Do Plot Spoilers Really Matter? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about plot spoilers today (so expect a couple in this article). This is mostly because I was introduced to the novel I’m currently reading (“A Canticle For Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr.) by a really interesting “Extra Sci Fi” Youtube video which pretty much spells out every major plot point and theme of the novel. Yet, despite these major plot spoilers – or rather because of them – I actually tracked down a copy of the novel and started reading it.

But why would I want to read a novel when I already know how it is going to end? Well, in the case of this book, it is more about the journey than the destination. I was so intrigued by the descriptions of the setting and the general concept of the book that I wanted to learn more about it, to see it “in action”, so to speak. Yet, with some other types of story, I’d probably find too many plot spoilers to be incredibly annoying.

In short, plot spoilers tend to matter more when there are twists or mysteries in a story. The whole point of – say – a detective novel or a thriller – is to uncover a mystery, to be astonished by new information and to follow every unpredictable direction that the plot might take. This is also why these novels tend to be a little less re-readable than novels in other genres. Because their stories rely so heavily on the reader not knowing things, they tend to lose some of their impact if you already know what will happen.

Yet, even then, a certain level of spoilers can actually make these stories more interesting – provided that the spoiler raises more questions than it answers (and therefore deepens the mystery).

For example, I binge-read a copy of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” about eleven years ago, purely because someone pointed out that it is a detective novel that ends with all of the main characters dying. I thought “how is this even possible?” and was curious enough to read the whole book in a single night.

Because I’d heard a major plot “spoiler”, but didn’t have any information about how or why it happened, I wanted to find out more. Without this intriguing spoiler, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about reading this brilliantly creepy mystery novel.

But, going back to what I was saying earlier, spoilers are at their very best when they are for stories that aren’t entirely about the plot. In other words, novels with intriguing settings, interesting ideas/concepts, an interesting writing style, fascinating characters or unusual subject matter. These are stories where a mere description of what happens doesn’t really do justice to the actual experience of reading the novel for yourself. Here, a spoiler gives you an intriguing idea of what to expect and then says “Go on, find out more”.

In other words, the more creative a story is, the less that spoilers matter.

When a story is more about the journey than the destination, then spoilers act more like a “teaser” trailer than some kind of horrible, mean-spirited thing that drains all of the joy from the story. They give you a hint of what kind of things to expect and then make you actually want to see it for yourself.

So, yes, spoilers aren’t always a bad thing. Yes, major spoilers should often be avoided in the detective and thriller genres, but – with many other genres – they can actually make a story more interesting, especially if it is a rather creative one. Still, it’s usually polite to include some kind of warning before spoiling a story, since I’m sure that my views on the subject aren’t shared by everyone.

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Sorry for the short, rambling article – but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Three Cool Things That Only Novels Can Do

I don’t know if I’ve written about this topic before, but I thought that I’d take a quick look at some of the things that only novels can do. After all, even though novels probably aren’t the most popular entertainment medium these days, they can do a lot of really cool and interesting stuff that you won’t really see in films, TV shows, videogames etc…

So, here are just three of the many cool things that you’ll only really see in novels:

1) Deeper Characterisation: One of the things that novels can do better than literally any other medium is to create complex, detailed characters. This is because novels can quite literally show you what the characters are thinking and feeling. Yes, other mediums can imply some of this stuff by using things like voice-overs, editing, dialogue, flashback scenes, facial expressions, in-game text etc… but only books can quite literally place you inside someone else’s mind.

And this isn’t just for stories told from a first-person perspective, it also appears in many third-person perspective stories too. Because novels are a non-visual medium, they aren’t limited by what can be shown in an image (eg: a frame of a film or a game). As such, they can go a lot deeper when it comes to showing how characters react to things, what they are feeling, what they think about various topics, how they see the world etc.. than any other medium can.

Not only does this give you the unique experience of temporarily being someone else, but it also adds an extra level of richness and depth to the other parts of a story too. For example, a suspenseful scene in a novel will be a lot more suspenseful because you can feel the character’s pounding heart and hear their racing thoughts. A romance will be more passionate because you’ll actually get to directly know what one or both of the couple are feeling. A horror story will be a lot scarier because you’ll get every detail of a character’s terrified reactions and/or a chilling glimpse inside the mind of a scary person.

I could go on, but one of the things that novels can do a hundred times better than any other medium is quite literally letting you see things from the characters’ perspectives.

