Author Topic: "Why should I care?"  (Read 2058 times)  

Offline ShaneCarrow

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"Why should I care?"
« on: February 06, 2020, 12:37:53 am »
I was listening to an episode of an SFF podcast I sometimes listen to, an interview with a literary agent, in which he discussed pitching and blurbs and all that, and the thing that came up as a critical element in a pitch or a blurb was that the author needs to justify: why should I care? Why should I care about these characters?

This is something I've heard a hundred times before - on other podcasts, on blogs, on these very forums - but I have to admit it's something I've always struggled with understanding.

Never mind my own books; I could take my own ten favourite novels/films/TV series of all time, stuff I genuinely feel are brilliant works of art, and if you asked "why should I care?" I'd be stumped. Because they're well-written and compelling and entertaining? Why should I care if a stranger is hit by a car in the street in front of me, beyond basic human empathy? Why should I care about a character in a book other than the fact that I've chosen to read it in my leisure time and I'm therefore charitably disposed towards their adventure by default? What do people actually mean when they say, "why should I care?" Thoughts?

(If you're interested, this is the podcast - https://player.fm/series/podside-picnic/episode-50-the-publishing-industry-pt-ii-ft-connor-goldsmith. It was genuinely interesting and useful and he seems like a good agent and a good bloke, he's not being disingenuous, I just genuinely don't understand the "why should I care" part of pitching/blurb writing.)

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    Offline JM Hendrikx

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #1 on: February 06, 2020, 02:11:57 am »
    There are questions like that thrown out with little thought, and scant explanation of the how. Of course we want the reader to care, but how do we get them to?
    Your post has made me think on it and I think it comes down to the emotional engagement with the characters. We are invested in them, not because we 'should be because we are good people', but because we have skillfully been put in their shoes.

    example
    Dog dies  - good people care, but do they really care about this dog? No.
    Dog who has rescued a thousand children dies - good people care, and should really care - this is a great dog, but do they? Not Really.
    Dog dies who has rescued a thousand children and has come from harsh beginnings in the pound - Do we care? Trope kicking in, expectations set, we follow the heartstring pulling pattern, maybe we are getting somewhere if there is emotional engagement, if we felt, albeit briefly, his terror, determination and relief. But if its not there, the answer is still no.

    It is a skill to get that emotional engagement and one that I think can be aided by studying stories where it has been done well. That's the only help I have to offer. The film of The King's Speech, I feel, is a masterclass in it, others may of course disagree. Why should we care about a petulant man born into privilege with a stutter? I cared.

    The soundtrack is also great for background music whilst writing.



    « Last Edit: February 06, 2020, 05:27:21 am by JM Hendrikx »

    Offline C. Gold

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #2 on: February 06, 2020, 02:42:41 am »
    In the Star Trek reboot, it didn't even take six minutes for me to feel gutted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAf5qSwsZrM
    I love writing that can do that. It's very hard to accomplish, especially when you have to write the emotion into text rather than display it visually.

    Offline B. Ans Paz

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #3 on: February 06, 2020, 03:00:03 am »
    For blurbs and pitches, it's because you're supposed to (somehow) convey the emotional complexities of your entire story immediately and clearly in that tiny space. Those agents aren't adding the rest of the question: "Why should I care enough to take the pitch from my intern and actually read your first page/chapter?" They want you to do all the work in guessing what it is they want.

    Now, that's not COMPLETLY unfair as people do this all the time with book blurbs. I just think the average reader is a lot less jaded and overcritical. If the blurb was like, "Billy is sad. He must face the sadness, and become happy." I'd be like, okay... and then I'd move on. But if the blurb tells me Billy has spent his entire life serving as a royal guard for his childhood friend and secret crush, then all of a sudden fails in the span of one heartbeat, I'm going to be like, "The frack happened? Wait, what WILL happen?" You can see a lot of emotional tension there right away. His duty has been tarnished, maybe he lost his friend/potential love interest, something bad is obviously happening, will he succeed, how will it change him, etc.

    Yes, it was kind of an overly simple and lazy example, but still. I think that's what they mean by making people care. I read a lot of blurbs and when I look for new books far too many end up looking like a Wikipedia article on a piece of history or a place. It tells me about the name of a country and that it grows mangoes. Oh, there are demons, but the mangoes!

    Well, I don't care about randamo unnamed king or mangoes and nothing encourages me to try to remedy that... hence the "Why do I care" question. Again, agents probably just do it far more viciously. Well, their interns maybe.
    « Last Edit: February 06, 2020, 03:03:12 am by B. Ans Paz »

    Offline SND

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #4 on: February 06, 2020, 03:00:44 am »
    It's a roundabout way of asking about the universal theme.

    Offline Pyram King

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #5 on: February 06, 2020, 04:39:30 am »
    Why should I care?
    The answer is simply empathy.

    You care, because the author has been able to craft a scenario around a character in which it invokes not only feelings in the reader, but has aligned those feelings with the reader - creating empathy.

