People continue to send me manuscripts. (My wife accuses me of being too nice a guy. She says I need to practice looking and sounding meaner.)
Typically, curiosity gets the better of me and I’ll read anywhere from one to fifty pages. Every now and then, I’ll get a good one and I’ll read the whole darned thing. (I think this has happened five times.) Most are bad beyond belief. Pedestrian language, stilted dialogue, uneven tone, unrealistic plot developments. Still, I feel obligated to respond with some kind of constructive comment, even if it’s just, “Keep writing.” I figure it keeps them off the streets (where they could be really dangerous).
Upon hearing even a hint of negativity, many writers reply, “But it’s based on a true story.” As if that makes everything okay. Here’s what I’ve decided: Truth, in and of itself, is not inherently interesting. I could tell you all about my day today and it would put you to sleep in less than a minute. Hitchcock (or possibly Mencken) said that art is “life with the boring parts taken out.” The manuscripts I’m referring to leave the boring parts in.
I’m not saying that true stories can’t be the basis for some really good fiction. Many of my characters and situations are based on real people (or composites of real people) and things that happened to me or someone I know. Jimmy Delaney, our hero in “Dice Angel,” is actually Johnny McGinty, a good friend who owns a bar and grill in Henderson. Pete, the homeless guy, started out as a real homeless guy who gave me a stock tip. (He claimed to be an ex-broker before his life went horribly wrong. I promptly ignored his advice and watched his recommended stock go from three to eighty and split twice. I’m still kicking myself.) The idea for the “Dice Angel” herself came from a classified ad in the back of our alternative weekly, “City Life.” And practically everyone in “Money Shot” is patterned on people I know, including friends and family. But I still had to leave out the boring parts (and embellish the hell out of the rest).
In real life, I’m in the advertising business. Gurus in our profession learned long ago that consumers will read a long ad or direct mail letter if the material interests them. As you know from my previous blog, I’m a fantasy football geek. (Please don’t ask me how my teams did this weekend.) I’ve been known to read a 16-page fantasy e-mail because I thought the information could help me win. The ad copy was also extremely well-written. That’s the secret: Know your target market, give them something interesting and useful to read, and present it in a compelling manner. That’s it.
I can’t think of better advice for all the writers who send me their stuff. (Sure, my advice is unsolicited. But so is their stuff.)