I believe the reason why social media is so popular is also the key to how to make stories that engage readers in the way that matters most: through characters and heart wrenching moments that live on forever.
I have an unoriginal theory on why social media is so popular—people want to be understood and appreciated. Go on, admit it. You want to be understood and appreciated, too. I do. If my wife were looking over my shoulder she’d probably say, “Yeah, so why are you wasting time typing when you should be understanding and appreciating me more?” (I’m so glad she’s not here, because I’d have no argument to continue.)
Even if you’re a brilliant three year old who has mastered websites and reading, you’ll encounter this article with a series of trials where you’ve failed and found a way to succeed. So, for most of us who are decades older, we have even more experiences where we’ve embarked on a new journey—at one time that was middle school, and with my new found freedom of dressing myself, I went from bright blue basketball shoes and jock clothes to an XL Pearl Jam Eddie Vedder shirt I got from a carnival that I swear my mom threw away, because I would have worn that baby into rags. I went into middle school thinking, okay, I was a moderate success in elementary school—I hit home runs in baseball…I was on flag patrol…yes, I cried when I was only chosen as a backup, but sometimes you have to cry to get your way, and I bet I was the most proud flag patrol kid in Edison Elementary history. (Poor kid grew up into an adult, got fired from his call center job, then took a job as a security guard doing pretty much what he did in fifth grade, and had that job for seven years.)
Anyway, back to middle school. So, after mastering things like flash cards and handwriting—thanks to all of my recess detentions and Saturday schools, I went into the next building. How do I show people that I like sports and music and I’m funny and I like my hair better when it’s wet, so in between classes I’m going to run my head under the sink and then come back to class and people will ask me, why is your hair wet?
I did these things because I wanted to be liked. As an author, I claim this supernatural ability to convert what it’s like to want to be liked into characters who aren’t even real—and haven’t had decades of failures to mold them—and somehow make readers like them.
How do we convert that seemingly impossible equation?
We create characters that readers like by imparting what we know about wanting to be liked into people who’ve had slightly different life paths than we have.
For example, one of my POV characters in Godsknife: Revolt is a girl in her early twenties. Uh-oh, I’ve certainly never been there before. Caroline lost her mother to cancer when she was eighteen. I haven’t lost my parents, thank God, but my mom did when she was young, and I know that part of what I love about her is how she survived that terrible experience to grow into the woman that loved me with every minute she survived without the same cancer that took her parents away.
Caroline’s dad was a believer in a religion that had been outlawed for twelve hundred years. He made it his mission to collect his faith’s writings into a completed book, and traveled to spread his message. For Caroline, she loved her parents, but their faith became a wall between her and them—first with the foundation of that belief a Maker of the universe, how could that God be good while also taking away her mother? Second, if that God was so good, why did He force her dad to stay away for days at a time, before taking him away too and forcing her to miss out on college while trying to keep her family farm afloat?
Early into our story she visits Iowa State, exhibiting courage to meet a new adventure and meets a recruiter for a different religion, Anthon, who inadvertently worships the priestess who’ll unleash giant praying mantises on the population of Des Moines. Failure and adventure abound for them, for sure.Godsknife: Revolt has elements that explore how faith changes people, for good and for bad, because I’ve grown up and hit rock bottom in a family and cultural system that either treats faith like an object to put on in the morning, or a whipping boy, or a source of replenishment and direction. I’ve seen all sides.
The characters in this book are not meant to point out which use of faith is better, but it will show you people who feel no other choice than to pursue the direction and side they land on. Hopefully you’ll see pieces of them that I experienced as someone who wanted to be liked, and you’ll like them in return.
Some of them you’ll probably hate, and yet I write them knowing that I’ve made terrible mistakes that caused people to hate me, while deep down I still wanted to be loved. They may be harder to love, but like the guy on Facebook who posts memes of the ALIENS guy, even if it’s harder to love them, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
Godsknife: Revolt is available for preorder on Amazon. If you email me your preorder confirmation, or simply just email me that you pre-ordered, I’ll send you two of my other Kindle books, which you can see on my Amazon author page.