How To Give Your Readers A Book Hangover in 3 Easy Steps

Book HangoverWriting a book is a form of torture, I swear. Between the paralysing self-doubt, the voices constantly screaming in your head and the genuine addiction to playing God late into the night, it is without doubt, a form of torture.

But despite all that, when you see the results or hear of a reader sobbing at 3am because you killed bunnikins the third and all his fluffy bunnywabbit babies, it makes it all worth while.

We’ve all been there: unable to see the page for the hysterical tears, or laughing so hard you drop the book and lose your page. Or the ultimate – been given a book hangover by the latest series you binge read.

As authors, that’s exactly what we want to do our readers: hook em’, shake em, change em’, and set them free again.

The key to a hangover, is being able to change a reader, but in order to achieve that change, we need to drag them into the heart of our story. Which means, we need to know what the heart of our story is in the first place.

STEP ONE – Figure Out Your Own Why

Creative Commons Image from Flickr

Creative Commons Image from Flickr

Figure out why you’re really writing this story. And I don’t mean the pissy little answers non-writers assume like: ‘Oh there’s a book in you’ or “it’s just for fun’ or ‘you’re trying to be a writer.’ Sorry but while those things might be true, they’re mostly bullshit.

I’ve talked about finding your why, and your own personal philosophy before. The same principle can be applied here. Knowing why you write before you start writing is important because it’s your driving mechanism. It’s what keeps you going when fear, resistance and self-doubt are paralysing you.

Maybe you write to deal with your own personal baggage. Or perhaps to create the life you always wish you’d had, perhaps it’s rectifying a wrong you did or had done to you in the past.

Me? I’m a truth seeker.

I write because I want to explore truth. In every way: personal, global and human. I want to understand what our truth is. Are humans innately good? Or are we really a poison virus raping and pillaging the Earth? Frankly I’m fucking terrified it’s the latter. But there’s the crux of it, that fear is what drives me to delve deep inside people, rummage around the rawness of jealousy, love and pain and discover the most brutal truth there is.

So have a think, and let me know why you really write in the comments.

STEP TWO – Why are you writing THIS story?

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

It’s one thing to know why you write at all, but each story is an entity, a ‘being’ in itself. Each story has its’ own why and that’s the core of your story. It’s like your books own personal philosophy.

It’s more than just a theme, although theme is a major part of finding the heart of your story. Last week, in Lies – 5 Tips to Master The Perfect Character Arc, I talked about the Hunger Games, and the fact that Katniss believes that in order to survive she has to kill all the other tributes. This is the perfect example, because really the core of the book is about sacrifice.

And that’s Katniss’ truth – there is another way, but it will cost her, her life. No one said the truth was going to be what you wanted to here.

The reason we’re so sucked in to the Hunger Games, is because that truth, that core theme, is clear from the start. It might be subtly woven through the whole book, in order to make it a great read, but we know it’s there as readers. We feel it, because Suzanne Collins ensures that golden ‘sacrifice’ thread is stitched from the very first chapter (when Katniss makes her first sacrifice to be a tribute in place of her sister) right through to the end where she makes her final sacrifice, to die herself rather than kill Peta.

Connect those dots and readers will eat out of the palm of your hand.

STEP THREE – Take It To The Extreme

The thing is. Once you find your books core, it’s tender blood-filled heart, you need to rip it the fuck out and put it on display for your readers.

Seriously.

Bollocks to sensitivities and manners. People read books to be affected. To be made to feel something.

That’s how you do it. You take your core theme, your books why, and then push it (through your characters) to its absolute extreme.

Human experience, and our reaction to it is how you make people feel. Think about it.

If your character loved someone and the worst thing that happened to them in the whole book was their lover going away for two months.

Really?

Who gives a shitsickle. I could poop more interesting storylines.

But what if there was a misunderstanding, a row, their worst one yet and the last thing she said to her lover was she hated him, and then he went away. What if she regretted it the minute he left and travelled after him going through extreme conditions to find him only to discover he’d been killed. Well now, that’s more interesting. Sure, there are ways of pushing that storyline a LOT further, I’m just making the point.

If we go back to Katniss, we know that she IS pushed to the extreme. Both mentally and physically, having to fight and kill and cling to life with her fingertips.

These experiences are what lead her to her ultimate truth – she would rather sacrifice herself than that of a loved one.

And that is how you get to the heart of your book. If you can do that, you’re guaranteed to give your readers a book hangover.


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89 comments

      1. We will have to have a trash can punch party… we had those in Texas.. everyone brought a bottle poured it over loads of chopped fruit and topped up with loads of ice. Wait for that to thaw and then drink.. trouble is you had no idea what bottles people had brought.. so you could have vodka, rum etc.. the most lethal stuff at the end of the day was the fruit.. you could get a hangover from sucking an orange…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Sacha, I really hope this is what readers look for.

