Monday, July 29, 2013

Introducing: Your Audience

Before I begin writing, I explore five questions about my audience: What are they interested in? What do they want/need to hear? What problem or question do they have? What's the right pacing? What voice will be most effective?

Many fiction writers write "for themselves," so they already know the answers to all these questions without even asking. The wonderful thing about having yourself as your target audience is you are likely to be passionate about the work, and that will bleed through. If you audience is similar to you or (as happens with some literary audiences) willing to meet you half way, you'll have a measure of success.

But writing for yourself in fiction can lead to stale writing for small or nonexistent audiences. Writing for audiences that are different from ourselves forces us to challenge our assumptions, come up with fresh phrasing and thoughts, and respond to questions. It creates a level of conflict that enlivens the work.

Of course, nonfiction writers (with, perhaps, the exception of memoirists) are lost if they don't keep the audience in mind. I write my technology blog for business people interested in innovation. I write my World Book articles for sixth graders who want some "gee whiz" and need to be able to explain what they read in class. I write speeches for impatient CEOs, distracted students, proud parents, skeptical scientists, and jaded Members of Congress.  One size does not fit all.

I always explore my audience, whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction. And my first drafts are aimed at one person -- usually an individual I know well. (Later drafts I adjusted to draw in others, but starting with the person who is critical to success gives the work focus.) Here's a bit more on the five questions I must answer:
  • What are they interested in? In most case, you already have a topic that touches on the audience some way, but not always. Sales people, for instance, may have zero interest in how the widget they're selling works. They are likely, however, to want to look smart and knowledgeable in front of a client. Often, the writer has the subject right, but does not get the depth of information or the perspective right. Even if the answer seems obvious, this question deserves real thought.
  • What problem or question do they have? When there is a major issue or problem at hand, the audience is not open to hearing about other things. When I worked for IBM, I always wanted to know if audience members had any negatives in their heads about the company. Internal speeches often dealt with pressing concerns before getting into the main topic. When you clear the issue, people are ready to listen. 
  • What do they want/need to hear? A common flaw in writing is the urge to tell the audience what the need to know. Business leaders want to shove their five key points into the heads of employees, and fiction writers want to deliver all the essential backstory in the first few pages (often in a prologue). In most cases, the audience needs to know less than the writer thinks. And even if they will end up needing the information, when and how it is presented makes a big difference in how it is received. A rule of thumb I use in fiction is don't give them anything they need until they want it (until they are begging for it). And it is amazing how that approach also works in nonfiction, especially if the material is intended to be persuasive. So focus on what they want, and make them want what they need.
  • What's the right pacing? Some people like hard rock and some people like ballads. The energy and excitement of a work must match the needs of the audience and the intent of the work. Too slow is boring. Too fast is relentless. And what is the wrong pace for one audience may be just right for someone else.
  • What voice will be most effective? An old trick for gaining confidence is to match the vocabulary, accent, and tone of the listener. Aligning the voice of the writing with that of the audience can be a great strategy. But it is not the only strategy. Often, we are looking for a voice of authority. If you are talking about my health, you'd better sound smart (and compassionate). If you are explaining blue grass music, it won't hurt if you sound like you come from the Appalachians. Finding the right voice for a work can go a long way toward engaging an audience. The one caution is that the voice must be authentic. Which means you need to really know and inhabit it, with all the care and skill of a dedicated actor.
I use a lot of tricks and techniques to get my answers about audience. For speeches, I can find out almost everything I need to know from my hosts by asking them to tell me about the worst speech ever given to their group and the best speech given to their group.

The Web and googling organizations and people puts a lot at your fingertips, but don't rely on that alone. Talking to people, preferably face-to-face, can provide details you can't get otherwise. I don't advise stalking. I heard as author talk about how she followed teens in the mall and even took their pictures surreptitiously. Not a good idea, unless you also want to research the prison system.

Friday, July 19, 2013

EVERY Every Other Friday - Links to them all

I'm honored and privileged to have had so many writers agree to be interviewed on this blog over the past year. From bestselling authors to those getting their first taste of publication, they have been generous with their wisdom and insights. They represent a variety of genres including nonfiction, science fiction, romance, YA, fantasy, and even rap music.

