Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Emotion and Reason

I’ve never read Playboy, but I’ve heard that they’ve got great articles. I’ve never eaten at Hooters, but I understand that they’ve got great wings. Do you notice what those two statements have in common? There is an obvious reason why many of the customers purchase the magazine or visit the bar, but there is also a justifiable reason for them to do so. No one would fault someone for reading a magazine with great articles or for visiting a restaurant with great food. When we do something, there’s often a real reason why we do something and the reason we’re willing to talk about. For example, we buy a car because we want a new toy, but we tell our friends how the old one was falling apart and how much better gas mileage we’re getting. We seldom say, “I bought it because I wanted it.”

As writers, we’re trying sell the idea of a book to agents, editors and eventually readers. As we write our manuscripts we want to create two things, an emotional desire for the story and a logical reason for the manuscript. We want an agent to look at the story and say, “I love this story,” but we also want to give the agent some good ammunition to use. An agent answering a publisher’s question about why they should publish a manuscript with, “I just like the story” is about as helpful as your mother telling the publisher the same thing. Maybe the agent likes the particular kind of story yours happens to be. But when she goes to the publisher she instead talks about how the story falls within a popular genre, the story is related to a well known news event, there is a growing trend for these kinds of stories. The acquisitions editor agrees to look at it for those reasons, but he won’t take it farther on those reasons. He’s more likely to move forward on emotional attachment, but like the agent, he needs a way to justify his like for the story.

Readers are a little different because they can buy a book based on emotional attachment alone, but if we want them to talk about the book we need something more. We need to give them a way to tell their friends about the book. The reader may not be able to tell friends about his emotional attachment, but he can tell them what the book is about and the point the writer is trying to get across. I’m not likely to tell people about reading Fahrenheit 451 because I had heard the title many times and I wanted to know what it was about, but I am likely to tell them that the book is about protecting freedom of the press. It is for that reason that I think other people should read it, but it is not the reason I read it.