2) Personal interpretation: Another unique thing about novels is that no two readers will have quite the same experience when they read the same book. When you see a film or play a game, it will look exactly the same as what everyone else sees when they look at it. Not so with novels.

With novels, you quite literally have to build your own mental images of the settings, characters etc… from the descriptions that the author has provided. What this means is that you get an experience that is tailor-made to your own experiences, imagination and sensibilities. A version of the story that is unique to you. Your own personal “cover version” of whatever was inside the author’s imagination when they were writing.

Not only is this a great workout for your imagination, but it has lots of other cool effects too. The setting of a novel will usually feel a lot more immersive and memorable because you have to “build it yourself”. Older novels can also sometimes age a lot better than older films, videogames etc… can, because you are the one supplying the “graphics”, “special effects” etc… (For a good example, read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash“. Despite being almost three decades old, it still “looks” as realistic and detailed as a modern CGI-heavy film and/or “AAA” videogame).

This also means that you’ll feel much more of a personal connection to a novel than you probably will to a film or a game. After all, whilst a film can play to an empty room and some games can technically play themselves (with bots etc..), a novel literally cannot “work” without your unique personal input.

3) Time and focus: Novels can play with time and focus in a way that other mediums can’t do anywhere near as well. Yes, films and games can include things like slow motion, close-ups, turn-based gameplay and fast editing, but one second of film or gameplay will always take one second. Likewise, a close-up shot of something can only show you the outside of it and will only usually last a few seconds (or longer, if it’s an art film).

On the other hand, not only can time flow a lot more freely in novels, but they can also focus on things in a way that film makers and game devs really can’t. To give you an example, a novel may spend an entire page describing an old statue – keeping the reader interested in it by focusing on numerous unusual details, using clever descriptions and talking about the statue’s interesting history. And the scene might take place in, say, the one second it takes for a character to glance at the statue.

Going back to the first point on my list, a novel might devote several pages to describing all of the thoughts, memories and feelings that go into a split-second decision that a character makes. It might then devote a single paragraph to, say, the year that follows this decision. And, when done well, this would not only “flow” in a really seamless way, but the differences in focus would also shape how the reader experienced these parts of the story too (eg: the “split-second” part would have more impact than the “year” part).

But, it gets even cooler than this. One of the awesome things about the written word is that an author can also influence how quickly the reader can read any part of the story by adjusting things like sentence structure/length, the simplicity/complexity of the language etc… What this means is that, for example, a scene that takes place in ten minutes of real time can be written in a way that allows the reader to blaze through it in just two. Or, with some changes to the writing, that “ten minute” segment could actually take ten minutes (or longer) to read.

So, novels have a level of freedom with time and focus that other mediums can only dream of.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Knowing Your Chosen Genre Results In Better Stories – A Ramble

Although I’ve already talked about this topic with relation to the horror genre, I thought that I’d talk about why knowing your chosen genre is important for all stories. This is mostly because good (or even average) stories in any genre will often use multiple “types” of the same genre in order to add variety to the story and to keep it unpredictable.

In fact, if you look at almost any professionally-published novel, TV show, film etc.. then you will see something like this. It is one of the basic things that separates amateur storytelling from professional-standard storytelling.

For example, although I probably won’t review it properly, I happened to watch a rather amusing vampire-themed comedy film from 2014 called “What We Do In the Shadows” recently. Amongst other things, the types of humour in it include dark comedy, slapstick, farce, visual humour, running jokes, parody, character-based humour, wordplay, humourous contrast, understatement, subverted expectations etc… Because there are multiple types of humour here, the viewer is constantly caught by surprise and the film is a lot funnier than it would be if it had just focused on one type of humour.

Likewise, the modern sci-fi thriller novel (“The Rosewater Insurrection” by Tade Thompson) that I plan to review tomorrow contains several different types of thriller fiction. It is a mixture of a suspense thriller, a political thriller, a tech thriller and an action-thriller story. This mixture of thriller elements means that the reader never really gets tired of any one of them, which keeps the story compelling.

And, as mentioned in earlier articles, horror fiction will often use multiple types of horror in order to constantly catch the reader off-guard and prevent them from getting too used to any one scary thing. An excellent example of this is probably Nick Cutter’s 2015 novel “The Deep“, which uses at least 10-15 different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, paranormal horror, cruel horror, apocalyptic horror, gory horror, scientific horror, body horror etc…) to create the kind of unforgettably terrifying nightmare fuel that might catch even experienced horror readers by surprise.