Here are the 26 writers who participated in a year's worth of Every Other Friday:

Kristan Higgins
Doug Solter
Carter Phipps
TL Costa
Gerri Brousseau
RC Bonitz
Jennifer Fusco
Barry Crimmins
Marian Lanouette
Melanie R Meadors
Bob Zaslow (Mr. Z)
MH Mead
Casey Wyatt
Katy Lee
Stephanie Queen
PJ Sharon
Sara Humphreys
Tawny Weber
Dani Collins
Joy Smith
Kate George
Kourtney Heintz
Eileen Cook
Alex Benedict
Denise Alicea
Kara Ashley Dey

Thank you, one and all!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing on the Road

When you're in airports, hotels, and the homes of friends and relations, it's harder to be a productive writer. The cues and creature comforts and replaced by distractions. And, when you reach for that reference, note, or favorite pen, it's not there.

Here are some tips on how to keep your momentum going when you're on the road.

Set modest goals - Be happy if you find 15 minutes each day of productive time on a project that matters to you. More is better, but small advances are fine.

Anticipate problems - Know what your resources will be. Will you be sharing a space? (Bring noise-cancelling earphones.) Will you have no connectivity? (Bring essential references.) Will you have childcare responsibilities? (Bring something that will keep them occupied.)

Plan ahead - Know, for each day, what you will do during your 15 golden minutes. Make it as specific as possible. (I will rewrite the "first kiss" scene. I will list nine ways my hero can fool the monster.) Make it real writing, not writerly activity (such as research and promotional activity).

Accept good enough - Sometimes you get lucky and the muse enjoys the new environment. Words pour out and they are beautiful and fresh. Usually, the prose is a bit off. This can lead to new discoveries, but it is more likely to lead to more rewriting later on. Forgive this. Most people simply fall apart and get nothing done and take several days at home to get back into the groove, so you are way ahead of them.

Seize opportunities - When I travel, I'm rarely without a few index cards and a pen or pencil. For this modest investment, I have gotten wonderful returns in terms of capturing (in full sentences, of course) sensory input, character studies, overheard remarks, and flashes of insight. A lot of these have worked their ways into scenes (sometimes years later), and a few have anchored stories. Note: This is a glorious bonus, but it doesn't replace the 15 minute (or more) commitment you make to yourself.

Overall, you have two jobs when you are on the road...  First, you need to move forward on a project that matters. Even a few inches is enough. Second, you need to get the most out of your trip in terms of what it can bring to your writing and on its own terms. Do gather sensory details and new perspectives. Don't cheat your relatives or your clients or your muse.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Every Other Friday - Kara Ashley Dey

Kara Ashley Dey says she likes fantasy, speculative and paranormal fiction with romantic elements. She also enjoys interviewing multi-talented artists and writers to find out what "makes them tick." She believes sharing experiences is a great way to learn about the world and ourselves, and she is a firm believer in rejoicing in other people's successes - "It's free and it feels great."

She says, "Living in Houston with my darling husband has taught me about the blessings of great neighbors and Texas BBQ. My favorite critics are my two plump cats that purr their pleasure at most everything I write."

To keep in touch:
Twitter: @KaraAshleyDey
blog:  (latest reviews in games, movies and books)
websites: (Romance Reviews and News) (Spell Caster interviews of multi-talented artists)

Tell me about STEALING SKY.
My book starts off as a "spoiled girl meets cowboy" sort of romance, but has a big twist by Chapter Three. Before you know it, the hero and heroine are over their heads in trouble and that doesn't stop until the end. 

What drove you to write STEALING SKY? Who did you write it for?I knew that I wanted to write a space pirate book, but I also hoped to turn the pirate theme on its head. Instead of the heroine being abducted by a roguish pirate captain, I wanted the hero to be captured by sexy female space pirates. This also afforded me many sub-plots and twists and turns. Every character has a reason for what s/he does. You get male and female points-of-view from several characters.

I also wanted a book that would appeal to readers who enjoy action-adventure stories, and science fiction, and who like a touch of humor mixed in with their occasional angst. STEALING SKY is for men, too. It's fun and hot. The hero, Skai, is not just a man without a shirt. I think men will want to be him and admire him. The story is just as much about him as it is about Cassie and the rest.

What were your biggest obstacles?
Knowing when to stop editing myself. Thank goodness I have an amazing editor, Tania. Plus she is a friend so we have a relaxed process. This helps to quell my panic over whether the book is perfect or not. I've learned that striving for perfection can gut a book--literally rip the charm right out of it.

What are your productivity tips?
Number one most important tip--Manage time, which I don't. It's my biggest challenge this year. I have so many projects and websites that if I get even a little behind, stick a fork in me. If I accomplish time management,  I will feel like this year has been a big success.

Just wanted to add that STEALING SKY made the top 100 Galactic Empire books on Amazon. Yay--I'll take that, thank you!. :) It's currently 40% off.