How to Write Longform

The concept of TLDR eludes me. The longer a read, the better, is my semi-humble opinion. OF course, I am a firm believer in the economy of words. Your YA book should be 150,000 words of rambling first person exposition. But, as long as it’s engrossing and interesting and has lots of parentheses, please let me read forever.

Of course, most of the internet, to say nothing of this attention span-lacking generation, disagrees completely. If it can’t be digested in the length of a .gif, it is TL. And therefore, DR.

So some places have ‘longform’ articles as sort of a nostalgic holdover, I suppose, the internet-age equivalent of a curiosity shop. Something you can look at and remember when people read, man. Or show to our children and tell them when mommy and daddy were little we used to read long articles all the time, but it’s no use, because the five-year old has a smartphone and is busy using it to move brightly colored gems around.

But I digress. To be sure, I’m firmly in the antiquity camp about a lot of things, but this longform thing is stupid. Because every single one is exactly the same. So here is the DESR guide to writing your very own longform piece (Slate, Vox and the like will love you):

Pick something semi-obscure and semi-important. It can’t be something that everyone knows. Your longform piece on the spirituality of The Force Awakens won’t fly. And it can’t be completely out of the public consciousness, either. Think the movie Dodgeball as a perfect example. Everyone knows dodgeball (the sport), but did they recognize the spiritual transcendence of playing in adult league? You do, so you’re well on your way to the perfect longform article.

shut up

Have some stakes. But again, not too big of stakes. Human-interest stakes. The most integral part of your piece is that people care, and care deeply. Otherwise, prepare to be filed under TLDR. So you must, preferably in sentences that demand tension, to be read breathlessly, communicate that this matters. ‘But DESR,’ you’re saying, ‘then why ever did you say to pick something that doesn’t have big stakes? Why don’t I write about sex trafficking? People care about that.’ To which I say, you’re an idiot. The point of these articles is not for people to read them and go out and effect change in this world, it is to get them to spend time on the website and generate ad dollars. So they need to read the article, care about it, but be able to walk away without it gnawing at their soul. They’ll go volunteer to clean up the earth or feed orphans or some crap, and you can bet they are not surfing the internet from a Tibetan orphanage.

 

Say something that sounds really profound. Again, it shouldn’t actually be profound, but it should sound that way. This is the line that people take away, and feel moved by, because people are idiots. Take the best* piece of longform in modern history, which appeared on Vox: The “I love the Victorian Era So I Decided to Live in it” lady. She concludes thusly:

This is why more people don’t follow their dreams: They know the world is a cruel place for anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant culture. Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.

Hoooo, boy, that sounds profound. I need to follow my dreams, you think from inside your cubicle as you hope your boss doesn’t notice you’re not working. Except, the person who wrote that is an idiot. But goddamn if it doesn’t sound profound.

Also, Vox has a great description of the longform thing there:

First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays

Sound great! It’s another way of saying ‘ramble about semi-important stuff, as long as it sounds profound’.

Patronize the ever-loving shit out of everyone: This is where SB Nation messed up- not in victim-shaming, or total whitewashing of a despicable human being**- but the fact that nearly every paragraph did not come with some sort of caveat about how ‘you might not agree’ or ‘this is not for everyone’. Patronize everyone. This keeps them on the page and entranced with your climb up the lower Withcita County Dodgeball standings, even after Jeremy broke his ankle and Sonja got pregnant with twins, even though her husband just had back surgery and his job fired him without cause. But they’ll be courtside for the championship. Because we all fight together. Not everyone loves Dodgeball. But we do. And isn’t that what dreams really are?

See how easy that was?

DESR

*Worst

**I am being facetious. That was their mistake.

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In Response

I sat back, incredulous, believing only that my eyes deceived me. There was no way they were interpreting the light coming from my laptop correctly. Somewhere between that glowing screen and the synapses of my brain, the signal was jumbled. Maybe the problem lay deeper, I though, and clicked refresh. But there it was, plain as day.

Five stars.

Another one.

I dare you to review this book.

I dare you to review this book.

No. Way. Why? How? Who? Questions ran through my scrambled brain, trying to rectify the words I was reading to the apparent fact that they were about words I had written.

best things from Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Firefly“*

A wonderful collection of characters and tales, seeded throughout with colorful snippets of “future history.”*

“skilled story-telling and imaginative world-building“*

“Humanities crowning achievement. A modern wonder of the world, surpassing the first seven.”**

They had to be talking about someone else. Not me. I had to know why. I gchatted my friend, Carey.

“You’ve been reading reviews again, haven’t you?”

Maybe.

“You’re an idiot,” she said, sending me a link to a ridiculous cat gif.

Really helpful. I pressed on in my righteous course. I had to find out who these people were and why they said these things. One of the reviews was from ‘Scott’, as if that would be his real name. I found him on Twitter, and from the looks of it, he likes sports (as if) and runs a blog where he gives thoughtful, balanced reviews to a lot of SciFi books. He even writes. Probably writing these nice reviews in order to get attention.

What a monster.

Maybe I’m crazy, I thought. Should I just leave it alone? But then- he lives not to far from here. An hours drive…

A couple minutes of Googling later, and I have his home and work address, phone numbers and a disturbingly descriptive account of an incident with a banana in grade school.

