What Is ‘Mental Real Estate’ & How Can It Make Your Writing Better?

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You will probably stumble across the advice to “write what you know” at some point in your career. And it’s great advice! However, as beneficial as it is to “write what you know,” it’s only one small portion of a larger concept you can implement when it comes to storytelling.

Writing what you know can seem both maddeningly simple and alarmingly complex. It suggests that you should draw on your own experiences with people, places, and events to create a more intricate and realistic world for your reader. It’s a great way to add flavor to your writing and make what you’re working on feel that much more intense, gratifying, and yes, even sad or thought provoking.

After all, you’re not just creating your scenario or character, you’re pulling from real-life memories you felt and understand and can describe in detail.

But as a culture and as people that have many elements of entertainment from all over the world, it can be easy to forget our shared experiences — especially when it comes to writing.

This is where mental real estate steps in and sweeps “writing what you know” off its feet. These two concepts are ideal partners. One helps you make your writing fuller, and the other teaches you to write a story people will love!

The brilliant thing about mental real estate is that it’s a concept that holds an infinite amount of information in your mind. If someone names an item — like Mountain Dew, for example — and you recognize it, then that item has staked a claim in your mental real estate.

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Basically, people are all a little Pavlovian by nature, and if you repeat a phrase or word at them enough with a catchy little jingle, soon they’ll start singing along. This is a concept that retailers rely on so heavily that you probably don’t even know how engrained their logos, slogans, and brand names are.

Also, you’re probably thinking about getting Mountain Dew now. Sorry. (#notsorry, that ish is delish.)

Every song you’ve ever loved and sang along to? Mental real estate. Quotes from your favorite poem or movie? Mental real estate. Being able to name the product from hearing, “The quilted quicker picker-upper?” Yep, you guessed it! All of these things take up space in your head. But mental real estate isn’t just a concept that works for retailers. In fact, it works for storytellers — from indie authors to Disney movies — and it can work for you, too.

If you’re asked to name a fairy tale, there’s a 99 percent chance that you’ll know what a fairy tale is and have at least one example, whether it’s Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or a dozen others.

The point is that you recognize these stories because they’re already in your head. They’re a part of your mental real estate and have set up camp right there on Fairy Tale Lane (which, let’s be real, probably intersects with Fetish Ave. at some point).

But it’s not just the names of these stories that you can recognize. It’s also their plots. The heart of the tales. The lessons they teach. Remember when Avatar came out? It made a crap-ton of money and was hugely regarded by viewers.

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And then someone came along and pointed out that it was the exact plot of Disney’s Pocahontas set in space with giant blue aliens. And instead of corn, the evil invading humans were after unobtanium, aka the world’s worst placeholder name that somehow made it through every edit into production.

You might think that people would feel cheated if they got told the same story again. But the trick of mental real estate is that your sweet, innocent brain looks at the concept, says, “Oh, I know this one!” and embraces it in a giant pile of squishy, comforting familiarity. So instead of saying, “I just spent $30 to watch blue alien Pocahontas,” you said, “Oh man, how cool was that?!”

And while this may seem like cheating, it really isn’t. People are comfortable with what they know. What’s familiar and embedded in your mental real estate is Hollywood gold. Filmmakers vie for it like crazy. Many of your favorite movies probably share a ridiculous number of similar traits to many of your other favorite movies.

When it comes to writing, if you’re ever stuck on what to do with your characters or where to go next, write what you know! Think back to similar instances in other stories you enjoy, and try and find a new angle for your audience; a new hook that employs a familiar concept.

There’s a reason why Hollywood can get away with remakes and reboots of the same stories. There’s a reason no one admits to watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales but it got nearly 800 million dollars in worldwide box office sales.

These are stories you know. They’re comforting. They’re familiar.

So when it comes to being a storyteller, it’s okay to look at other plots, other concepts, and try to come up with something that will introduce a lovable old story with new vitality. Read everything in your genre; learn what worked and what didn’t. What reoccurring themes happened? What tropes and characters do you see repeated, and why?

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Recognize these things and employ them in your own writing in a new way. If you want to retell Sleeping Beauty, ask yourself what can you do to make it different and yet familiar enough to be “safe” to your reader’s brain. Can you put her in the future? Absolutely! Can she be steampunk and trapped in a moving tower that roams the land? Yes! Does she have to be Sleeping Beauty at all? No! Change her name; her hair; her skin color! Make her a boy and have a mechanical dragon guarding the tower that your scrappy mechanic prince/princess has to dismantle before they can save him!

You can use these shared concepts and themes to make that novel familiar and comfortable to readers while giving them a new journey to go on. This doesn’t mean copying the story, it means understanding what your readers want and giving it to them. In the end, you can write not only what you know, but what we all know and enjoy together.

This was originally published on Medium.com

Mercury in Retrograde won an award!

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I am so pleased to announce that my first novel, Mercury in Retrograde, recently won the silver medal in the fiction/sci-fi category of the annual Readers’ Favorite book awards!

*does a little happy dance*

In other good Mercury in Retrograde news (who knew that was a thing?!), I’m also about 90,000 words into the sequel.

I am planning on having it finished, edited, and off to the publisher before the end of the year, so hopefully we’ll see it out in early 2020.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll have some more good announcements for you soon!

Get your own copy of Mercury in Retrograde here!

 

 

Twisted Wonderland Pre-Order

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I’m so excited to announce the soon-to-be sale of Twisted Wonderland, a collection of dark retellings of Alice in Wonderland from the view point of your favorite characters for only $2.99!

My story Curiouser and Curiouser is featured along with six other talented authors’ tales, and you can pre-order your own copy here before it comes out on August 31!

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For an even better bonus, if you do pre-order a copy, you can also enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card and a free copy of the paperback! Just click this link to post your proof of purchase on Facebook.