So, if you want to avoid making your story seem amateurish or boring, then you need to know the genre that you are writing in. You need to know as many different techniques and “versions” of the genre that exist, so that you can include an unpredictable mixture of them in your story that will catch your reader by surprise. Because, if you focus on just one thing (eg: slapstick comedy, gory horror, fast-paced combat etc..), then it will probably get boring for your readers more quickly than you might think.

In computer game terms, this is why linear and almost entirely combat-focused “Serious Sam“/”Painkiller”-style first person shooter games are extremely fun to play… for about an hour or two at a time. Whereas, traditional-style FPS games (like “Doom II”, “Blood”, “Quake” etc..) can be enjoyed for much longer gaming sessions because they include a better variety of things that the player has to do. Instead of just fighting, the player also has to explore, solve basic puzzles, search for hidden items/areas etc… too.

Even if you really love one particular element of a genre, try not to focus on it too much. It might sound counter-intuitive, but you also need to include other stuff in order to prevent the audience from becoming bored or jaded. Think of it like guitar chords in a song or something like that. Even the most basic punk or heavy metal song will probably use at least three different chords. After all, if the guitarist just plays the same chord over and over again, then it will sound monotonous after a while.

So, the more things that you’ve looked at in your favourite genre, the more you will learn about what different types of things you can include in your story. Best of all, if you also look at other genres too, then you can sometimes find things that have something in common with your favourite genre, but haven’t really been used in your favourite genre that often. This results in much more original and interesting stories.

To use another musical example, take a look at the band Rage Of Light. They’re a modern metal band that use some well-known elements of the genre (like a mixture of clean and growled vocals, crunchy distorted guitars etc…). Yet, they have also obviously listened to a lot of trance music too, since their songs also include a lot of melodic electronic elements too. Because trance music is a fast-paced, intense and energetic genre of music, it goes surprisingly well with metal (which is also fast-paced, intense and energetic) whilst also producing something that sounds intriguingly different from most modern metal music.

So, whilst knowing your own genre will result in better stories (since you can use a much better variety of elements), learning a bit about other genres will result in even better ones.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Sneaky Hacks For Writing A Novel If You’re A Short Story Writer

After another traditional-style novel project I was trying to write a couple of weeks before preparing this article failed, I came to the realisation that I was a much stronger writer when it came to short stories than novel-length stories. And, I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has ever found themselves in this situation.

However, novel-length stories are the most popular and widely-read type of fiction out there (seriously, compare the numbers of novels and short story collections on the shelves of an average bookshop). So, there are a lot of reasons to try writing one. But, if you’re at your absolute best when writing snappy, distilled fiction or you absolutely thrive when you can tell a story that takes place on a slightly smaller scale, then how can you write anything novel-length?

Here are a few sneaky hacks that might come in handy.

1) Episodic plots: This is a technique where a seemingly single and linear plot (featuring the same cast of characters) is actually built up from several smaller sub-plots. In other words, a short story collection in disguise. The best way to think about this is like a TV show – whilst each “episode” of the series may contain a different sub-story, there is also a main story arc running in the background.

Of course, you will need to think of a premise that will “work” with several short story-like sub-plots (stories about travelling or about a single location are fairly good) and come up with an interesting group of characters that you won’t mind spending several stories with. The trick to knowing when you have found one of these is when you keep getting lots of sudden ideas for possible “episodes”, to the point where you actually have to decide which ones you want to leave out of your “novel”.

Another advantage of using this technique is that, when done well, it will make your disguised story collection seem a lot more vivid, rich and eventful than a traditional novel since it will have multiple “beginning, middle and end” segments in it when compared to the one that you would find in a traditionally-structured novel.

This approach is kind of like a hybrid of a novel and a short story collection and the best way to understand how to write it is to either watch a few scripted TV series from the 1990s/early-mid 2000s (since this sort of structure was fairly common back then, before streaming and box-sets became ultra-popular) or to read some novels that use a version of this technique. For example, some elements of this structure can be found in Jodi Taylor’s “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” and in Becky Chambers’ “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet“.

2) Fix-ups: Although Wikipedia points out that “fix-up” short story collections – involving a framing story linking several unrelated short stories- became popular in the 1950s, the basic idea goes back a lot further than this. In fact, you can even see elements of this structure in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales“, a medieval text about a group of travellers, each of whom tells a tale. It’s a very old way of presenting a short story collection in a novel-like package.

