Watch your Language!

The first sweep (or sweeps) have landed your book in a nice spot: It makes sense, it says what you want it to say, and it starts and ends properly. You’ve checked the continuity and all of that in the previous sweep, and you’ve made the appropriate corrections by moving slabs of text about or getting rid of them altogether.

Now take a break, not too long, maybe a day or two, then print out the manuscript again. Go on, print it out. You’re about to start the second phase. It’s gritty. It takes brain power. It takes numerous cups of coffee to get through it.

The finer points

The second sweep in my set is the Language sweep. This is where I check thing like the rhythm, paragraphs, vocabulary, vernacular, emotion and overall flow. Consider these the fittings and furnishings of your house, the stuff that goes inside each room to make it a particular room.

You can spot a kitchen because it has an oven. A bedroom has a bed. A bathroom has a bath. One doesn’t expect to find a rocking chair in the shower, carpet in the kitchen. Likewise, one doesn’t expect to find a long, descriptive, adjective and adverb filled sentence while two guys are fighting. Nor does one expect every character to have the same intonation, vocabulary and vernacular.

When reviewing each character talking, I have them ‘speak’ inside my head. This way I can hear if my naive-yet-advanced-in-age child sounds like a naive-yet-advanced-in-age child, or that my arrogant-sumbitch-gunslinger’s vocabulary is that of an arrogant-sumbitch-gunslinger.

Speaking of dialog, I find that long running conversations need a little prompt to remind the ready who is saying what. The prompt could be with a tic that that a character has, or their speech, or even a quick “, said John. This is especially true when the dialog is between three or more characters. That said, I also like to make sure I’m not mollycoddling the audience with indicators in every line: I like to give them a bit of credit, and too many ‘he said, she saids’ can break the flow.

Sometimes its what the character doesn’t say, or shouldn’t say, that rings alarms. Tough guys don’t say sorry, unless it’s sarcastic. Sometimes they don’t say anything at all. Passionate lovers don’t tell their partner how they feel, they show them. Children can’t always articulate the finer abstractions of the emotions that they’re feeling – sad, happy, angry, or sick are all fine words for a kid to say.

Don’t lose the flow

Keep the reading going. If you find that you have to go back and re-read a sentence or a paragraph, then something’s not right. OK, you might well be tired from all the editing, and this is a good indicator that it’s time to stop, stretch, get a coffee, feed the cat, whatever.

If you come back to the sentence again and it still makes you do a double-take, consider revising it into smaller parts, swapping the bits around or even ripping it out altogether.

Complicated sentences may be the order of the day, especially if your novel is slow paced, descriptive or abstract. If your sentences become overly complicated, that’s no good. Lovecraft does have a tendency to waffle on, that doesn’t mean you should follow suit. If you end a sentence having forgotten what the start of it was about, you lose the flow, you break the illusion, you annoy the audience.

On that note, while you’re examining sentences, be sure that your paragraphs are holding their own meeting. For a good while I was reluctant to add a hard-return after a single sentence because a teacher in high school once explained that ‘a single sentence does not a paragraph make.’

In my humble opinion, and with all due respect to my former teacher, that’s tosh.

If sentence Paragraph A pertains to the description of a dog, B pertains to how it was demolishing freshly washed clothes and C to Aunty Betty running out the back door to whack it with her rolling pin, why should I bundle B into A or C? It doesn’t belong, and, what’s more, the second paragraph is very important in its own right.

Keeping the reading flowing can also come down to getting rid of annoying tics, cliches, repetition and beats. Because you’re still sweeping this at a higher level than at the coal-face, but not too high so you can’t see the details, funny little quirks like always starting a sentence with The, or putting ‘softening’ adjectives or adverbs in for no reason (He had a little rest, she stole a quick breath, it devoured a bit), or using the word ‘harangued’ too many times in consecutive sentences.

Once you’ve swept through, marked all your scribbles down on your printed paper with your (now very tired) red pen, it’s time to put those corrections in and, you guessed it, print out the next draft!Mini Jeztyr Logo

Hampton Court Ghost is Released!

