f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Inspiration--That's a Great Idea!

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Day 2 of Inspiration--That's a Great Idea!

Yesterday we talked about writing books that readers don’t know they want to read but enjoy, even love, nonetheless.

Today we’re going to talk about books that readers don’t know they want to read—until they hear about them.

To me, this is the high-concept idea. I choose archetypes (like Middlesex yesterday) for this kind of thing and the perfect archetype to me is: Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.

I heard this book summary and thought: “I want to read that.”

The basic pitch is this: a widower (who happens to be a linguist), unhinged with grief after his wife’s odd death, decides to try and teach the family dog to talk—the dog being the only witness to what happened. That’s a premise I felt could lead, more often than not, to some interesting fiction.

The Lovely Bones is high-concept with a girl telling the aftermath of her murder from “heaven.”

These are the ideas that have “hooks” that sales people like. How does one sell the story of a industrial town or the life of a hermaphrodite (except on the reputation of their authors.) But a new author can launch a career with a book that features a solid dramatic hook.

My book, Ezekiel’s Shadow, had a supposed hook—namely, “What if a horror writer became a Christian, stopped writing horror, and got stalked for it by a pissed-off fan?” These books tend to be built on “What if’s?”

“What if a cad starting dating single moms because they were desperate and, ultimately, committed elsewhere?”

“What if a novelist, overwhelmed by success at a young age, couldn’t finish his second novel because he just kept writing?”

“What if a daughter was born merely to become an organ donor for her older sister?”

These ideas can come within or outside of genres. And they often face one enormous problem: reader expectations.

A book like Risk Pool—story of a son reconciling himself to a roustabout dad—won’t get very man folks excited out the outskirt. (Unless you love Richard Russo. Which I do. But that’s a different topic.)

Dogs of Babel though compelled me to buy it. I had a stake and interest in it and the book had expectations of entertainment to live up to. It did but not in the ways I expected. So perhaps even in that I was touch disappointed.

These are the books that lots of people in a publishing house can get excited about, however. Sales people have their marketing hook. Editorial people have a compelling story that’s unique. (Otherwise, it’s not high-concept. It’s copying.) And the author has the expectations of everybody around them.

Day 3 of Inspiration -- Creating Ideas to Meet a Need in the Market