The Value of the Sound Bite: Researching Historical Fiction
by Dr Gillian Polack (writing at Queensland Writers Centre)
Some days, it’s hard to think in sound bites. We work at it. We make our pitch perfect; we communicate a digest form of our grand idea. The idea is, of course, to lure readers. As writers, we’re trained to summarise our work in sound bites, in elevator pitches, in single paragraphs. “My novel is a whimsical romance, set in Paris in the twelfth century.” “I’ve written a story about star-crossed lovers, facing werewolves in the London sewers of 1888.”
When we present these abbreviated ideas, the listener thinks, “What does this remind me of?” and fills in the gaps themselves. “Whimsical romance” may suggest a charming tale of lovers with a certain level of sex and quite a bit of fun. “Paris in the twelfth century” reminds us of Abelard and Heloise, perhaps. ‘Lovers’, ‘London 1888’ and ‘sewers’ hint at darkness and thrill and the paranormal.
This is very handy for those who write books that fit broad concepts shared by the community. But if you’re not writing chick lit and the description reads as chick lit, then the intending-reader may say (publicly, as one did for a book of mine) “This is not the type of book I read.” Or they may love it, sight unseen. This is the value of the sound bite – it’s a short cut to finding what we need and what we enjoy. Read more…