HamptonCourtSmallThe best in the Paranormology series, Hampton Court Ghost has been released. Thank you to those who pre-ordered your copy, I trust you’ll enjoy the narrator’s next tale.

The book is available in digital format from all leading online stores, like Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and iTunes, and it’s also available in print from Lulu (and eventually Amazon, bear with).

I sincerely hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. There are plans for another haunting, I’ll let you know as things progress.

Thanks again! Enjoy, everyone!Mini Jeztyr Logo

Grosvenor Lane Ghost is Free!

HamptonCourtSmallTo celebrate the imminent arrival of Hampton Court Ghost on the 27th of September (only a couple of days now!), Grosvenor Lane Ghost, the first in the Paranormology series has been made free.

So what does that mean for you? It means a trilogy for less than the price of a coffee. It means $2 for 3 books! Now that’s a sweet deal. It means you can finish off Grosvenor Lane and Beaumaris Road and be primed for Hampton Court Ghost.

Beaumaris Road GhostIf you’re into Victorian era narration, scientific methodology and real world morals, then get stuck into the Paranormology series. While I think Hampton Court is the best one yet, it won’t be as fun without the first two, and by starting with Grosvenor, you can grow with the protagonist.

Grosvenor Lane GhostThe book is free at Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iTunes, and everywhere else on the internet. However Amazon, because of their rigid pricing and marketing strategy, still hold it at a dollar. You can request a price matching (and match it to free) by clicking the ‘tell us about a lower price’:

Would you like to give feedback on images or tell us about a lower price?

at the bottom and roughly inserting any of the aforementioned links into the dialog with my blessing. And if you could do the same for Atlas, Broken and Adaptation Part 1, I’ll be very grateful indeed.

Then get back to reading.Mini Jeztyr Logo

From the Top… Down

Sweeping through my draft on the first run, I want to make sure that my story says and does what I want it to say and do. If it’s a comedy, it has to be funny. If it’s adventure, the scenery, characters and places must be vivid. If it’s philosophical, the message should be presented in a manner that allows thought and reflection.

I began developing this ‘sweeping’ process after my first book, where I was editing sitting in front of the computer, trying to get it all done in one go. Save time and effort and all of that. Now, knowing what I know now, I wish I had done it all in sweeps instead. I tried to fell a forest with a pocketknife, then wondered why it was so hard and took so bloody long.

Now I see it as a progression: From the lumberjack and sawmill, through the planer and woodstore, then to the whittler and his knife. Apply the appropriate methodology at each stage, and all of a sudden it ain’t so bad.

My current set of sweeps is broken into three parts: Story, Language and Correctness.

Story

What do I mean by Story? I mean sensibility, continuity, characters, premise and enjoyability – the overall book from start to finish ignoring the finer details. Does it have a beginning? Does it have an end? Does it do what it’s supposed to do?

Does the story make sense? Your audience makes a commitment to reading your book: They promise to read it and enjoy it if, and only if, you meet them half way. Underwriting fiction is the whole concept of suspension of disbelief. The audience will let things slide, and for the most part forgive bad grammar and structure and just about everything else, if you don’t take the piss:

“Shmuck Dodgers, on the verge of defeat with no possibility escape, took from his boot the Atomic Disencrackenator that he had forgotten about until just now and with a push of the button zapped the bad guy into oblivion.”

“Jason, I know you cheated on me with my best friend, burnt my house down, tried to kill me, but I love you anyway!”

“Faced between saving her family or losing her million dollar career, Gillian called upon the spirits of her ancestors to create a doppelganger robot for her that would stand in her place at work while she sorted things out at home.”

Of course, fiction is fiction, it’s not supposed to be ‘real’ in the perfect sense. Cool. But there’s a limit. You can tell when an author is squeezing for an out. Case in point: A Princess of Mars. Toward the end, with a couple of pages to go, you get to thinking “How is he going to wrap this up? There’s nowhere else for this to go, unless…”

Boom, there’s a throwback to a random bit in the middle that smells suspiciously like Edgar had to work it back in to give himself an out at the end. The rest of the story was alright, but the sense of ‘oh, crud, I’ve got to end this…’ comes right through and ruins the romp.

