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A Marketing Handbook for Writers: Part Eight - The Role of Character

December 19, 2017

 

Prospects are bombarded by businesses pitching for their attention all day and all night long. In writing terms, this translates as readers having words and scenes thrown at them again and again. Why should a reader bother to engage with this scene? Why do readers engage with stories, initially?

 

Because they become attached to a character.

 

Why should a prospect bother to engage with your product? Why do prospects engage with products, initially?

 

Because they become attached to a character.

 

In the last few years, there has been a huge rush to get authors or wannabe authors to develop something called an ‘author platform’. There are various ideas as to what one of these is, but basically it’s a web presence - a website, a blog, a series of appearances, a following, which all adds up to the author being visible on social media and the web generally. This, say the marketing people, is what is needed in today’s world so that authors can stand out from the crowd.

 

In this, the marketing people are correct - but the connection that no one has made until now is that the development of an author platform parallels the creation of a character inside a piece of fiction.

 

What A Character Actually Is

 

The classic definition of a character is along the lines of ‘a created being who has needs, just like a person, with a background or biography full of fascinating details’, all designed to make the constructed person more interesting to the reader. 

 

Though something like this has been used both to describe characters in fiction and to offer advice to creative writers for as long as there have been stories, it is actually misleading. 

 

The entity which we have been accustomed to calling a ‘character’ is actually a construction of vacuums.

 

If you design one of these ‘characters’ to have a well-rounded life, being content in a job, living comfortably with an ideal family life, your construct will not generate much energy in any story. 

 

Any entity that we call a ‘character’ only becomes interesting when something is taken away from him or her.

 

If a constructed character has a damaged life, is unhappy in a job, lives uncomfortably and has a far from ideal family life, he or she will generate energy in your story. The character - and more importantly, the reader - will have attention on his or her vacuums and will be pulled by them into the story, either in the short or long term.

 

This material will be well known to readers of my book How Stories Really Work.

 

But let’s have a look at how this works in the world of marketing.

 

The classic picture of a prospect is along the lines of ‘someone who has needs, just like a person, with a background or biography full of fascinating details’. Facebook, Google and everyone else make vast amounts of money by accumulating and then trading that information, as it supposed to be useful to marketeers. Of course it has a use and purpose, but it is also a little misleading. 

 

The figure which we have been accustomed to calling a ‘prospect’ is actually a construction of vacuums, just like a character in fiction.

 

If you picture one of these ‘prospects’ to have a well-rounded life, being content in a job, living comfortably with an ideal family life, your construct will not generate much energy as far as marketing is concerned. 

 

If we begin to imagine prospects as leading damaged lives, being unhappy in their jobs, living uncomfortably with far from ideal family lives, they will generate energy in your marketplace. 

 

The prospect will have attention on his or her needs and will be pulled by them into the channel which you have dug, either in the short or long term.

 

What motivates prospects to buy is something missing. The missing item, mood or state is what pulls people into doing anything. If people seem to lack motivation, they lack these ‘vacuums’; if they are super-motivated, they have powerful vacuums. 

 

In fiction, these vacuums can largely be determined by you or not as a writer.

 

In marketing, these vacuums can largely be determined by you or not as a marketer.

 

Prospects come alive and move forward in a rhythm: - they lose, they find; they don’t have, they have; they lack, they get. 

 

In all stories, the things which we have been accustomed to call ‘characters’ are really constructs - and the primary building material for each is vacuums. Creating successful fictional characters means creating or finding vacuums which will pull in reader attention. In the same way that a reader is pulled along by vacuums of his or her own creation or those created by others in life, so is a character almost physically pulled into action on a scene-by-scene basis. 

 

In all marketing, the things which we have been accustomed to call ‘prospects’ also have vacuums. Creating customers - changing someone who has a need into someone who has purchased your book to resolve that need - means creating or finding vacuums which will pull in attention. 

 

In the same way that a reader is pulled along through scenes by vacuums, so is a prospect almost physically pulled into action by a marketing campaign’s created vacuums.

 

So Step 2 earlier - ‘Intrigue them in some effective way’ -isn’t something for woolly thinking: it’s a precise engineering matter.

 

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