But, although this basic idea can be used in a lot of ways (and is great if you’re better at writing first-person narration too), you still need to pay attention to your framing story. Not only does it have to be interesting and inventive enough to grab the reader’s attention, but it should also make them curious about the short stories (which should, in turn, tell the reader more about the framing story).

A good example of this sort of thing is a novel “World War Z” by Max Brooks. Although it isn’t technically a “fix-up”, it uses the techniques of one in a really cool way. Set after humanity had successfully survived a zombie apocalypse – an intriguingly rare situation in this genre – the framing story follows a UN officer who is interviewing people in order to record the history of the zombie apocalypse (so, each story gives the reader some extra intriguing backstory). The combination of these two things means that, even if you aren’t a fan of short story collections and/or multiple first-person narrators, it is still a really intriguing novel.

3) Side-stories: This tends to work best in the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres, but it can work in any genre if handled well. If you’re planning to write more of a traditional novel, but want to either take a break by writing some short fiction and/or need the enthusiasm that comes from writing a story that can be finished in a relatively short amount of time, then adding a small side-story can be a good way of doing this.

These tend to work best in stories that use third-person narration (and your side-story has to be relevant to your main plot in some way), but cutting away to a totally new character for a fairly self-contained single chapter story can be a great way to add a bit of short storytelling to a novel.

These types of side-stories tend to work best in novels that are set in an intriguing fictional world (hence why they might turn up in a sci-fi or fantasy novel, since they add depth) or for adding an extra sense of scale or menace to a series of frightening events (which is why you’ll find examples of this technique in many zombie novels and/or classic 1970s/80s horror novels like James Herbert’s “The Rats).

Yes, your short side-story needs to be relevant to the main plot and you shouldn’t include too many of them (to avoid confusing the reader), but they can be a great way of sneaking a bit of short story writing into a traditional-style novel.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Game Design Techniques That Writers Can Use

As regular readers of this site know, I’ve been getting back into gaming over the past month or two. And, since I now have the ability to play some more modern indie games than I could on my old computer, I’ve also been thinking a bit more about game design too. In particular, whether there are any game design techniques that might be useful to writers.

So, here are a few game design techniques that might work well in novels or short stories too. However, this article contains some SPOILERS for “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” and “Dex”.

1) False endings: This is an interesting technique that I’ve noticed in two modern indie games – “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” and a game that I’m playing at the moment called “Dex”. Basically, after completing a challenging part of the game, something very similar to an ending cinematic plays – only for the player to suddenly learn that, no, there’s still more of the game to be played.

When done well and paired with some excellent gameplay, this is like an encore at a heavy metal concert – the moment when the band leaves the stage and you sigh and think ‘It was all over so quickly, I miss it‘ only for the band to suddenly leap back into view and play a few of their classics. It’s a really clever way of playing with the audience’s expectations and surprising them with something awesome. Of course, when done badly, it can have the opposite effect (eg: ‘Oh no! Not more!’).

This technique relies on enjoyment and atmosphere. If you want it to work well, then everything before your false ending has to be compelling. It has to be something that the audience actually wants more of. In writing terms, this means interesting characters, an interesting premise and fascinating settings. You also need to tell the kind of unique story that your reader will have a difficult time finding elsewhere, so that your “encore” feels like more of something that the reader had thought that they had lost forever.

More importantly though, everything after your false ending also has to be compelling too. You actually have to have a good reason for including extra story after a climactic moment. This could include the resolution of a sub-plot, an intriguing hook for a sequel (after all, if the main plot has been resolved, then the reader is more likely to forgive a cliffhanger ending) or scenes that have a dramatic emotional impact of some kind of another.

2) Weakness and ingenuity: A week or two before writing this article, I finished playing an extremely terrifying horror game called “Remothered: Tormented Fathers“. Although this game is scary for a lot of reasons, one of the major ones is how it subverts the player’s expectations. After all, most gamers have played literally hundreds of games where the way to deal with a fearsome adversary is to destroy it with weapons. However, in this game, the fearsome adversaries cannot be killed by the player – instead, you can only run, hide or briefly stun them.

By making the player character weaker than the average game character, this game also gains a surprising amount of depth. Instead of mindless fighting, you actually have to think and plan. You have to come up with strategies, take chances and use skills that you’ve learnt from practice. This means that finally getting to the next part of the game feels much more satisfying.