If the story doesn’t make sense, the audience will be annoyed and they won’t come back. Even if your book is supposed to be quirky, there is a limit to what is quirky, and what is just nonsense.

Be your Audience

In the first sweep, make sure you look at the manuscript with fresh, critical eyes. To help with that, leave the book alone for a fortnight. Forget about it. Calm your nerves, be disciplined and go onto something else (hey, isn’t it time you designed your front cover, anyway?).

You’ll be surprised how strange your book looks when you’re disengaged. More than once I’ve caught myself thinking, “Heck, I wrote this?” as I flick through.

This was almost the case with Hampton Court Ghost, only I realised how putrid it was before I called it a draft. After I (heavily) altered the story, I did my sweeps just as I normally would – no shortcuts.

Because you’re looking down from such a high level (remember, you’re not doing grammar or punctuation or language just yet) you can also spot that if “Justin crawled out of bed and faced the morning traffic”, to have “Justin watched the shadows lengthen” doesn’t follow. The audience’s mental scene had a dawn going on, and then we’re asking them to make it evening all of a sudden.

Another example might be “Jo has curly blonde hair”. Later on we find her “Pushing her dark hair behind her ears…” and unless she coloured her hair somewhere through, the mental model of a character inside the audience’s head will flag up because it just doesn’t match.

And you’ve broken the flow, broken the illusion, broken the contract.

topview1
First sweep: hack away

All of this means that you are watching out to make sure things happen in the right order, that there isn’t too much labouring on scenery or dialog, that characters are built, secrets are revealed, etc.

By the end of your first sweep, you should have big slabs of material move around, points to elaborate on, whole sentences and paragraphs to rip out. And don’t be afraid to rip stuff out. If something doesn’t work, or it smells funny, or it looks disjointed, it probably doesn’t belong.

How? Draw a big red line through it and look it over once you’ve finished. You’re more inclined to get rid of a stupid sentence if there’s a ruddy line running through the middle of it – yet another reason to use pen and paper.

Next I’ll be getting onto Language.

Sweeping Your Manuscript Clean

So you’ve bought yourself your red pen, good, and you’ve printed out your manuscript, even better, and you’re ready to get correcting. This post is about how I go about editing and correcting my work. Now, to give you a bit of insight and a frank confession, my first attempt at editing was an utter shambles: I re-read the manuscript on the screen, made corrections in place and lost where I was up to a bazillion times as I was interrupted again and again and again.

Net result? Sub-par editing, a bad neck, burnt eyeballs, and the need to go back and do it all again properly.

Sweeps

The first thing to know is that you’re not going to get it all done in a single sweep. It’s just not going to happen. Get used to the idea that even though your book is written, it’s far from being finished. Once you are reconciled with that, you can move on at a slower pace.

Break up your goals into parts and perform each in a separate sweep. A sweep is a single iteration through the book with a single goal in mind. This way you can concentrate only on a specific set of issues.

That’s a waste of time! I want to get my book out now. We all do, Tiger, I get it, but what I’m yapping on about here is not plucked out of thin air, it is borne from (painful) experience. Stick with me, OK?

Why can’t I look at spelling and grammar right off the cuff? Because the words, the sentences, heck, whole paragraphs an chapters can change from the first sweep to the last. Trying to do it all in one sweep means that your brain is working overtime on each and every sentence, every word, while at the same time making sure the voice is correct, checking for tics, and remembering what it was you said in the last chapter about the protagonist’s wife, all while juggling work, cooking dinner, settling the child to go to sleep and booking your stay at the asylum.cleanSweep

If, on the other hand, you are looking solely at a high level perspective, you needn’t slow yourself down with the gritty details. Likewise, once you’ve got the macro nailed down, you can afford to ignore it when you’re looking at the micro. Kind of a ‘take care of the pennies’ approach. But not quite. You’ll see what I mean.