See you in Wonderland!

 

Your Characters are Probably Terrible – Here’s Why

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Scout Dawson

Even if you’re not currently an author, you’ve probably heard the term “Mary Sue”. It’s a name given to flat, one-dimensional female characters who are so well-rounded and flawless that they just don’t appear human. Sometimes these characters fall into certain cliches or tropes that make the audience collectively groan. You may also have heard the male iteration of this, “Gary Stu”.

The fact is, whilst we all have a secret dream of being the Mary Sue at some point in our lives, writing one into your novel is hands down going to make your novel terrible.

Here is a great example of what a typical Mary Sue character might be like.

She is eighteen years old.

Long brown (or black) hair that seems to frizz and do whatever it wants, she has an unremarkable body boys never look at. She has, against all genetic reasoning, stormy grey eyes.

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Mercury in Retrograde on Sale!

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This week, Mercury in Retrograde is on sale on Amazon for only .99c!

Given that I’m nearly done with the sequel, I’d say now is a perfect time to buy! Get your copy now, so it can meet all of your other TBRs and make friends.

An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos

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The Cheeky Wench

This is the letter that I have sent to Jeff Bezos regarding the problems with KU Book Stuffers, Scammers, and thieves. Take from it what you will.

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I am Suzan Tisdale. I began my self-publishing career in December of 2011. Within a year of releasing my first three novels, I was able to give up my day job.  As a self-published, indie author, I made in one month what would have taken me a year to earn at my regular, 9-5 day job. I was a KDP Select Princess and constantly extolled the virtues of the KDP Select Program. Nothing and no one could get me out of it.  
Then you launched KU 1.0, and my income dropped 90% in the first month of its inception. With that inception came the scammers. And those scammers have only become more brazen and prevalent, as time has passed…

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18 Books That Will Give You an Accidental All-Nighter

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Books Rock My World

Every bookworm knows the feeling. “I’m just going to relax a little and read my book before bed” turns into “Why is it light outside? What time is it? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?”

There are a few qualities that combine into a magical mix that keeps us stuck to the page. Great characters, embroiled deeply in plenty of complications and stuck behind insurmountable obstacles. Wonderful prose, although if the premise is good enough just “good” writing is plenty good enough to keep us hooked.

Here is an assortment of books from many genres that combine all of these qualities into something that readers just couldn’t put down. Anyone of them might give you an accidental all-night reading session. You have been warned.

*Book descriptions come from Goodreads*

1. The Illuminae Series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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This series is completely unique! The format is brilliant (yes, the story is told…

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Mercury in Retrograde Chapter Peek!

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“How are you out of prison?” she asked.

Aralyn figured she knew, but wanted the confirmation regardless. She looked around the room and found Riordan, Caden, and Kita all bound to her left, against a bank of computers in the cockpit. They had been gagged and their hands were tied behind their backs. On the console above them sat Aralyn’s shotgun, while Josiah, Dolph, and the cannibal carried their other weapons. Only she had been tied onto the crude metal chair. She supposed it was for interrogation purposes.

“Well, no thanks to you, that’s for certain.” Josiah ran a hand through his dirty hair. “Luckily for us though, Proctor saw fit to give me the vengeance I was hoping for, and even let me assemble a team of my own people. You know he cleared our sentences for this? That spook must really hate you.”

“You were a trafficker—that’s a minimum life sentence,” Aralyn whispered, trying her best to keep her head and not vomit. She had to focus on a way out. With the cannibal girl behind her, she couldn’t finagle her hands out of the ties, so she had to scope out the room. Maybe get them distracted. She checked her boot, wriggled her foot around. Her feet were free, and she could just barely make out the feel of her switchblade by her right ankle.

“Yeah, and Dolph here? He killed about two dozen women on various planets and moons over several years, but he’s free, too. Like I said, that spook hates your guts if he’s willing to release us just to find you.” Josiah smiled.

“What makes you think he’ll keep his promise? Won’t he just catch you when you go to turn me in?” she prodded, aware of Dolph cracking his knuckles, eager to start the physical stuff again. She couldn’t take another blow like that. Who knew what kind of cranial bleeding she’d have.

“That’s the beauty of this deal,” Josiah said.

Aralyn found herself determining the inner workings of their group. Josiah was the mouthpiece, and Dolph performed the unseemly violence. Cannibal junkie probably worked security, answered to Josiah directly. Not an incredibly smart team, but one with enough of a dynamic to be dangerous.

“What? He arrange to make you rich in everything you guys want? You get orachal trafficking, Dolph gets women to abuse and murder, and Bicuspid back there gets an all-you-can-eat human buffet?” Aralyn asked, trying to keep her voice light and unconcerned.

“What’d you call me?” the girl demanded, coming forward, fists at her sides. “I ain’t bicuspid.”

Aralyn rolled her eyes.

“Something like that,” Josiah said.

I will enjoy wiping that smug smile off his face.

***

Get your copy of Mercury in Retrograde today!

 

Are You an Introverted or Extroverted Reader?

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Books Rock My World

Do only introverts love reading? Spending hours, alone, with a book, does seem to be the perfect activity for someone who is satisfied spending a day with me, myself, and I. The cliché is that all bookworms are introverts, and, like all stereotypes, it’s not really true.

Sure, lots of dedicated readers are introverts. But the main fact the stereotype forgets is that all readers are human, and humans come in infinite variety. There are plenty of extroverts who love the written word, and lots of ambiverts either hanging out with them or chilling on their own.

Do you have the traits of an extrovert bookworm? An introvert? Or a combination, depending on the day and the book? Read on to decide which traits are yours.

Introverts:

  • Feel recharged after a long period spent with a good book.
  • Feel the sense of being a part of the collective human experience…

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