So here comes Ben Affleck looking urgent and concerned as an investigation goes on for his missing wife. Cue the music. Flash through climactic moments. Cut to Affleck closing off the trailer by exclaiming, “I did not kill my wife.”
And just then, as the trailer is finishing up, the guy behind me in the movie theater yells, “Who gives a shit?”
It was actually pretty funny.
Maybe he just wasn’t a Ben Affleck fan.
Or maybe he just wasn’t into Gone Girl.
I just know that his words struck me, and as I thought about that trailer, I realized that the man’s question really is a good one for writers to ask—it’s vital in fact, for all of us who are writers, whether that’s for the big screen or the written page.
Who gives a shit?
I mean, really?
Why should I care that this man in this movie did or didn’t kill his wife? Why should I be on his side, desire what’s best for him? There wasn’t anything in the trailer to make me like (or dislike) Ben Affleck. So why should I care?
Obviously, there’s only a limited amount of time in a trailer to allow viewers to identify with or cheer for the protagonist, but the question of that guy in the seat behind me begs an answer.
If the reader doesn’t care, he won’t keep reading.
If the viewer doesn’t, he’ll switch channels.
Later that night as I lay in bed, I pulled out a novel that I was reading at the time. The writing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. The premise was interesting, but the story was peopled with characters that I simply didn’t care about. I was about a third of the way through and just bailed on it.
I didn’t care, so I didn’t keep reading.
Who gives a shit?
Not that time.
If readers don’t care, and don’t do so right off the bat, they won’t be drawn into our stories.
Whether you’re crafting that first killer sentence or shaping your opening paragraph of a chapter, make sure readers care.
And the next time you’re at the movie theater, keep an ear out for people’s reaction to the film itself and the trailers. You just might pick up something you can use in your work in progress.
Or at least a blog post somewhere along the line.