The House Built by Many

Still not convinced? Let’s build a house. The civil authority and architect comes on site to inspect. They care that the house is on a solid foundation, that it hasn’t extended its boundaries, that it’s actually being built in the proper orientation and according to standards. They do not care, and do not waste time, checking to see if the front door is brown, or that the cornices have been cut at forty-five degrees. They’ll drive up with the plans, check the essentials, make some recommendations and drive off.

That’s all.

The carpenter might need to be called in to make some modifications, the plasterer then has to re-do that back wall now that it has been moved two feet that way, and close off the second dining room.

The painter, who comes in after the wood and plasterwork is done doesn’t have to worry about anything except what colour goes where.

Now, let’s take the same example, and get a multi-skilled architect/plumber/carpenter/plasterer/painter to do everything, all at once. It’d be a shemozzle.

That’s why I recommend that you print, sweep, edit, print, sweep, edit, etc. until your goals are met.

My current set of sweeps, going from the macro to the micro, looks like this:

  1. Story
  2. Language
  3. Correctness

But you could easily break these up into finer goals if you’re inclined, or if you have people who are particularly good at certain things. For example, getting a member of your target audience to check your story is great: so long as they understand that it’s a draft and far from perfect, they will be able to give you valuable insight into where the story falls down, if it’s gripping or tantalising or entertaining (or the antonyms of these).

Likewise, if you know a stickler for grammar, grab them by the scruff of the neck and help distribute the load. If they refuse, you can always bait them into helping you out:

You – “Hmm. I might have put the apostrophe in the wrong spot. And is it right to end a sentence in a preposition?”

Stickler – “Huh? Where? Wait, is this just a trick to rope me into correcting your book?”

You – “Never! But, now that you mention it…”

My only rule here is that you cannot perform the sweeps in parallel. Well, as you get to the pointy end, it ain’t so hard and fast, since the structure isn’t going to change a lot, but if you try and do grammar and spelling and language and story all at once, you’re going to need to do it all again, anyway.

One idea I have been toying with, to ease the pain somewhat, is using a versioning tool like SVN to track changed between ‘versions’, much the same as I would track changes in software. I’m not sure how it would work, or if it would actually provide any benefit, but I’m willing to give it a crack on my next book. I’ll let you know how I go.

So what do I mean by Story, Language and Grammar? I’ll fill you in on my next post.

First, Buy a Good Red Pen

Back at school, when the teacher took out the red pen, you knew exactly what was coming. Underlines, circles, cross-outs, comments and the occasional tick. All in aid of making your work better.

Now that you’re an author, you’re going to have to do this yourself unless, of course, you have the luxury of getting someone else to do it for you (in which case get them to read these). For the rest of us, it’s a groan-worthy task, but a necessary one nonetheless. Why? Because whether you like it or not, your draft is full of holes.

Big. Whopping. Holes.

The Almighty Red Pen

You’ve done your manuscript electronically. You typed it up on a word processor, you ran the spell checker, you hit the save button a billion times, it’s all digital. So why on Earth would I encourage you to fall back to pen and paper?

Because it allows you to focus. No computer or tablet or phone or laptop means no distractions. Maybe just five minutes of cats playing the piano? Not with paper.

And even if you’re the disciplined type (kudos) there’s an even bigger reason: You’re not obliged to make corrections there and then. This is so important I’m going to paraphrase and put the words in italics: when correcting your work, your job is to spot the mistakes and suggest corrections, not actually make the corrections.

AlmightyRedPenGo back to the teacher example: when correcting, they indicate issues, suggest solutions, offer other words or phrases, but they do not push you out of the way and start typing for you. Their job, at the point of correction, is to indicate to you that something is wrong. It’s then up to you to go back, with the bundle of corrections in hand, and fix up what needs fixing up.

Nothing should get in the way of your corrections. If you print out your manuscript, you can take it with you, or even a couple of pages at a time if you don’t have capacity, so that while you’re waiting for the bus or sitting down for lunch, you can whip out that red pen and play the role of teacher.