Obviously Carey was no help, so I tried Megan.

“Hey.”

“Don’t do it, you moron.”

“I haven’t even said anything yet.”

“Carey told me.”

“Already?”

“Yes. Don’t. Do. It.” More links to gifs, this one from that show, with the guy giving the side eye. Apparently it’s funny because his name is Dean.

They don’t understand. Don’t they get it? These reviews could make me. If people read them, they might buy my book, and I might make enough to write full-time. So I have to meet him. I have to know.

Maybe I should call first. Yeah, I’ll do that. The phone rings, his ringback tone is that damn Happy song, because of course it is.

“Hello?”

My blood is ice when he answers. What am I even going to say?

“Hi. Scott?”

“Yeah.”

The man’s nerve is not to be believed. He doesn’t even deny his online persona. Who does that? Monsters, that’s who.

“Hey, uh Scott. You write a book blog, right?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“What’s your review policy?”

He goes on about it for awhile, never even denying anything. He’s super pleasant the whole time.

The nerve of this guy.

“so, yeah, feel free to send it over. You have my email?”

Oh, I have your email, Scott.

The exchange rattles around in my brain for the next few days. I want more. I’m not satisfied. He needs to explain himself. I want him to say, “Yes, I’m Scott Whitmore and I gave your book five stars.”

I need to see him, face-to-face, man-to-man, and possibly several other arbitrary pairings. So it is, I am sitting in his driveway, holding my breath, ready for the exchange. I don’t know what I’m going to say, my mind is a cold London night in a fog as I walk up the drive. I exhale as my knuckles reach the door- the die is cast.

The door opens. It’s him.

“Hi, Scott,” I say.

“Do I know you?”

“It’s Dean.”

His face is blank. “You reviewed my book.”

“Oh! Hey! Yeah, man. I really liked it. What are you doing here?” I feel guilty for lying on the phone before. But I have to see it through,

“I… I wanted to know why.”

He looks puzzled. “I… I really liked it.”

Relief washes over me. “Oh. Cool.” What now? “How about the Mariners?”

“It was a fun season! Want a beer?”

Yeah, Scott. Yeah I do.

**NOTE: The people mentioned in this post are real, and are wonderful, and I don’t think Scott has a weird grade-school story involving a banana. Megan and Carey would send me gifs, tho**

*from real reviews of 3024AD.

**This one is not.

Call for Guest Posts!

As I imagine most of you know, I really like writing this blog (and writing in general). But I do want to take a break for a bit, but don’t want to leave you all as the readers with nothing to read (because I know this is the only blog you read, or is even on the internet). So I’m putting the call out for guest posts. If you have something you want to talk about, here is a by-no-means-inclusive list of what you could write about:

  • Writing in general
  • Pretty much anything to do with books
  • Movies
  • Conventions
  • Your book/movie/project
  • Flash/short stories
  • Book/movie/vidja game review

I’m not picky, but I would like to keep the tone of the blog the same, so my list o’ exclusions are:

  • Anything political/religious/etc. I want this to be fun to read for everyone.
  • Little/no swearing. See above.
  • No erotica, gore, etc. Also as above.
  • Write well. I have typos galore and mess up grammar fairly regularly, so I’m no English professor, but make sure it’s readable and won’t take away from what you’re trying to say.
  • You are welcome to promote your book/movie/project/whatever, but I ask that you do so in one of two ways: 1) in your sig/bio or 2) make the whole thing about your project, and make sure it has substance. I don’t mind as long as it is what it is, just don’t bait and switch readers (not that any of you would consider that).

Why would you want to do this? You could do worse for exposure, with over 100 followers (yeah, you could do better as well), plus I’ll promote it on all my social stuff. You can also do it because most of my readers are fun and geeky.

The other thing I would like to try is a couple reader interviews. Preferably people who have read 3024AD. I think it would be really fun to get to know at least a few of you and feature that here on the blog.

So, if you’re interested in either of those things, please drop me an email- deanfortythree [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!

A Quick Note on the Amazon/GoodReads Thing

I wasn’t even going to write about this, but it’s still making the rounds, so I’ll throw in a couple things:

It is very unlikely that there is anything to get worked up over. Obviously, it’s big news from a who-owns-what standpoint. But I don’t think it’s an issue for a couple reasons:

  • GoodReads already draws from Amazon. A book doesn’t appear there until it’s on Amazon. So Amazon certainly isn’t going to mess with that.
  • In fact, they probably won’t mess with much. Maybe the ads system, which isn’t a bad thing, either. Or for gods sake, the interface. Give that some love.
  • It will be integrated with Kindle. More on this later, but my lips aren’t as firmly on Amazon’s rear as Howley’s are, but come on. This benefits authors all over the place. More reader access to reviews will only help- as I’ve mentioned before, this is just the direction it’s going.
  • Judging from the job postings, it looks like a lot will be improved- mobile, ads, analytics and marketing all have positions that will be added. Sometimes the big guys deep pockets are a good thing.

So… Everybody take a deep breath, get out of the lifeboats and let’s see where this goes.