Marketing Vs. Story: Which is King? (Plus, Craft the Ultimate Cliche)

Marketing, marketing, marketing. You hear it from writing books. You hear it from us. You hear it from conferences, published writers at readings and even unpublished writers hanging out on street corners. Sure, it’s important—if not crucial at times—but what should really take precedence when it gets down to the marrow of things? It’s something that’s easy to forget when you’re looking at the macro-view of a writing career.

It’s time for the latest in the Top 20 Lessons from WD in 2009.

No. 16: Story, Story, Story

Keep the focus on the writing and the story. All the advertising, marketing and promotion in the world are meaningless unless you’ve got a tale people want to read.
—Author Rhodi Hawk (A Twisted Ladder), as featured in our March/April 2009 issue.

Marketing or story: Which do you think should take precedence?

To complement Hawk’s point, as James Patterson emphasized in that issue, “If it’s commercial fiction that you want to write, it’s story, story, story. You’ve got to get a story where if you tell it to somebody in a paragraph, they’ll go, ‘tell me more.’ And then when you start to write it, they continue to want to read more. And if you don’t, it won’t work.”

In honor of Hawk, Patterson and Story, Story, Story, take today’s prompt and try to decode what makes a truly awful story: Write the most hilariously cliché scene you can. How might analyzing the ins and outs of a tired, tried and true yarn lead you to purge your writing demons and craft a more original story next time?

WRITING PROMPT: Crafting a Cliché
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below:

Write the most cliché story you can, working as many unbearably overdone elements into the scene as possible.

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4 thoughts on “Marketing Vs. Story: Which is King? (Plus, Craft the Ultimate Cliche)

  1. Karen A, Winters Schwartz

    He was standing on the edge. The edge of desire. The edge of his future. Smoking his last cigarette, thinking deeply, inhaling deeply, exhaling; the smoke curling around him in the dark night air. In his mind’s eye, he looked over his shoulder and saw his past laid out on the ground like a gutted trout. Organs of his failure glistening in the hot sun … He closed his eyes to his past and took a step forward, into the future, throwing the cigarette onto the ground and crushing the smoldering end with the heel of his blue suede shoe.
    His hand came out in the dark, reaching towards the doorknob, his fingers quivering with anticipation. The knob turned. The door squeaked out its complaint. The light from the house — his house — slicing through the night. His eyes fell immediately to the desk, to the coffee cup sitting cold, lonely and deserted near the open laptop. A few quick steps and he was there, running the tips of his fingers lovely over the keyboard. The monitor jumped into life, the words — his words — harsh and dark against the white, danced before his eyes. He sunk down into the chair, picking up the gnawed pencil and placed the eraser between his teeth as was his habit. He let the pencil dangle from his mouth, staring despondently at the clouds in his coffee.
    His eyes shifted to the whiteness of the monitor. He reached towards the light with his shaking hands and blackened out the words of the entire document, blacken them until the screen was dark — as dark as the night outside his walls. His finger hovered momentarily, like a tiny helicopter, over the delete button, but then, with an exact and purposeful movement, his finger descended. The monitor stared back, bright and harsh and white in its nakedness.
    He stared at the harshness a moment before removing the pencil and throwing back his head with an hysterical hyena laugh. He reached for the coffee and slugged down the cold brew, cringing with pure disgust. Then — the pencil back to his mouth — he hit the undo button, laughing that laugh again as his words magically reappeared. As the pencil moved up and down in his mouth, “click, click, click,” against his teeth, he moved the curser to the end of the document and began to write.

  2. Mark James

    The Road of Love

    It was a dark and stormy night, but Derrick didn’t care. He’d cross mountains, sail stormy seas, take on whole armies, if it meant he could have Cassandra back.

    His cell phone rang. He dived for it, breathing hard. His heart soared at the thought of hearing her voice. “Hello?”

    “I’ve called to tell you that it’s true about me and Steve.”

    Derrick heard Cassandra’s voice, and he felt as he always did, as though somewhere nearby a bouquet of roses had budded bright and new. In short, hope flowed back into his world. “It doesn’t matter, baby. I love you. Don’t you see? Love conquers all.”

    “And you’ll forgive me for giving my love to another man when I knew that no other man in the world could love me like you do?”

    “How could I not forgive you when you’re the love of my life? I’d die without you.” Derrick grabbed his car keys. “I’m on my way.”

    “No love,” Cassandra said. “It’s pouring rain. Stay there. Stay safe.”

    Derrick’s heart had never been lighter; spring time had returned to his life at last. “I’m only safe in your arms.”

    He pressed END on his phone, not knowing that he was ending so much more than a phone call.

    Cassandra, in her loft in Manhattan let the phone fall from her fingers. She wandered out onto her balcony, watched rain pour down on the city, washing it clean of sin. She wondered if her heart could ever be washed clean.

    Derrick ran through the rain, backed his BMW out of his driveway, drove past the suburban homes that radiated wealth, all of them a hollow illusion, built by people whose hearts had long grown cold.

    The rain lashed his windshield, but Derrick drove on heedless of the fifty five speed limit on I-95. The only thing that mattered to him, with every beat of his heart, was feeling Cassandra’s soft touch, hearing her voice, feeling her arms around him.

    The roads that lead into cities are treacherous at best, littered with the dark dreams of broken hearts. That night, the highway that should have taken Derrick to the center of his dreams, was a road to death.

    In his rush to see the woman who had become the center of his universe, Derrick had forgotten to turn on his headlights.

    Later, when the road crew was rinsing the blood that the rain missed, the truck driver said he never saw Derrick. In a black BMW with no lights, in the rain, he was nearly invisible.

    Cassandra stood at the side of the road, rain pouring over her, soaking through her skin, but washing away no pain.

    She knew this was a punishment from a just God. If she’d loved Derrick the way he’d deserved, he wouldn’t have been on this wind swept road, and she wouldn’t be standing there, adding the tears of her broken heart to the millions of tears already shed along the road of love.