It seems that two vastly different types of writers have emerged over the centuries, and only one of them gets all the hype these days:
“Soundbite writers” and “sonnet writers.”
Yes, I just made these two terms up. One of them is infinitely more chic than the other, and much more likely to be measured in terms of dollar value as opposed to longevity.
You recognize them instantly.
It’s an art (or maybe more of a science), and it depends on effectiveness in order to achieve the end goal—often a reward in money or publicity. But what frequently disappoints me about this style is that sometimes the article, post, or book thins out as you get past the first paragraph or chapter. What promised originality and excitement turns out to be drab and trite after the first thrill. It’s sort of like slurping the whipped cream off the top of your coffee, and finding the drink black underneath. (Sorry, black-coffee fans. But seriously, you do have weird taste!)
What all soundbite writers ultimately have in common is that they’re selling something up front—and fast.
“What about sonnet writers?” you ask. “Is that even a thing anymore?”
They often take a more inductive, gradual approach, revealing bits of information here and there and giving their audience time to chew and digest as the story goes. Often it takes several chapters before you feel like you really have a handle on the story’s world and the major players.
Sonnet writers aren’t afraid to take their time, because what they’re selling isn’t a scenario or a situation—what they’re selling is a character. A lead.
The thing is, though, they’re still selling something. It’s simply a different object than what soundbite writers are selling, and consequently it takes a different strategy—many different strategies, actually.
Think classic literature for a second:
Gone with the Wind
The Great Gatsby
Pride and Prejudice
None of these books start with rapid-fire, on-the-spot action— in fact, many of them have a reputation as being a “slow read.” And yet each of them has earned the title of masterpiece, and has survived for at least a century. It’s not because they don’t sell something. They do. It’s because they sell their lead characters.
Next week I’ll cover some specific ways that master authors have sold their characters, and how you can apply that to your own writing.
Because a character, like a real person, is almost always going to be more memorable than a situation or event.