    It is one of the more difficult tasks (for me anyway) in providing situations in which the reader can empathize with my character. In the beginning of my book, I attempt not only to paint the scene of Kantara, but to provide the empathy with how my character is emotionally adjusting to the increased death toll of young men. I can only hope that I have captured something in which the reader can empathize with the character.

    I believe it is these empathetic moments that help bond the reader with the character, they begin to care not only about the characters physical safety, but emotional states.


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    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #6 on: February 06, 2020, 05:35:22 am »
    I am biased and will say I don't find the "literary agent" function to be relevant anymore.

    Because agents get thousands of manuscript thrown at them...they need to whittle down art into a ten words or less question. 

    My answer to an agent..."Why should i care?"...."Because I am human."

    Unrelated but relevant. Watched episode 1 of Star Trek Picard....within minutes, I cared. Why? Because the story immediately conveyed a "human" vibe.

    Mark

    Offline VisitasKeat

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #7 on: February 06, 2020, 06:10:08 am »
    Why should I care?

    Cos the characters in the story not just entertain - fights, sex and all that - but also raise awareness and send strong message to the society, whatever genre that may be. The message could be woman's liberation, freedom of speech, freedom from slavery, a new discovery as in hard sci-fi... anything. Personally I very much care and immediately relate them to something of historical or future significance, or what happens nowadays.

    Offline Delete This Account

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #8 on: February 06, 2020, 07:33:04 am »
    The trick isn't to get them to care about your characters and situations, it's getting them to identify with those characters and situations by imagining themselves in their place. People don't cry because a fictional character dies, they cry because they know what it feels like to lose someone.

    Offline J. Tanner

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #9 on: February 06, 2020, 08:44:05 am »
    I could take my own ten favourite novels/films/TV series of all time, stuff I genuinely feel are brilliant works of art, and if you asked "why should I care?" I'd be stumped. Because they're well-written and compelling and entertaining?

    Exactly. And the same is probably true of the person who regurgitated this nonsense.

    You're predisposed to liking what you like and so you like it when you recognize it. The blurb/pitch didn't make you care by the way it was crafted. It made you care because it connected with you for some unquantifiable reason. (That doesn't mean blurbs/pitches can't be better or worse, but that crafting isn't the reason someone will care.)

    That said, a literary agent is in a position where she must separate the wheat from the chaff with few of the tools we use, like covers, author brands, and peer recommendations, so the pitch/blurb will play an outsized role.
    J. Tanner vs. the Page (blog)

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    Offline starkllr

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #10 on: February 06, 2020, 11:36:58 am »
    John Rogers (creator of "Leverage" and "The Librarians") has that question as part of his rules of writing:

    "Who wants what?  Why can't they have it?  Why should I (the reader) care?  If you can answer all three questions, you'll be a better writer."

     
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    Offline Delete This Account

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #11 on: February 06, 2020, 12:07:24 pm »
    John Rogers (creator of "Leverage" and "The Librarians") has that question as part of his rules of writing:

    "Who wants what?  Why can't they have it?  Why should I (the reader) care?  If you can answer all three questions, you'll be a better writer."

    He should have asked "Why am I treating the audience like they are morons?"

    Offline Flying Pizza Pie

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #12 on: February 06, 2020, 12:15:08 pm »
    Save the Cat

    Chapter One: Why Do We Care


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    Offline roslindale

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #13 on: February 06, 2020, 12:19:39 pm »
    I've struggled with this line too. To me, it's a smug business-insider way of saying, 'why would I be interested in buying/reading this book.' From an artistic perspective, the question is absurd, but from a business perspective it makes complete sense. Millions of people are competing for attention in today's media-saturated world, and an agent/publisher need to know how your book is going to, if not stand out, at least be discoverable by its intended audience.

    Offline jb1111

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #14 on: February 07, 2020, 01:22:49 am »
    The most important thing about characters is probably creating one that a reader might be able to relate to. I suppose that's why they would care. Getting that concept across in a blurb can be a challenge.

    Offline Usedtoposthere

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #15 on: February 07, 2020, 01:05:51 pm »
    The potential reader has to care, whether the reader is an agent or a consumer looking at books on Amazon, because if they don't care--really fast--they will keep looking. Even if you are giving away a free book, they have to care. There are thousands of free books on Amazon. You have seconds to catch their attention. They don't just have to buy it/download it, either. They have to READ it.

    That's why they have to care about what's in your story. That doesn't necessarily mean, "Have a strong emotional connection," or, "Feel touched by a universal human condition." It can mean, "Sounds funny," or "Sounds hot," or "Sounds intriguing."

    Hookiness doesn't get talked about enough. Hooky concept. Hooky cover, blurb, writing. Hookiness is what sells and what gives a book legs, and it starts with the concept.

    Another post on here asked about books that seem to be presented well but don't sell. It's not enough to write and present a "good enough" book. With the increase in quality of good-selling indie work (leaving behind the content mills and dodgy players), there are a LOT of "good enough" books out there. Your book has to stand out in some way, or it's just another fish in the sea.