    I do think that an author has to be honest (that’s how I think about it, but I honestly believe it’s the same thing you’re talking about), I’m just afraid that even when he/she is the most honest, that won’t necessarily make the story connect with readers.
    Readers are very weird animals, nobody knows what will touch them and why. Sometimes is itsn’t anything as deep as you suggest. At all.

    I still think you’re right, an author should still give their best, their true heart, more candidly than they would ever do to any person in their life. Sometimes there is magic in it. Sometimes – unfortunately – there isn’t… éè

    This is a great post. Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. When I say ‘what readers look for’ I don’t really mean in a really tangible way. I mean what draws someone to a story – what is it that makes them love a story – it’s usually subconscious. I don’t think readers are necessarily aware of why they love books they love.

      And sure – a guilty pleasure book might not be a deep reason. But I suspect that even guilty pleasure books tap into something deep down – even if were not aware of it.

      But never fear that being honest will put readers off. That’s exactly what attracts readers. We’re never going to please everyone. We shouldn’t even try too. But whatever your truth is, whatever your honesty, there will be thousands of readers who feel the same. So never worry about that.

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  2. Why? Because I have something I want to say. I know, we all have. So it needs more than that. So how about this? I have something I want to say, something that I think matters, and that I think I have the voice and the skills to get across in a way that readers may listen to and (hopefully) understand, and then cause them to pause and think.

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    1. Go deeper – why does it matter? Why is what you’ve got to say so important? (And I believe it is) but I want you to tell me why. What are you telling the world? What truth or theme or lesson are you teaching the world by telling this story?

      You’re right in that we all have something to say, that’s why we need to be more specific. It’s a fascinating convo, thanks for joining in 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Go on, then. My published book is about the dreadful way that women are treated, especially in many Eastern societies, but also still in the west. Casual misogyny. Hatred. Prejudice and discrimination. But I am outraged by it partly because I am male, for some reason, and need to use my voice to fight it. I have also spent a lot of time in those Eastern societies, which I feel gives my some insight and a voice.

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      2. Well there u go. That’s what u need to hang on to. Weave the thread right from the first page through to the last – I’m sure you have already. But I like to drill down and recognise the why in everything 🙂

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  3. You always lay down a good challenge and this is the thinking that brings a great story to print. I’ll make sure I’m first in line to buy your book Sacha – I know it’ll be a blinder! 🙂

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      1. Oh you too – Lucy was having self doubt over the Roxy podcast. I told her to stop or I would get you onto her!
        So c’mon… you know you’re totally awesome. Self doubt will get you nowhere in life. You have two choices – stop and give up or keep going. I know which one you want to do you just need to square your shoulders, look ahead and do it! I know you can and I’m always stunned by your work. So whatever else you do will be amazing too! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Your slow and depressed would be hard for me to keep up I think lol
        (I know what you mean – just don’t doubt yourself you’re awesome and that’s it).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. ah no, I hope not. Just take me with a pinch of salt – what I learn and share won’t always resonate and that’s ok. I think we write different genres don’t we? So it won’t always be relevant.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. haha, well If I am honest, I do it selfishly! :p it’s just me trying to learn how to do it in the first place, I just happen to share what I learn! :p lol, I guess that makes it not so selfish???

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, no absolutely not! That is wonderful that you let us be part of your learning. And sharing it with us makes your researches more insightful for yourself!

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  4. The why is always a tough one. Many times I do fall into the ‘having fun’ category especially with Bedlam. The story was fun in my head and I enjoy writing it, so I want to share. Guess my core ‘agenda’ is that I write to entertain others. I did a poem last week called the ‘Purveyor of Escapism’ and that pretty much sums it up. The world can be a horrible place, but a book and your imagination can help relieve the stress.

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    1. It really can. I think that’s why I love fantasy so much because of the escapism element :D. Having fun is essential because writing a book is REALLY hard. If it wasn’t fun then I don’t know why anyone would bother, that’s like torturing yourself needlessly!

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  5. you know I don’t have the first effing clue, beyond the cliches. Maybe My Father and Other Liars, I wanted to explore how faith and its loss might impact different people at different times in different ways but the other two that I’ve got to a publishable state? I’d need to sit down with you and some strong coffee and use your nasty forensic scab-picking to get at the underlying festering truth…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is excellent, Sacha. My personal “why” changes a little with each book, but there is a theme of love conquering fear and the powerless prevailing over the powerful before the powerful screw up the entire world. I think the “why” question really helps with story development. It’s another way to look at the characters’ goals – they have to matter at the very core of the character’s identity, so achieving them feels like a life or death, even if its not. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, and I think my why might change with each one too. I think thats ok. We all have a lot of questions to answer. That’s the beauty of writing for me, we have thousands and thousands of words to philosophise over life the universe and everything. I 100% agree that it helps with character development, in so many ways. But ESPECIALLY because you have to make the characters and therefore the readers feel like whatever is happening is life or death. that’s why the why matters so much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No reason to be sorry – it gave me a good laugh! I wrote in an essay that a character was a “lusty liver.” My prof had good time jiving me on that one.

