4Q 2016 Editorial: Selling the Dream


Let me sell you on a dream. 

In magazines, some “how-to” books, and on reality TV, readers and viewers often fantasize about doing grandiose things someday, or “living in a place like that”–off the grid or in a castle–or traveling somewhere far distant.  The people who are selling these fantasies know full well that most people will never do artsy recipes or projects like Martha Stewart, buy an international house, or get dropped onto (and filmed on) a remote island.  But they might, someday, and they can dream.  For most readers and viewers these are not practical dreams, but the very impracticality of the ideas is what sells. Advertisers know this. They are not selling an item or a service, they are selling a dream.

When such “selling the dream” television shows or articles or stories are done well you learn a little bit about woodworking, baking fancy cupcakes, a survival skill, or cooking.  When these are done poorly, you end up resenting the rich people on these shows who are buying castles and mansions you could never afford, or who are going on vacations you can only dream of but never manage. These are bad sales: these are like rubbing salt in a wound about your lack of resources or skills. It has to be almost attainable, if only things go your way, someday.

But what looks like almost-attainable dreams are often lies, too. Just remember, that that for a DIY house repair show that seems to only take a weekend, there is a lot going on behind the scenes.  It is not just the hosts and the homeowners and a few handypersons; there usually is a staff of 30 or more doing things in the background, off camera.

Well, science fiction and fantasy can “sell the dream,” too. In the case of fantasy, the dream might not be not disingenuous as there is magic involved. And, hey – it’s magic! Anything could happen. We can suspend our disbelief. Science fiction dreams are more dependent on what might happen within the laws of physics, of time, or of chemistry and other sciences.

Still, “speculative fiction” is structured around things that could not happen in real life: magic, or future technology that has not happened – yet. And the dream of some technology changing our lives has pushed scientific inquiry for generations.

In a related vein, let’s talk about selling the dream of being a writer as opposed to the reality. May I suggest you beware of articles that suggest simplistic How-To’s, the sort of “all you have to do” articles or books that suggest a one-size-fits-all road to writing success? There is so much that goes on in the background. And there are many paths to success, all of which take hard work and perseverance.

Am I suggesting that you give up on your dream of being a writer? No, but you’d better be aware that it takes a lot more work, effort, time, and grit than you think. There is so much to learn about writing, and you won’t learn it all at once. But it’s attainable. Just join a manuscript critique group if you can find one, and read widely, and keep on keeping on. You can do it! But don’t expect it to happen overnight.

Write on!

Wendy S. Delmater

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