As writers, we deal in stories. Regardless of genre or medium: whether we’re writing episodic non-fiction for our blog or screenplays or children’s stories for the iPad or novels we want out in every format known to Man, including dead tree, we want to have a story that makes people come back for more.

How do we figure out what makes them come back for more?

Obviously, knowing who you’re writing to is key. Writing letters to our grandmother is different than writing letters to the IRS agent who just completed our audit. Writing to a group of people can be a little more difficult. I talked last week about romance novels: in some ways, they’re probably one of the easier genres to write, because readers are vocal about what they want. Steampunk has a similar strength of readership, though feedback there is more direct: forums and fan letters as opposed to simple numbers (did you know that romance novels account for 55% of total paperback sales? There are a lot of numbers there).

But what about other genres, or maybe those not as well defined? Those can be more difficult to pinpoint an audience for, to determine who you’re speaking to. What’s winning literary awards or flying off bestseller lists can be a good indication of the sort of stories that are engaging to people, but when we look at books alone we miss out on a lot. Many people – I’d even venture to say most – in North America also find a lot of the stories that engage them on television. Which means that, for anyone who generates stories, television, and pop culture in general, are invaluable tools for researching story structure.

I’m not saying we should all be writing magical children going to boarding school. Far from it: derivative is not exciting or intellectually stimulating. But if there are several shows with real science taking a reasonably prominent role (NUMB3RS, Criminal Minds), then maybe that’s an element we can draw on when writing our own works.

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