Writing Advice – Spectacular Spectacles

People read stories for two reasons. One is to connect with characters on an intimate level, and the other is to be entertained.

I always see authors talking about how to construct great characters, satisfying plots and rich themes. We all recognize entertainment as a major factor, but we never discuss how to do it.

I’ve read enough shlocky pulp books, books meant to entertain primarily, completely fall on their face and leave me bored, waste a good concept or just fail at everything they go for.

I’ve also read some great ones that keep me hooked.

So here I want to begin a discussions on satisfying spectacles, the limits and advantages of spectacle in prose and general tips I have found. I will get more specific in the future soon enough.

Firstly, Know your audience.

In my Event vs Setting Genre Blog I discussed that audience genre preferences are divided between two complimentary types of genre. Event genres are where we want to see certain events play out or spend our time seeing an activity preformed. This is action, adventures, romance, mysteries,

Then there are setting genres where we want to spend that time in a certain world.

Horror is the weird middle child between we want the time to be scared but often the content of the world has a lot of influence on that. Horror can literally be anything, just scare the audience. I wrote about how HERE.

Know your audience and what they want.

Why is erotica such a hugely popular genre?

Why did Warhammer 40k books end up on New York Times Best Sellers?

Why are comics a multi-billion dollar industry even before they took over Hollywood?

The vast majority of readers are picking their books to be entertained on one level or another. They aren’t necessarily other writers who are reading for the craft or narrative construction. So entertain them.

In erotica, the goal is to excite the audience on a sexual level. People are reading this as their porn, embrace it. In military sci-fi, people are reading it to spend the time in a dark world and see military adventures play out. Superhero comics can literally be about anything, which is why they are so versatile and nearly universally loved.

A Black Library book without some spectacle would leave the audience very disappointed

As always, in order for this stuff to work, you HAVE to wrap the spectacles with compelling characters and a competent plot. It doesn’t have to be a literary classic, but it has to be competent. You have to embrace that stuff. There are a million other resources on the subject, Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, Story by Robert McKee, Brandon Sanderson’s Lectures, numerous writing podcasts, to name a few sources.

Secondly, another excellent way to discuss spectacle is the tactic of promises and payoffs.

If you are writing an erotic novel where no one has sex, you’ve failed to live up to the promises. If you are writing a Conan the Barbarian-style adventure fantasy with zero engaging fights or styling moments of fantasy, the audience will be disappointed.

If you promise certain things, they must eventually pay off. This is the constant struggle of any writer because they have to pay off in a both unexpected AND satisfying way. That’s the fucking hard part and is unique to each project.

Third, I want to address the benefits and limits of prose when it comes to spectacle.

The reality of the medium is we don’t have the easy emotionality of music or the visuals of film and animation. We do have the advantage in that we can enter a character’s mind and feel their thoughts, emotions, everything. The purest form of empathy. Use all the sense, be vivid in your descriptions, learn how to construct the scene and wrap it around compelling characters. The biggest advantage we have is an infinite budget. We don’t have to pay thirty-million dollars for a big set piece. All it costs us is word count and time. Spectacles in prose can literally be anything!

HENRY CAVILL in film The Man From U.N.C.L.E directed by Guy Ritchie

Fourth, is the style vs substance debate. I am summarizing the primary arguments from the excellent video essay THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015): Style Vs. Substance – A Video Essay by Iamthatroby. Sometimes the style you infuse your writing with is the substance that people respond to. Sometimes the style of a book is the substance people are after. The careers of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie are built off this. It was what made Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft so important, nobody wrote a story quite like them until they started. There had similar contemporaries, but nobody wrote quite like them.

The entire style of Film Noir was about getting as much entertainment value out of interesting shots, compositions, framing and lighting. Making cheap, pulp entertainment as dynamic as possible.

In the future I will discuss how to construct an excellent fight scene, battles, and other spectacles and how or why they work. Today I simply wanted to evaluated that spectacle is a vital aspect of why readers pick up books.

Consider this when writing.

Sometimes we are reading for the spectacle.

But never forget you need good characters for spectacle.


If you like what I’ve said here, please consider checking out my books HERE.

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