Ep. 42: Have a Conversation With Your Readers
Episode 42 shows you the power behind having a conversation with your readers. How to put yourself into your books in a way that the readers will appreciate and love.
You can listen to the episode right here. The transcription is below the player. Feel free to add your comments using the comment section below.
Episode 41 Transcript
Note: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and humans, as such, it may contain errors. Please, double-check the audio file before quoting anything from this page.
00:00 [JT Pledger] Good morning, kids! Let me ask you a question. Do you like movie cameos? Seeing Stan Lee appear in small parts of the Avengers movies, or Shamalan walking through the scene in his flicks got me thinking. What if authors did the same thing? I want to talk about a type of cameo for authors, and how (as well as why) we should put ourselves in our books. Stick around, we got a lot to talk about.
01:04 [JT] Personally, I think cameos and easter eggs are fun for movies, I like seeing the creator of the Incredible Hulk have a small part in the movie based on his characters. I like seeing references to other films, like a sign on a chalkboard in the background that references another Indiana Jones film. I love it when things have a little meaning, a small factoid that is seemingly left only for the true fans.
Books Have This, Too
01:35 In a way, books have this too. In the Odd Thomas novels by Dean Koontz, for example. One of the books has Odd getting new clothes from a thrift shop. The shirt he buys has Moonlight Bay written on it, which is a nod to the Christopher Snow novels of the Moonlight Bay trilogy. Hearts in Atlantis, by King, same thing. There are tiny little things that the author does or says or adds into their works that make a little nod to past or even future events. A tiny little wink from the author to his fans that just says “Yeah, I got you, I’m thinking about you.” I really like that shit.
Easter Eggs are Fun
02:23 I was watching an old television show that I binge every now and then last night and I saw one of these easter eggs. It was slight. Very small and fast and no mention of it was ever made. In the first season of the show, the bad guy for a couple of episodes has a signature calling card, a little symbol he would leave at the crime scenes. Last night I was watching an episode from season five and that same symbol appeared carved into the wooden bookshelf of the new season’s bad guy.
03:05 Any fans of the USA hit Psych will know about the pineapple easter eggs, and how many of us have tried to find them all without cheating? Its fun, it’s exciting and it’s a way for the writer to connect to his readers without taking away from the current story. Anyway, I saw this symbol and immediately recognized it. Now, I have seen every episode of every season about four times now, and I know that that symbol has nothing to do with the suspect of season 5, there is no reference to the season 1 bad guy and it never gets brought up again. It got me to thinking about the meaning behind it. Why do that?
Writing is a Conversation With Your Reader
03:55 That’s when I realized that writing is more of a conversation. A novel isn’t just me telling you a story. It is a connection. Writing a book is a powerful thing, and when you do it right, you connect with your reader on a whole different level. Some authors will tell you that it is an outlet, some call it a hobby, and still, others make it a career. While all of these are true to some extent, I maintain that writing a book is just a conversation.
04:39 If you think about it, what happens in a conversation? You say something to another person, and they react. Sometimes, they don’t say anything, but you see their eyes get wider, or they hold their breath. There are physical and visual clues that they heard and understood you.
05:02 Based on this physical feedback, you continue your story. Perhaps, if what you said upsets the other person, you backtrack, apologize, or alter your story. But, a conversation is an experience shared by two (or more) people over a specific topic with the hopes of sharing an experience, engaging with another person, or trying to evoke a reaction.
Plan for the Past and Future
05:33 Are books so much different? The biggest difference, obviously, is that the book doesn’t talk back to the author. The author rarely hears the other side of the conversation. Which is why, I believe, these easter eggs and cameos are so important. It’s a form of validation. It says to the reader, “Hey, I heard you, here is me reacting to what you said.” It’s the proverbial widening of the eyes if you will.
06:09 The challenge, then, is making your readers react in such a powerful way that you do hear them, that you know how to wink back when the time comes. So I spent quite a while thinking about how this is done. I dug through my bookshelves and looked for references, pointers, and advice. As I was sitting there, cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by paperbacks and tomes, I realized what it was. I understood, again, how the author elicits such a response.
06:49 The writer of words puts himself or herself in the book.
Old is New Again
06:57 I’ve talked about this before, and I meant every word of it. Today, though, I come to you with a new outlook on the entire idea. You don’t just put yourself in the book to make the writing better and more believable. No. You put yourself in the book to create a singular connection with another soul somewhere, out there, in the future. That, my friends, is powerful shit.
07:27 So, today, I wanted to talk to you about making a cameo in your book. Not in the true sense, where you create a 2-dimensional mini-you as a character (though you can). No, instead, an author’s cameo is a bit more powerful than seeing Stan Lee talking to the Watchers of the Galaxy. Your cameo goes deeper and isn’t as noticeable. Wanna know how to do this?
07:58 You put yourself in the story. You are the bad guy. You are the hero. Not completely. And this is important. A small part of you is somehow in these characters. Maybe it is something small like how they dress. Perhaps it is the manner in which they speak. The point is, that with the entire character-building process, one of the attributes is you.
08:35 I know that most of us do this anyway. It is easy to create a character and have them say what we say or react how we would react. But how truthful is that? If you are writing a true-crime book and you make the antagonist say something to the cop as the gun is pointed in his face, those words are your words, but is that really what you would say if it was truly happening? Probably not.
Make the Conversation Two-Sided
09:13 My challenge to you, though, is that it should be. If you have decided that your antagonist’s words is where you hide a little bit of yourself, they should be your true words. It has to be real. It has to be believable. And for the first part, maybe only your real-life friends and family will recognize it. But that isn’t the point.
09:43 That true “holy fuck!” moment you get from a reader isn’t when they read through your new novel for the first time. The most powerful moments are when they re-read that debut novel from 5 years ago and see something that has been there the entire time. The conversation comes full circle when they know you, as a person, so well that a tiny engraving on the edge of a bookshelf makes them remember one 4-page scene from a book they read so far back they can’t picture the cover.
10:24 Do you want to be a better writer? Do you want people to grab your book off the shelf just because it has your name on the cover? This is how you get there my fellow scribes. You connect with the readers through conversation. We aren’t talking about the latest news story or our favorite fishing spot. We are talking about a conversation that spans months or years.
10:52 Imagine for a moment though, how powerful this is. Close your eyes and picture it. Your new book comes out. The reader is sitting on her couch and opens the book to start reading. She makes it 78 pages in and gasps. She drops the book in her lap and tilts her head back, deep in thought. All of a sudden she throws the blanket back jumps up and runs to her bookshelf. She scurries through looking for something and pulls out a book. It’s your book. The first one you ever wrote.
11:29 Can you see it? The reader is on her knees in front of their bookshelf, thumbing through that old novel. She stops and reads a section and runs back to the couch. She opens the new book to the page she just read, holding both books open like she is reading an ancient scroll never seen before. Her eyes dart from one book to the other and everything clicks into place. Then, she returns to her comfy spot, pulls the blanket back over her lap and whispers “That’s awesome” before returning to page 79 of your latest novel.
Power Comes From Conversation With Your Reader
12:14 Do you want that power, my friends? That is how you get it. Pour your heart and soul into your novels. Give them everything you got. The most important thing you can do, though, is to put yourself, your true self, into that book. In each and every character, there should be a little bit of you. Not too much. You don’t want to be obtuse. Just enough that eventually, one day, your conversation with your readers will come full circle.
12:54 When that day comes, you will be more powerful than you ever thought possible. So, go, practice, do. Leave your mark, place your easter eggs and start that conversation. You will be surprised at how your words are responded to.
13:17 I will leave you with that to ponder until next week. Until then, have fun; write words.