If you think it’s a waste of paper printing out your 400 page tome, think again. A lot of books these days are electronic. Every eBook sold is another bundle of pulp that doesn’t need to be bleached, dried and printed. And by ensuring your book is up to scratch, you reduce the number of editions it might suffer through.

At all costs, avoid the temptation to fix up errors there and then. Don’t be worried, your book is still a draft, right? It hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s pliable. Just be patient and do your corrections.

“But,” you say, “I’ve got a bril idea that I’ve just got to get down before it escapes.”

Good, that’s a very good thing, and we’ll deal with that in a second. Bear with me.

Tactics

Recently I’ve been using SCRUM for software development and, as Scrum Master (yes, it’s a thing. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Go on.), one of my duties is to ensure that the developers have no impediments to perform their duties.

Not to imply that Developers are apt to call any little stumbling block an impediment, far from it, Developers work best when everything is running smoothly. Any interruption, be it from software, or from other developers or stakeholders, or from improperly written specifications, breaks the ‘Zone’ effect and slows the whole process down.

So, too, with correcting: Sure, you can correct with a scrappy printout, a scratchy pen and a noisy bunch of kids running around your legs. No, really, you can. I’ve done it. The thing is, I didn’t do it very well. The trick is to give yourself the best chance to get into the zone, to put on the teacher’s hat, to be your worst critic.

# Firstly, buy a good red pen. Don’t get that old, dry, chewed, hair covered, broken stick out of the bottom of the drawer. Go to Officejerks and splash out on something good, treat yourself. .5mm to .7mm tip, nice and wide, but not too wide. I prefer a ball-point for writing, but felt-tips are nice too if they aren’t old, dry or flattened. Goopy ink is a no-no, since it has a tendency to drag across the page, or get smudged by your hand. Smooth, bright – almost fluorescent – ink is best.

You want any correction to stand out on the page from three feet back.

# Highlighters aren’t a bad option, but there are two things, from experience, that prevent me from using them. Firstly, when I’m sitting in front of my machine, after making the corrections, I wear my Gunnar glasses which have a distinct yellow tint. Yellow highlights don’t show up as well and I found that I missed some corrections, although blue is pretty good.

Secondly, if I’m correcting, making a quick dab with a highlighter to spot a spelling mistake is great, but if there’s anything further required, such as scribbling a note or putting a comma in, then I have to change to the red pen, which breaks my flow. And writing notes in a highlighter doesn’t work.

Still, a two pronged approach of highlighters for spelling and punctuation and red pen for notes, alternate words and markers is a sound option if you don’t mind swapping out your tools as you go.

# Clamp your paper with a bulldog clip. Staples don’t cut the mustard when you’ve got a thick wad of papers. With a good clip, you can also remove pages so you can bring only a chapter at a time to work.

# Print your work out on nice, tactile paper with a good printer. Laser printers work best, I find, since the pen writes nicely over the carbon, and drops of coffee don’t smear the text. I prefer a serif font, one with the little dangly bits on the end of the characters, since I find it easier to read, but that’s just a preference.

# I don’t go for double-spacing. I tried it and found it very distracting. 1.5 spacing was OK, since it separates each sentence out, but for the last few, I’ve reverted to single spacing. It’s just easier for me to read. And that’s, once again, the message I’m throwing at you here: remove all impediments that you can, make it comfortable to correct, and it won’t be such a chore nor will the quality of the correction suffer.

# When it comes to finding a time and a place to correct, I use the same ideas that I use when finding a time and a place to write. The only real difference is that I use a computer only to pump out noise, and do the rest of my work on the piece of paper in front of me.

As for what and how to correct, I’m going to put that into a coming post, since this one has gone on for long enough.

Uh, I’d prefer it if you didn’t…

“What is this filth?” Nana exclaimed, hurriedly clapping the novel shut lest the foul contents should spill upon the floor. She looked up, “Who’s leaving this lying around? What sort of person gets his jollies writing this tosh?”

“Um. That’d be me.”

