At last I’ve found my niche, and now, it appears, I’m creating a new genre.
- My niche is skateboarding.
- My genre is skate fiction.
I’d like to say I’m in great company here but it appears I’m completely out on my own. I have read Blake Nelson’s book, Paranoid Park, and whilst I loved it, it didn’t do much for me on the skate side. I also read Nick Hornby’s, Slam, and was very disappointed. Looking around for other stories has been pretty dire. Then I heard about Michael Christie and his book, If I Fall, If I Die. Now I’m already aware that Mike hasn’t written a book _for_ skateboarders, however, judging by the number of reviewer comments the skateboarding side of the story turned them off. Fantastic! Therefore, I’m going to get a copy to 1) enjoy the story, and 2) hopefully, enjoy the skateboarding. [Update: I bought and read Mike’s book, and it disappointed me on a skateboarding level (no surprise) and as a reader.]
Now that I know I’m going to be writing a new genre, I need to work out the conventions of that genre. Whilst writing these, I’m cringing at them, because I already want to break my own conventions, but that’s okay: without a guide, there’s nothing to break.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
As best as I can figure it, essentially, skateboard fiction will be stories of adventure.
All good days (for skaters) consist of going out on a mission to ride somewhere different and/or learn something new.
The goal is always to ride.
The opening must always be about skating. If not, the writer won’t hook the reader. This could be about a skate a new location, a skate conversation, watching a pro video, on a demo, on a tour, observing riding at a skatepark, watching CCTV (skate) footage?!, watching personal skate video edits. This will convey the protagonists motivation and/or intention to ride and setup the story.
The opening motivation (above) stimulates action: to go on a quest (find a spot), locate a truth, to build something (rideable), teach someone, train (themselves or someone) for a goal, rise to a challenge, fight an injustice in order to reach the goal.
With the goal known the story becomes about the journey; even if we don’t yet know how it’s going to be achieved, or who is needed to reach it.
The end goal (even if it’s just an unreached intention) must be to have a great session. A session doesn’t necessarily mean riding, it could be simply being involved in a great session, being around great people, The goal may be reached (the intended location), or not reached (a twist), and either with friends, or solo, and it can end happily or not, but it must happen (eventually).
Without the goal being reached, the reader will not feel the writing is authentic; skaters always reach their goal, even if they have had to compromise massively, or wait years for it to happen.
It’s always authority (parents, police, security guards, councillors, in fact anyone with a dislike, or a vested interest in suppressing skateboarding). The antagonist could be internal, obviously, but if the writer leans on this, there is a risk the average skateboarder will abandon the story.
This comes from the skaters knowing what they want to do, and struggling to achieve it. Skaters are always limited by ability, funds, distances, equipment, facilities, support (parental or otherwise), confidence, or networks (peers and/or industry insiders). Skaters (young and old) are always wrestling internally or externally with where they are and where they want to be. They often sacrifice/sabotage the needs for others (male and female), in the quest for their own excitement/entertainment/social circle.
I’m not sure what I want to write here, but I know I must state that skateboarders are everyone. Creatives to Accountants; any writer who leans on a troubled youth with a messy family history is writing a cliche imo. There’s nothing wrong with that, because we’re all screwed up in some way, but it’s still a cliche – so be aware of it!
Understanding the Skateboarding Audience/Market
Because the audience/market for skate fiction understands the above formula, the writer can be very creative in the way they present it. In-fact the best writers of this genre would probably be so subtle in their delivery – placing emphasis on the journey – that the reader would feel incredibly comfortable in the hands of said writer.
The skateboarding market also wouldn’t want the writer to curtail their description of the skateboarding itself. This is something that traditional publishers, and the average teenager wouldn’t understand. If you target this market, you should not ‘write-down’ to the reader, if anything, pump it up to ten! Skateboarders want to get a true feeling of skating from you. Your descriptions of skateboarding tricks will be poetic to them. Do not edit yourself. Also be aware that if your prose goes too long without some skating happening then your story will risk being abandoned!
Skate fiction doesn’t have an age-group. Yes, we all grow up discovering things about ourselves, but the adventures, the learnings, the friendships, are universal. Unlike traditional YA fiction, the emphasis is not on coming-of-age stories. In fact, the writer would be stupid to focus on coming-of-age because they would alienate most of their market.
Profanity (and all types of reckless behaviour): is rife in the skateboard world. The writer needs to keep their promise of authenticity to the reader. Without this realism the reader risks abandoning the story. Traditional publishers and gatekeepers (librarians/schools etc) will reject works which include this. The writer will face huge barriers if they try to market their work indirectly (Amazon, schools, Publishers/Agents). I can only see authentic skate fiction being distributed/read/sold from within skateboard circles either direct (friends passing it to friends) or indirectly (distributors/shops/magazines).
Skaters don’t read: The majority don’t but they could if they trust you. Don’t break the readers trust (see the paragraph above). The funnel for reaching more skaters to read your work should be audio. Skaters are always happy to put their earphones in, and this could be the writers way in to connecting with a reader. I advise creating an audio book of at least one full story and encouraging skaters to distribute it within their network. Just make it an amazing story!
Okay, that’s enough thought for now. What do you think? Am I on to something here? Let me know in the comments.
Mark Mapstone is a skateboarder, a writer, and author of the Ethan Wares Skateboard Series books.
Follow Mark on Instagram: @7plywood
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