Last year I got hooked, more like sucked in, to American Idol. I happened to catch one of the first audition shows and it was hopeless after that. I watched every episode, rooted for my favorites and was on the edge of my seat watching the finale when it came down to David Cook or David Archuleta.
Of course, I am already hooked on this season. Lately, I have been thinking about the similarities between Idol and writing fiction and about how much we as writers can actually learn by watching the show.
Idol is character driven. Right from the beginning they start highlighting different singers, getting you to care about them; the 20-year-old single mom who wants to provide a good home for her daughter, the oil-rig worker who has always dreamed of being a singer or the 16-year-old who has high hopes and big dreams.
Just like Idol, it is important in your novel to introduce your main characters quickly and get the reader to care about them. Whether it is to hook up with a dream guy, solve a murder, sort through emotional baggage or climb to the top of Mount Everest, it is imperative that your readers buy in to your characters cause or quest early in your story so they will stay for the whole ride.
Believe it or not, Idol does seem to have a plot. Once the top twelve are picked, someone goes home each week and their dreams are shattered. The tension builds as the stakes get higher, the numbers of singers dwindles and the dream of being the next American Idol nears. Viewers have already bought into the characters and want to see what happens to them. They want to see their hero/heroine face their foe (the judges) each week, fight to stay in, make it to the end "alive," and live happily ever after.
At the end of last season, I became obsessed with Idol. I could hardly contain myself during the finale. I felt like I was going to burst-I had to know how it was going to end. Does your novel have that effect on people? Have you carefully constructed your plot so that it builds and builds and by the end, the reader can't put it down because they have to find out what happens?
Each week the contestants have to sing a song and then face the judges comments. A common complaint from them is that a singer didn't pick the right song; it was too pop, too country, too old, too young... by telling them this, the judges try to guide the contestants to find their true voice; the voice that identifies them and makes them unique. As a viewer it is interesting to watch this process, because some never seem to quite find their voice, but when you see someone who does, it is an amazing thing to watch.
Voice is so important in writing. It is what distinguishes Stephen King from Ann Rice or Michael Crichton. It is what readers are drawn to and what keeps them coming back for more. And like the American Idol singers, sometimes we have to play around with different "songs" or styles to finally find our one true voice. It is hard to explain how it finally happens, but when it does, you seem to know--it just feels right.
Writing, like singing, takes a little bit of talent, but mostly it takes hard work and perseverance. The past American Idol winners and any of best-selling authors, didn't get where they are from sitting around wishing they could be a singer or published author, they took action and pursued their dream. I hope you will do the same.
p.s. Idol fans-tell me who your favorites are so far.