Awkward. Embarrassing. Demotivating. The conversation from this point can only go down, down through the maw of gall, past the spleen of shame, into the bowels of contempt. It’s a conversation – you know what? Make that plural: They are conversations that any entertainer or performer or writer is going to have to have at some stage with people they know.

Justification

I remember back in grade five, we were asked to draw a picture out of a squiggle. There were dragons and wizards and horses and cats. I managed to make a girl’s face out of mine, with long hair, a rounded chin and a scowl. I thought I did a pretty good job of it, I even added shading to give a sense of dimension and shadow.

“Why is she frowning?” the teacher asked, “She should be smiling.”

I shrugged, “She’s not happy.”

And then came all the questions. Rather than just a pat on the back, a grade out of ten and moving on, I spent the rest of the lesson (and some of recess, I remember distinctly) justifying what I had done. All because the face frowned. I don’t know if the teacher was just trying her hand at amateur psychoanalysis, but it really grated on me.

When I got it back home again, I put it in the bin. It was just another drawing, after all, doesn’t matter. But it did matter, clearly. It’s the things that matter that get stuck in one’s memory because these are what teach us our lessons.

It taught me that, even though there might not be anything technically wrong with a piece of art, it doesn’t mean that everyone (or anyone) is going to like it.

So how do you stop Granny from flicking through your horror-laden gore-fest?

Mitigate

You can’t stop her. Nor can you stop Bill, your turtle-neck wearing, self-appointed king of critics from reading and expressing his opinion on why your Cowboy should have been rougher. Nor can you prevent Jane, the innocent seventh-grader discovering the foul-language exchanged between the captain and her lieutenant.I'd Prefer if you didn't

The first thing you need to do is relax. People get it when a book isn’t for them. They’re a lot smarter than you think. No one is about to pick up Enid Blyton and complain about the lack of character development or the short, unsatisfying action scenes.

There is more to a book than just the story. In much the same way that people convey extra meaning to their words through body language and inflection, books have their own mechanisms for subtle suggestions.

The front cover image is your first port of call. We all judge a book by its cover. It’s natural. I was looking at “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in print the other day. If, I challenged myself, I knew absolutely nothing about this book, would I even bother picking it up to read it? And the answer was “No, I would not.” The same goes for Shambleau.

Why? Because the covers didn’t appeal. Both are sci-fi, both are very good stories, but, if I solely based my selection on the covers, I would have passed them by. You can, and should, tailor your cover to reflect the contents and intent of the book. A goofy cover let’s Bill know that the text within is not meant to be taken too seriously. A dark cover shows little Sally that the contents might be spooky or dark.

The front cover, besides attracting your audience, lets them figure out for themselves whether they want to bother opening the book – give your audience the credit they deserve.

The next stop is the blurb and front matter. Nana might not have stopped at the front cover, but now she’s adjusting her spectacles and examining the back. By this stage, she should have a pretty clear idea that the book isn’t a Dick Francis mystery.

Hand in hand with the blurb is the actual language used within the book. Big words, long sentences, complex grammar; little Sally is bamboozled by the first page, so she puts it down and seeks something else. On the flip side, a children’s or teenager’s book might use simpler terms, snappier sentences, briefer descriptions. The natural attraction to or repulsion from vernacular means you, in a literal sense, let the words do the work.

One must not forget that there is the also actual format of the book. Books published electronically (eBooks) are filtered out by a user’s own preference. They can do it by genre, by keywords, and even with ‘safe search’. Today’s searchers give ‘you might also like…’ or ‘those who bought this also bought…’.

This means that those who want to read your tales of gangster ultra-violence and/or butter and porridge orgies will have everything working to this end and vice-versa.

Ultimately, short of hiding Nana’s reading glasses, there’s nothing you can do to actually prevent someone from reading your book, so the next best thing is to use your language and design skills to let the reader know what they’re getting themselves in for.

If, after a solid front cover, a proper blurb, appropriate language and categorisation Nana still balks at your book, Bill revs up his critical analysis, and Jane practices the new bad words she learnt, then so be it: You’ve done all you can to warn them, anything more is out of your control.