    Hookiness isn't a black box. It's not magic. It's pretty easy to spot in other books, and not that hard to inject into your own. A hooky blurb isn't magic, either. There's a science as well as an art to blurb writing. But it all starts with the concept.

    Offline BrianKittrell

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #16 on: February 08, 2020, 12:18:09 pm »
    It's a very cynical outlook to place this as the paramount consideration. You'll continuously second-guess everything about the story in a vain attempt to chase the heartstrings of the potential readers.

    The question about your own work you should be asking is, do you care? If you care, it's possible for others to care. Whether they will or not is an entirely different thing not to be worried over too much. You won't please everybody, not by far. And there will be cynics ready to tear the whole thing down.

    I guess the TL;DR of this issue is, there will always be plenty of cynical people who will never care, so don't worry too much on this question. Focus on making yourself care about the characters.

    Would it hurt you to kill the main character? If it's just because you would have a difficult time replacing them as a story element, and not because of an emotional connection, you may need to work on things. Focus less on the architecture of the book and more on the blood of the book.
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    Online Lorri Moulton [Lavender Lass Books]

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #17 on: February 08, 2020, 03:14:22 pm »
    A good character (or characters) can pull you in and make you care...or at least wonder what will happen next.

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    Offline Brian D. Anderson

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #18 on: February 08, 2020, 03:17:46 pm »
    I find real world examples help. So here's the opening of a pitch letter that resulted in finding an agent:
    In one year, I balanced Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings, my marriage, my lover, my other lovers, and selling sex part-time. Despite my use of spreadsheets, I did not balance them particularly well.
    Brian D. Anderson

    Offline J. A. Wallace

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #19 on: February 09, 2020, 02:15:37 pm »
    I never thought about getting a potential reader to "care". I'm more interested in getting the potential reader to be interested or curious enough to hit the buy button.

    Offline MaxDaemon

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #20 on: February 09, 2020, 06:45:54 pm »
    I never thought about getting a potential reader to "care". I'm more interested in getting the potential reader to be interested or curious enough to hit the buy button.

    Changing "care" to "interested" might be more accurate, I think. You need to make your reader "interested" or make them "care" to find out what is happening or will happen.

    The very definition of a "cliff hanger" would be to make the reader "care" or be interested in what happens next. Not that they have a caring or loving feeling toward one or more of your characters.


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    Offline Shane Lochlann Black

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #21 on: February 09, 2020, 10:29:20 pm »
    Recognize the question for what it is: an attempt to put you on the defensive. 

    The correct answer to the question is very simple:  "Perhaps you shouldn't."   

    Then you get up and walk out and leave him sitting there where he belongs.   
    « Last Edit: February 09, 2020, 10:32:35 pm by Shane Lochlann Black »

    Offline 30yearoldboomer

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #22 on: February 09, 2020, 11:01:31 pm »
    That's the part I'm struggling with. What's the magic combination of words that will get a prospective reader to care enough to click buy?

    It's extremely hard to do when you don't have the crutch of saying you are a NY Times best-selling author or have sold a million copies.

    I've switched my blurb around a ton in the past few weeks, but haven't struck lightning yet. I have one blurb that can move 2-3 copies a day, but with a AMS budget that's too high. The main thing that blurb did was introduce the MC and his problems in 20 or so words in a hooky and somewhat cheesy way.

    Even so, I know it can be better. I've gone as far as copying some successful blurbs while adapting the details to my own story, but that failed as well. I feel like I'm still missing the point.

    Offline Morrd

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #23 on: February 10, 2020, 03:29:10 am »
    That's the part I'm struggling with. What's the magic combination of words that will get a prospective reader to care enough to click buy?

    It's extremely hard to do when you don't have the crutch of saying you are a NY Times best-selling author or have sold a million copies.

    I've switched my blurb around a ton in the past few weeks, but haven't struck lightning yet. I have one blurb that can move 2-3 copies a day, but with a AMS budget that's too high. The main thing that blurb did was introduce the MC and his problems in 20 or so words in a hooky and somewhat cheesy way.

    Even so, I know it can be better. I've gone as far as copying some successful blurbs while adapting the details to my own story, but that failed as well. I feel like I'm still missing the point.

    For me, it's about the spirit of the thing. Here's an example I love from Bradbury. This simple introduction tells us so much, with so little.

    William Acton rose to his feet. The clock on the mantel ticked midnight. He looked at his fingers and he looked at the large room around him and he looked at the man lying on the floor. William Acton, whose fingers had stroked typewriter keys and made love and fried ham and eggs for early breakfasts, had now accomplished a murder with those same ten whorled fingers.


    It's a guy in a room, looking around at the realization that he's killed someone. It's about consequences and passing an invisible line you can't go back on. It's about showing a relatable character going through some emotion that the readers now have an interest in. You don't 'care' about William as a person, he's a murder but you 'care' about why he's just killed a man. You don't know why though and that's the hook. 

    Offline ShaneCarrow

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    Re: "Why should I care?"
    « Reply #24 on: February 10, 2020, 02:23:32 pm »
    Interesting responses, thanks all.

    Shane Carrow

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