Core engagements

I’ve been playing a lot of video games lately, and when I do something, I *do* it on multiple layers. So I’ve been watching a lot of videos both playing and on the making of and I’ve found a lot of information that applies directly to writing.

I have a long thing about feedback I’ve been dwelling on but it’s not quite ready to come out. I’m the first to say that I was/am bad at taking feedback. At the time of writing, I love my characters and my world and my problem so much that if the reader doesn’t, I feel like they must just be mentally deficient.

But this is rarely actually the case. The pieces of advice I have gotten from works that people didn’t like in the first draft help drive the second draft to say what I didn’t say in the first. When I started Shark-punching, I thought it was the best thing I’d ever done. Nope. The characters walked a lot and talked a lot, but they did nothing. And maybe some people can write a walking and talking but not doing thing and have it be brilliant, but I am not that person and most people aren’t, either. The complaint was the characters didn’t gel together as a couple. I had this big idea about wheels of fortune and twisting power structures that never made it onto the page at all.

And that was supposed to be my core engagement, the thing the reader was supposed to care about. What has to happen to put one of the characters off the position of power and need the other character more than the other character needs him.

If the writing doesn’t engage on that core engagement, it can be cut from the story without anyone missing it. And I know there must be tonnes of stories out there that don’t do this. I’ve had so many people on their first or second novel explain to me that yes, they understand the rules as they are told, but sometimes rules can be broken. I know they can be broken. If I have to point out those moments where the rules are broken for no apparent reason, or, worse, for the obvious fact that breaking the rule is less work than following it, then they haven’t broken the rule correctly. And the fact that they don’t know how to break a rule correctly means going back to the drawing board and understanding what that rule *means* and then, if you figure that out, how to mess with it in a way that won’t kick the reader out of the story for the broken contract that says I will not waste your time.

How did I get back to my standard rule rant? I have no idea. The point is, core engagement is the reason why not people but your ideal reader is going to want to read the next chapter instead of going to bed like a sane normal person who has a meeting at eight a.m. after travelling all day. Sarah Greun’s early Flying Changes and Sequel that was ten times worse but kept me up all night, I’m looking at you. You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can button mash your ideal reader through understanding why they would want to read a book like yours. If you’re writing for art’s sake or for your own personal reasons, this obviously doesn’t apply to you. If you’re writing for other people though, not wasting their valuable time they spent investing in your stuff. It’s not the least you can do…it’s a hell of a lot of work, but it’s the least they’re expecting.


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