As an independent author, you strive to make your book as visible, as readable and as enjoyable as possible. The last thing you want to do is think of ways to stop people from reading your book.

It’s at this stage you, as an author, need to grow a thicker skin. More on that in another post.

Getting to know your Audience

I’ve written quite a few Project Proposals in my time as a software engineer. The goal is clear: to communicate to a technically minded audience the problem space, the proposed solution, the tasks to achieve that solution, an analysis of risks involved, and timelines and anything extra can go in as an appendix and… yawn, I’m putting myself to sleep here! The point I’m trying to make is that a technical piece is well defined. It’s fixed. It’s mundane. It doesn’t need to deviate.

Why? Because the subject matter and the audience demand it. Frivolity isn’t appreciated, nor ambiguity, nor irrelevant stories.

To liven things up, I might slip in a few smirk-worthy words to elicit a laugh and keep the reader interested (read: awake), but in terms of freedom of writing, it’s a cell. And that’s OK, because I don’t write technical documents to entertain the troops.

I do write fiction books to entertain my audience.

Who is my audience?

Good question, and it’s one that you, as an independent author (yeah, I’m talking to you!) should ask yourself before, during and after writing. After? Isn’t that taking the cliche too far? No, not at all. While you’re proofing your book, or while someone else is doing it, you’ll want to be sitting in the audience’s seat, having a mid row view of the whole thing with fresh eyes.bear in bed

That’s not to say that the audience drives the narrative. If you only ever wrote what people wanted to read, then you might as well get on the payroll for Mills and Boon. I’m not having a stab at romantic escapist fiction, I’m saying that the story inside you shouldn’t be stretched and squished just so it fits a mould that appeals to the widest audience.

Sometimes a story isn’t a nice one. Sometimes it’s more challenging than the audience finds comfortable, it doesn’t have a happy ending, it involves topics that aren’t palatable. Must the story be sugar coated so that it goes down easier? No.

Sometimes a story doesn’t have an amazing revelation. There are no twists and turns. The butler did it, we know he did it. Must the story be altered to introduce some level of complexity? No.

So where does the Audience come into it? Going back to my technical writing, the audience expects a certain level of consistency, proper editing, grammar, spell checking and such. This is given.

But the audience also wants to be taken for an interesting trip. It might be scary, it might be funny, it might be utterly enthralling, it might be mildly amusing.

In any case, a person reads fiction to be somewhere else, to do something else, to be led through a different world and look at the odd trees and strange looking fish.

Who isn’t my audience?

Anyone can pick up your book. It’s a scary thought: there is a book-hungry world out there, full of people who don’t know you – and some who do.

Does that mean you have to write for everyone? No. Do you have to care whether or not your grandma is going to pick it up and read your raunchy love-scene in Chapter 5? No. Well, unless she’s the kind that sports a double-barrel rolling pin.

Otherwise you’ll stifle the artistic side of it. If it’s supposed to be hard hitting, and you water it down, you’re only going to annoy your real audience, the ones who actually want to read your book.

If you’ve come up to the part where the protagonist finally lets down his defenses and makes passionate love to the girl who has seen his true nature, and you shy away because the thought of your fifth grade teacher reading your colourful language or naming parts of the body, then you lose out, and so does your audience.

Let’s say a protagonist discovers the deadly plot against her was master-minded by her own best friend. The betrayal is uncovered, it’s a fight to the death. If the book is for a younger audience with less tolerance for the grisly details of knife versus flesh, then exploring more about the betrayal and less about the violence is perfectly acceptable.

Using the same example, an older audience doesn’t expect to be halfway through a fight scene, only to have it ripped away with an analysis of the character’s emotional state. It would be better, in this case, to keep the momentum of the fight scene running up to the point of the actual stab. After this, during the shock of the blade entering the heart, the author is free to look at how each character feels, how things got so bad, the remorse held by both parties, etc.

So how does one stop Granny from pickup up your erotica, or little Timmy from flipping through your space opera?

I’ll get to that in my next post.Mini Jeztyr Logo