On the 20 books to 50k group someone posted about a video from their Vegas conference How to make your novel Unputdownable? by Kate Pickford, and it was good. The talk was a lot about brain science and how we skim over the familiar genre tropes in stories but we’re very critical of stories that don’t touch the familiar so you lull the reader into a sense of security before you hit them with your original bits. The speaker encouraged writers to become familiar with the conventions of their genres.
The speaker mentioned another talk from the Romance Writer’s Association called Writing for your Id by Dr. Jennifer Lynn Barnes, it’s a $6 download from their website. The speaker’s premise is that as we hone our writing craft; killing our darlings, minding Checkov’s gun to make sure things in a story are important to the plot, asking ourselves is this a cliche, have I done this before? At some point, you edit out all the things that aren’t essential to the story, and with them go all the fun. She describes a decline from authors’ debut books and their later efforts when they were objectively better writers having worse sales.
Speaking as a neuroscientist she talks about 6 Universal pleasures and how including them in your stories excites part of the brain. Beyond the universal pleasures though she talks about personal pleasures; scenes in castles, in the rain, waterfalls, characters eating ice cream, cases of mistaken identity, fancy parties, characters with unnatural hair colors, characters with animal companions. She divides the things in her Id lists into four categories; plot lines, plot devices, character traits, and locations.
She says the Id lists are things the author finds personally pleasurable in media, you could examine your favorite media to identify scenes that you enjoy. She says you might want to look at the list when facing a scene you aren’t excited about or can’t get motivated to write.
The speaker never says you can’t use a place to reinforce the theme or purpose of a scene or character trait to reinforce their point of view or conflict. What she does say is that of the 6 Universal pleasures she’s graded her books on how many they include and the ones including 4-6 of them outsell the ones that only used 1-3 of them.
I’ll give it a re-listen and try to get down the universal pleasures which include touch which can vary from romantic intimacy to petting a dog, both set off the touch reward.
I’ll also get more of the author and audience Id list elements.
Heights, Evil Twins, Castles, Rain, Rooftops, Vampires in Suits, Fancy Parties, Makeovers, Uncommon names, characters with unnatural hair colors that are natural for them, identical twins, older sibling raising a younger sibling, professor adventurer, all women societies, mountains, waifish assassins, competition, people in cages, people eating ice cream, characters getting a makeover,
On top of scenes, she mentions using Pleasure lists or Id lists for covers as well as scenes, and title buzzwords in the title and marketing. Make a tweet for each trope in the book by name because someone loves evil twins.
So in the Q&A, somebody asked about DIS-pleasure and so the speaker talked about things that we don’t like and she said that the bad things we do to the characters heighten the emotional response (arousal) and can later transfer to the pleasurable experience when something good happens to the character. “Excitation transfer” was the term, I got it down after a re-listen.
She also talked about the “Peak End Effect” from economics, the notion that what people remember as their experience with the book are the strongest feeling during the story and the ending. The strongest experience for each reader may be different scenes depending on their Id lists, and so it’s important to have some good scenes in the book, it’s worth half the total experience to nail the ending.
She also mentioned leaving some gaps in your fiction, fandom arises from “Resistance to authorial authority” places left open for the reader to wonder, to write fanfiction, to talk with to their friends, if you write everything in the book and tie up all the loose ends explaining everything then when they finish the book they are well and truly done with your world. My friend Christian Conkle called this hint-based design when worldbuilding. James Sutter mentioned it in his worldbuilding class as well. He didn’t call it that but basically said you only have so much word count and you leave some room for later sourcebooks if part of your world ends up being popular.
So I thought I’d write some of the scenes and other id list items I like seeing in media; heists (Ocean’s 1*, Leverage), the character getting equipped (Aliens, Blade), the preparation/fabricating montage with all the welding going on (think A-Team), Conan’s father forging the sword he dedicated to Crom, Tony Stark making the first Iron Man armor in a cave, the Armorer making the Mandalorian’s Beskar armor, space combat, aerial combat, sailing ships, pirates, clever gambits, brilliant detectives, gadgeteer heroes, competent villains,
I think that beyond using these Id lists in writing fiction, we could try to adapt the idea to writing games, you could have iconic things like fights with the BBEG on a mountaintop, on a cliff, on a rope bridge over the river of lava, as well as designing our NPCs. If you know that your players are suckers for talking animal companions or suckers for a loveable goblin, then you sprinkle more of that stuff in your home campaign. Robin Laws had some ideas in Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering about how to design encounters and adventures that your party will love based on the kind of players in your group, It might be possible to tailor a campaign where major NPCs are loveable aliens, sexy secret agents, or charming scoundrels based on their likes and dislikes.
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