But, what does this have to do with writing? Well, it is an incredibly useful thing to remember when writing thriller stories. In the best thriller novels, the main character will often find themselves in situations where they can’t rely on brute force to save themselves. In other words, they have to use their brain instead of their brawn.

Not only does this break up the monotony of fight scene after fight scene, but it also just feels more satisfying to read for the simple reason that the main character becomes an underdog who stands up to something more powerful than them. Not only that, the audience gets the suspense of confronting an “unwinnable” situation paired with the complex thrill of something like an elaborate heist movie when the main character uses a clever plan to get out of danger. When done well, this can be incredibly gripping.

3) Short can be good: One of the common criticisms levelled at modern indie games, and modern games in general, is that they are too short. The classic example of this is probably “Gone Home“, a modern narrative game that can be completed in about 2-3 hours. Yet, having played “Gone Home”, I can’t really imagine it working well as a longer game.

The game’s poignant story, mysterious house and concentrated shot of 1990s nostalgia work so well because there isn’t really any filler content. Because everything is there for a reason, because a well-designed small location is more interesting than a gigantic empty open world etc… In other words, it’s a quality over quantity thing. Yes, I can see how people might have felt cheated if they bought the game with the expectation of a longer game but, if you know in advance that it’s a short game, then the length makes a lot of sense.

And, in this age of doorstopper-sized novels, this is something to bear in mind. Length isn’t an inherently good thing. I mean, I can think of at least a few good novels I’ve read that would be even better if an editor had trimmed out 50-200 pages. Yes, long stories – like longer games- might be popular, but there’s a lot to be said for putting quality over quantity. For making sure that every page matters, even if there are fewer pages than the audience might expect.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Shock Value And Storytelling Mediums – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk about shock value and storytelling mediums today mostly because, early this year (I write these articles quite far in advance), I happened to read a few online articles about a controversial play in London which apparently made an audience member faint. This made me remember when I saw a “shocking” play quite a few years ago.

It was a recreation of several short late 19th/early 20th century Grand Guignol plays that was performed at the 2009 Abertoir film festival. Although it told the kind of melodramatic vintage horror stories that wouldn’t be that scary or shocking in most other mediums, it was about ten times more shocking for the simple reason that the play’s horrors actually appeared to take place in real life. So, this made me think about whether shock value works better in different mediums.

But, whilst mediums that place less distance between the audience and the story (eg: theatre, videogames etc..) can shock the audience slightly more easily than mediums where the audience feels slightly further away from what is happening (eg: film, comics, novels, music etc..), shock value can be achieved in every medium. However, I’d argue that shock value probably has more to do with both the audience and their expectations than the medium itself.

I mean, the Grand Guignol play was shocking for the simple reason that I’d never seen a play in the horror genre before. On the other hand, I’ve seen quite a few horror movies, played several horror computer/video games and read numerous horror novels etc.. so, these things have to be especially shocking in order to elicit this reaction in me. So, what your audience are used to plays quite a large role in how much shock value something has.

On a side note, this is also probably why Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland” was such a shocking horror comic to read. Leaving aside the ultra-gruesome artwork and disturbing storyline, horror comics are nowhere near as common as they apparently were in the genre’s 1940s-50s heyday (before they got censored by the Comics Code and were replaced with superhero comics). So, when I happened to read this comic a decade or so ago, it was a genuine shock because I hadn’t really seen many horror comics – let alone more modern ones- before.

But, the best types of shock value play with audience expectations in interesting ways and this is something that can be done in pretty much any medium. Of course, there many ways to achieve this type of shock value – but the best of these involves leading the audience to expect something mildly “shocking” and then giving them something even more shocking. This works for the simple reason that it makes the audience feel like they are tough or unshockable, only to catch them by surprise later.

So, whilst some mediums have a slightly easier time achieving shock value than others, it can still be achieved in pretty much any medium since it has more to do with the audience than the medium itself.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Two Tips For Writing Stories That Can Compete With The Internet, Games, Phones etc…

Well, I thought that I’d talk about writing stories that can compete with the plethora of other entertainment mediums out there these days. After all, modern readers have a lot more entertainment mediums competing for their time than they did even a couple of decades ago. Whether it is smartphones, TV boxsets, games, social media, the internet in general etc.. There has never been more competition for your reader’s attention.

