Nothing Like That Now, Honest

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-04-27 12:00:00 No comments

A note to myself: Be careful how you describe your story to others, especially when they know nothing about it, because any one choice of words can give them an image that doesn't match the reality.

Case in point: The Fall Of The Hammer (still in progress). In its very early stages, when I mentioned it to people, I noted that some of the inspiration had stemmed from my response to the not-very-good Justice League movie. I even described it as a kind of "superhero story". What I have now is almost nothing like that, so anyone picking up the book and expecting a superhero story is going to be roundly let down.

People seize on individual things that give them a vivid impression where none yet exists. A superhero story concept is as vivid an idea about what something is as any you're likely to find. But in this case the description was misleading -- only the barest and most distant elements from such things survived even the first draft.

Thing is, I knew this! But I used the word "superhero" anyway, because I knew it would get the kind of attention a lot of my other word choices wouldn't. Dumb idea, since the total number of people that actually heard my use of the term, I could count on one hand with fingers left over.

How we pitch our own work to people is always tough to get right. My friend Steve is a master of using the "it's what would happen if genre X followed theme Y down a dark alley and mugged it" form of pitch-framing. It's funny, it lets your mind fill in the blanks, it gets people engaged and curious. I'm no good at this kind of thing -- mainly from lack of practice, but also from a sense that framing stories in this way seems misleading, both to myself and others. This feeling has receded now that I understand you need to use this framing after you already have a good handle on your story -- as a way to sum it up, not as a way to originate it -- but I'm still reflexively hesitant to sum things up in an "X meets Y" format, if only because I find formulas like that limiting.

But people need formulas, I find. Their time is short, and you need to get their attention somehow. I have never been happy with this state of affairs, but I know now it's not something I can shrug off. If nothing else, people need formulas because it gives them a quick way to understand whether or not a story is for them -- and what with there being more stories out there than ever before, they need such guidance. I'm still working out how to give that to them in a way that doesn't feel like a cheat. Maybe what the world needs is nothing more than cleverer taglines.

Tags: The Fall Of The Hammer writing