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  7. I think my ‘why’ is I want to explore worlds that may exist, or have existed, or be somewhere in the multiverse! Explains why I like world building more than characters 😉 But maybe I’m exploring other stuff as well – my bounty hunter keeps taking on bullies, and I’ve inadvertently discovered a revolution/uprising theme in my current WIP. My characters keep standing up to authority :S

    Vive la Resistance!

    I bloody love your posts, Sacha. If you want a testimonial for your villains book just give me a shout.

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    1. oooh. I like that. I wonder if I have elements of that because of all the conspiracy research I do? Now you got me scratching my head Icy!

      Now it’s funny, but that actually doesn’t surprise me. I can see you leading a rebellion, fearless – fuck everyone else, I am doing it my way. I’d join your cause :p

      And what a lovely comment – that made me smile, thank you 😀 and yeah absolutely, I hadn’t even thought about testimonials – argh another thing to add to the list! lol

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  8. I write poems because I want to make people laugh, cheer them up after a rubbish day. I want people to know that even the mundane everyday can be funny and silly.
    It also makes me feel happy if I have been able to get someone to laugh 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I write because the characters demand it. Because the stories demand it. Because I want to explore relationships, choice, and consequence, the way decisions ripple out to affect people beyond. Perhaps that’s a reflection of my own life, in a way. Writing is therapy, yeah? ;-D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well there is that too! My characters demand it too, but I guess deep down they demand it because I want questions answered. Or maybe I am just thinking about it too much! I have a habit of doing that! Lol. But it sure is therapy thats for damn sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “Me? I’m a truth seeker.” THAT! The questions are my motivation. Most of my family has been in prison for stealing, selling, or beating the hell out of one silly-assed thing or another but there are men in my country who have stolen BILLIONS from grandpa’s pension or stolen grandma’s home or sold metric TONS of substances and/or killed thousands and haven’t so much as driven by a prison. That’s my motivation: who’s good, who’s bad, and who decides?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your insightful and inspiring posts. I look forward to seeing your blog notices in my email. Your articles are a real shot in the arm.

        Like

  11. I write to peel back the layers of the characters emotions, put them through hell and see if they walk out the other end, and if they do, how are they changed. Doesn`t matter if it`s fantasy, urban or horror, the characters are severely tested, as we are in life. Sacrifice is a big part of my writing too, what would you do if you could save a world but……..

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    1. haha no story is complete without torturing a character or two!

      I love sacrifice as a theme. I think it’s a skilled one to pull off because you have to have the believability in the characters – do I really believe they would sacrifice themselves for the cause? It’s a hard one, but SO SO awesome if you crack it 🙂

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  12. I write because I have a passion for it. I don’t find it as being like torture…well, not unless I can’t get that ending right, and then I’ll usually leave it a few days and come back to it. Being dyslexic is also what makes me want to write. I have great fun with it. It makes me feel very proud. I like to shock people with the endings, make people laugh, make people cry, make people happy, make people want more and show anyone who is dyslexic that writing and reading are not monsters. You only have to look at the support people like you offer here on their blog, to see how much support and advice is out there to make writing a remarkable gift.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok, with you, now. 😀
        That’s where getting some fresh eyes helps. They often see how to make what we write even more perfect Seems to work for me but, I agree, it can be frustrating. Sometimes, what I really want to say just doesn’t come out correctly as I type it. Then I move around a few words, add a few, maybe delete some, and hey presto!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Love this post!!! I write to explore curiousity about certain subjects. In my current novel, it is how addiction is overglorified in the music industry. A few of my characters struggle with addiction, whether it be a current addiction or persevering over current adversity while keeping demons in the past. I also put in some other storylines to make it more interesting, so that my characters aren’t all a bunch of addicts. That would get boring. One of my main characters is from an FLDS family and struggles to break from that life and how it has oppressed her for so many years so she can make a life of her own, away from the church and being brainwashed. She wants to be a musician and is in a band with a group of friends. It becomes very Fleetwood Mac-like in some storylines with some added twists. I find myself really exploring aspects of humanity in writing this, and I love it. Addiction, recovery, reconciliation, oppression, abuse, and the power of love and friendship woven through all of that. Writing really is a rabbit hole you throw yourself into and in that hole are multiple little rabbit holes of your other plots and subjects and characters. It is exploration and it is freedom. I used to write to escape demons- perhaps why this book is so close to home for me. Now, escaping demons is still part of it, but the other aspect is exploration of humanity.

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    1. I love this. Your story sounds fascinating too. I love that over time your why has changed. I think thats probably true of most of us, just like our writing develops, so to does our why. I know mine seems to change for each book. Thanks for stopping by 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Fab post. All. 💖

    The second point is key. Why are you writing THIS story? My “why” changes with each project. If I have a theme that runs through all of my eclectic writing it would be a cliché: I need to write. Whatever I’m working on at the time has grabbed hold of me and won’t let go.

    Liked by 1 person

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