Still, all hope is not lost. One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed since I got back into reading regularly the best part of a year ago is how some more modern books have adapted to this change when compared to several of the older 20th century novels that I’ve read.

I ended up thinking about this subject because, a few days before writing this article, I bought a vaguely modern refurbished computer (to replace one of my two vintage mid-2000s computers). Needless to say, keeping up with the usual reading schedule has been a bit more of a challenge than I’d expected.

After all, these books now have to compete with “Oh my god! I can watch Youtube videos in HD on this thing!” and “I’ve got over a decade of modern gaming to catch up on! Where do I even start?

So, how can you make your story compete with the distractions of the modern age? Here are two tips:

1) Writing style: Yes, there is a lot to be said for more formal and descriptive writing styles. They add lots of richness, depth, gravitas and atmosphere to stories. They are the equivalent of turning a computer game’s graphics settings up to full. They show language being used to it’s fullest extent and, if written well, can also expand your reader’s vocabulary (since the reader will be introduced to new words that they can understand from the context they are used in).

On the downside, novels that use nothing but formal narration take longer to read and also require more effort to read – which is a problem when compared to the fast effortless entertainment of television, the internet etc…

But, although a more informal, pared-down and “matter of fact” style can be a great way to get people to read when they are beseiged by distractions (I mean, even during the few years I considered myself a “non-reader”, I still read the occasional thriller novel by Lee Child), there are still ways to get some of the benefits of formal styles whilst still writing something that modern readers will find gripping enough to choose over a smartphone or social media site.

Simply put, you need to use a mixture of formal and informal narration. Basically, save your more formal descriptions for the moments when they will have the most impact. For example, Adam Nevill’s 2011 horror novel “The Ritual” contains a fair amount of informal, realistic and “matter of fact” narration but, whenever the story is describing the creepy forest that the characters are trapped in or their feelings of fear, the narration often becomes a bit more formal and/or descriptive. This works really well. The “matter of fact” narration keeps the story moving and the formal segments add atmosphere to it in carefully-controlled doses.

Another good way of doing this is to seamlessly slip a few formal descriptive sentences into a passage of “matter of fact” narration. Formal narration is a lot easier to digest in smaller doses and, if done well, then your reader might not even notice that they’ve read a sentence that is more at home in an older novel.

A good older example of this is Graham Masterton’s 1991 novel “The Hymn“. When I first read this novel as a teenager in the early 2000s, I just thought it was a grippingly cheesy horror thriller novel. When I re-read it a few weeks ago, I was astonished at how many “sophisticated” sentences and descriptions were mixed in with the more “matter of fact” thriller-like narration.

An even better old example is Agatha Christie’s 1941 spy novel “N or M?” – this is written in a mildly formal way, but has enough focus on the plot and enough “informal” (for the time) dialogue and descriptions to keep the story fairly effortless to read.

Just because we’re almost living in the 2020s, it doesn’t mean that you have to abandon formal writing styles altogether. It just means that you need to choose when to use them. In short, the basic underlying narrative of your story should probably be written in a more readable, “matter of fact” kind of way – with more formal descriptions saved for the moments when they will be the most spectacular.

2) Premise: In this age of distractions, having an interesting premise that makes the reader think “I need to read this” is more important than ever. If your story does something interesting, original, strange or new, then there is an added incentive for your reader to look at it instead of their phone, social media feed etc..

In other words, if your reader knows that they are going to find the kind of story that they can’t find on TV, in the cinema or in a videogame, then they are probably going to want to read. Seriously, when coming up with story ideas, curiosity and/or “wouldn’t it be cool if..” are the things that you need to think about.

Some good examples of this are Edgar Cantero’s 2018 novel “Meddling Kids“, which is a Lovecraftian horror parody of “Scooby Doo” set in the 1990s. Then, there’s Rebecca Levene’s 2008 novel “Anno Mortis“, which is about a zombie apocalypse… in ancient Rome.

There’s Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series, which are eccentric sci-fi comedy thriller novels about time travel- basically what “Doctor Who” would be like if it was a late-night BBC3 sitcom. There’s Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables“, which is a story about a group of 1970s punks (and a group of characters in the present day) fighting bizarre otherwordly monsters.

I could go on for a while, but if you want your modern story to compete with all of the other entertainment mediums around these days, then you need an interesting premise. You need the kind of quirky, intriguing “wouldn’t it be cool if..” premise that your reader won’t be able to find in the cinema or on TV.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