Are You Feeding Your Readers Adderall Or Ambien?
Millions of people read books to help them fall asleep at night. This is unacceptable. Authors write to stimulate the reader. They want to be an Adderall tablet, but they’re an Ambien tablet. Something is wrong. But what?
1. Your kids are boring
There was a kid who was so obsessed with bodybuilders that he put pictures of them on his walls. That’s not that weird for an American kid in 2018, but this kid was in Europe in the 1960s. His mother called the doctor to the house, fearing her son was a homosexual. Admittedly, that’s kind of an interesting anecdote. But it becomes much more interesting when we learn that kid was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Children only become interesting after they’ve achieved great successes as an adult. Just because you find your kid the most fascinating creature, doesn’t mean anyone else will.
Just because a topic is interesting to you, doesn’t mean it’s interesting to your reader.
2. Goliath was a sucker
If I were to retell the cliche story of David and Goliath you’d be bored. But if I added some details not everyone knows, it’s a thrill.
Goliath was indeed a giant, probably due to a hormonal issue. He was big, but that hormonal issue had affected his sight. Not that it would matter, David would have won even if Goliath had the eyes of a hawk.
In ancient warfare there were three types of soldiers. Cavalry, infantry, and slingers. Slingers were similar to archers, but instead of bows and arrows, they used a sling to fire rocks. Slingers weren’t expected to beat cavalry because the horses move too quickly, but they were always expected to beat infantry.
David was a slinger and Goliath was an infantryman. David should beat Goliath every time. Indeed, while Goliath was waiting with his sword, David slung a rock at him, knocked him out, ran over, picked up Goliath’s sword and killed him. That was to be expected.
Then why was it a surprise that David beat Goliath?
It was a surprise because David and Goliath were fighting one versus one, so their corresponding armies would not have to fight. In this situation, it was custom that an infantry member would fight another infantry member. It was a matter of honour. So why would David, the slinger, fight?
David had no concern for honour. He was a shepherd and they were considered the lowest of professions. He had no reputation to lose. So he felt free to break the tradition. And as a slinger he fought an infantryman.
It was not a surprise that David beat Goliath. It was a surprise he chose to fight him.
Details transform a boring cliche into an interesting anecdote.
3. Gangster Warfare better deliver
I recently read a book called Gangster Warfare. It didn’t disappoint. It was filled with bodies dissolved in acid, kingpins more powerful than their state, and a civilian uprising. The title delivered.
In comparison, there’s a best-selling book that was almost named Drug Dealing For Fun & Profit. From the title I would have expected a similar narco story to Gangster Warfare, if a little less dramatic. But the book wasn’t about drug dealing at all. It was about someone who built a business selling pre-workout stimulants (the drug dealing and profit part), and then outsourced his tasks so he had more free time to surf, dance, and travel (the fun part).
Luckily, Drug Dealing For Fun & Profit wasn’t the title that was used. Instead it became the uber-successful 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, which in fact, did go into minute detail about constructing a business where you only work four hours a week. It delivered on the title.
If people go in expecting a rollercoaster and get a train ride, they’ll fall asleep. Don’t oversell with the title.
4. Jesus was a badass
Jesus Christ was a badass. No wonder the Romans had such a problem with him. By saying he was the son of God, that he was God’s mouthpiece, he bought the authority of the Roman state into question. He looked up and said he followed a higher authority. He rebelled against the state. He gained followers, he turned water into wine, and was crucified. What an adventure.
If he had simply been a scholar who told us what to do, who would’ve cared? It’s because he took risks and had an enemy that he was interesting. He was a rebel, not a religious scholar. That’s why the Bible became the world’s bestseller. It’s a book filled with wild stories of seas parting and hellfire. Steven Spielberg couldn’t have done a better job.
If it’s boring to write, it’ll be boring to read. There’s a reason students skip their lecture to watch Game Of Thrones. Don’t lecture. Take us on an adventure.
If authors want their readers to stay awake until the early morning, they have two options. The first is for every new book to come with a free bottle of Adderall. The second is to cut out everything boring and take the reader on an adventure.