real” bend: Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, F. Paul Wilson.
So I wonder what level of cookies I’m missing or forgetting to put in. What am I not dropping in that would make readers very happy?
The cookies are a sort of resonance of the field. You might not even be aware of them, but the evocation of previous practitioners, the calling to mind of a favorite scene, the “I love it when this happens” can heighten the enjoyment of a book. For instance I love the opening of puppet masters because I love all the books of hidden worlds within our own. So having an agency that’s entered through a network of small shops. Yeah, I was there.
Mind you, I suspect a lot of the cookies today are from movies, not books, which puts me at a double handicap, since I rarely watch movies. And by “watch” you should read “Stand in the kitchen doing something or other, while listening, with occasional glances at the screen.”
Anyway, I’m more likely to know what “cookies” to give the reader in space opera and cozy mystery than in just about anything else.
This btw is the convincing side of “write what you know”. You will write better those things you learned at a very early age. Or at least you will write them more as the people who love them will like, because you are, ultimately, one of them.
Some of my reader cookies are … oh, hints that humans were the “old ones” of the galaxy. It doesn’t need to be a main part of the plot or the world, but just a hint of it will make me like a book more. Or the idea of hidden places and worlds within our own. Or “We came from the stars and we’re going back.” There are others. A lot of these are schlocky, which is why they work best as hints: little cookies devoured on your way to finishing the plot.
In mystery? I love swapped identities. I love loving couples that everyone believes are on the outs (which explains why one is suspected in the death of the other.) And I love “the most likely did it” though it takes time to get to it.
If I have cookies in fantasy, they’re not quite cookies… it’s more subgenres: I love entirely new worlds convincingly done. I also love urban fantasy that’s not all about the chick and the monster, particularly if it involves deep history and weaving the story through history. Yeah, I like alternate history too. It’s just hard to find it to my standards. Not because I’m a wonderful practitioner, but because I love history and read a lot of it.
So, what are your reader cookies, and what do you feel confident putting in your work?