Tag Archives: audience

Writers are to Readers as Cats are to Dogs

The other day, my Dear Daughter played a funny video on YouTube. One segment showed a baby kitty slipping down a slide, desperately mewing for its mommy to come save it.

Our labrador pup totally freaked out. With every cry, she would tilt her head nearly sideways and peer around the room in search of the kitten. DD then slipped her kindle under the couch and pushed play. Said lab dug furiously at the tiny space between the furniture and the floor in an attempt to get to the feline in distress.

I’m not sure what she would have done with a baby kitty if she’d gotten a hold of one, but she was one interested pup.

That should be the relationship writers strive for with their audiences–an all-consuming interest that nearly drives readers wild.

Dear writer friends, what do you do to make your readers’ ears perk up? How do you snag your readers’ attention so they don’t wander away from your book on the shelf to another title further down? What makes your stories as appealing as a kitten mew to a hunting dog?

Curious minds want to know.

Kids 101: for writers and parents

Eldest is in the process of a huge class project for English.  His group is making an infomercial.  Needless to say, our house was the hot spot for filming Butter Nuggets.  Yeah, I know, total slang with a twist.  I’m sure Mr. Henry will approve.

The premise behind this cheesy cracker is that it makes your wish for bigger and better come true.  Just sprinkle Butter Nuggets onto your toy car and *shazowy* it’s a full size Mazda. 

Dipping your toes in the plastic swimming pool not good enough?  *kabam*  It’s a full size watering hole.

My favorite, however, is one Eldest will regret.  One of the gals is talking on her cell phone when her little “brother” (my youngest) annoys the heck out of her.  She wishes for a big brother. 

Enter Eldest, wearing Youngest Son’s outfit from the previous take.  Oh joyful laughfest.  This coming from the kid who refused to wear his rain jacket in kindergarten because someone called him a fireman.  The shirt barely covered his rib cage.  We won’t talk about the shorts.  At least not on the blog.

But it does bring to mind a question for both parents and juvenile lit writers.  How many of us are truly tapped into the world these children are living? 

In so many ways, the world is a different place than when we were growing up.  Kids are immersed in technology.  Friendships are born of ten word texts and virtual games.  Hand held devices are interacted with more fervently than a real person.  We can see this with the naked eye.  

But underneath it all kids are still kids.  They laugh and cry, love and hate and are passionately funny.  Hang with them before writing about them.  Hang with them when raising them.  Get to know them–really know them–and I promise you won’t be disappointed. 

Kids are great people. 

They are smart, friendly and social.  Make them pizza and let them talk.  Crack a root beer and listen.  Make yourself available and you’ll be amazed at how readily they accept you in their lives. 

If you write for kids, you must know your audience.  They are more than your memories and better than the outward signs you see in the mall.  If you are raising them, it is vital to create a connection of communication and respect. 

Laugh with them, love them and enjoy them before they eat too many Butter Nuggets. 

As funny as it was to see the “transformation” of the younger brother to the older brother in the space of an out-take, this section of the infomercial really hit home.  Kids grow up way too fast. 

As parents and/or writers, how do you stay connected to the younger set?  Do you feel it’s important to know kids individually or is it okay to lump them as a whole?  Do you have someone to give you an honest eye roll and let you know you’re on target, or are you guessing based on your own memories?

Because I can tell you that memories are faulty.  If we base our work off them, we will be doomed as writers.  Ditto for parents. 

hugs~ cat

Do you know who you write for?

Kids can teach us a lot about our writing.

In honor of National Poetry Month, my Dear Daughter is in the midst of her poetry unit for English.  She has to create a poetry book consisting of selected poems from different authors with different themes. 

I pointed her in the direction of Lewis Carroll.  She immediately loved the ease of copying The Crocodile’s eight sentences.  She waffled over the Jabberwocky, and in the end, refused to write it down. 

“It’s too long.” 

Instead, she flipped through Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the poems with the shortest lines.  Literally the least amount of words.  Yet she handwrote several monster sized poems with thirty plus lines each.  Those were on friendship.

The patriotic poems were each four sentences long (the shortest number of lines possible for this project).  She used up both  her short poems on these, with another four needing at least eight lines and the remaining having to be ten or more.

The moral of this project is actually pretty simple.  Know thy audience. 

Shel’s whimsy was no longer important enough for her to copy more than a handful of his words.  Patriotism (which I used to think she had in abundance) was relegated the lowliest of positions. 

The monster poems?  Friendship and love. 

Those were the themes that had her scouring poem after poem and book after book in search of the perfect stanza. 

Know thy audience (and their tastes). 

Without me paying attention, she somehow moved past the middle grade novels with bullies and mysteries and wry humor, and is firmly entrenched in relationships.  She is the quintessential YA reader, regardless of my perception that she’s still waaaay to young to fall in that category. 

Writer, know thy audience. 

It is a deadly trap to assume that what we started writing about–and who we started writing for–are still one and the same.  Trends change.  Tastes change.  Certainly, novel writing as a whole has changed. 

Manuscript length, content and stye are not constants in the publishing arena.  Even genres are fluid and reflect the nuances of society.

If we are to survive in this new environment, we must embrace these changes as readily as a mother watching her kids grow. 

We may not like it.  We may wish to slow time down for our own ease and comfort.  But in the end, we simply cannot continue to write statically.  If we try, we may find ourselves relegated to the lowliest category possible.  The place that garners no more than four lines’ worth of a reader’s time.

I used to think of myself as being an astute writer in terms of audience.  In light of DD’s project I may have to revisit the idea.  Because, like it or not, the element that changes the most in the publishing industry is readership. 

Do you feel like you have a handle on your intended audience?  How do you keep up with their changing tastes/maturity/interests and the fluctuating lines that define the genre you write in?  Do you have any stellar tips to share to help the rest of stay ahead of the game?

As always, your input and commentary are as much a part of my blog as my own posts.  I appreciate hearing from each of you and learning from your experiences.

Without a Paddle

I rock.  At least in my house where I hold the dubious title of Bop It Queen.  I’m also the reigning Scrabble Champion (DH actually marked the calendar the ONE time he beat me) and a pretty mean contender when it comes to Trivial Pursuit.

Give me a basketball, however, and I’ll stand on the free-throw line for two years before sinking a shot.  Celebrity trivia will trip me up every time and I stink at Rock, Paper, Scissors.  I’ve had to pick the kids up in the cold and dark so often after losing that I just grab for the keys instead of debating my “move”.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a good thing to know what they are.  Especially for a writer.  If we fail to properly assess our techniques, we will find ourselves

Up Submission Creek without a PADDLE.

PLOT: Even the most rudimentary writing needs a plot.  The story must go somewhere, or there is no purpose.  Not for our MC, not for our story and certainly not for our readers.  The Encyclopaedia Brittanica states that plot is ” …the structure of interrelated actions…” 

James Scott Bell writes about his LOCK system in regards to a satisfying plot.  Lead Character.  Objective.  Confrontation and Knock Out.  These same components have been summarized in many different ways, but in essence they all mean the same thing.  A reader wants to be transported from Real Life into a story that has conflict, a climax and a resolution. 

AUDIENCE: Writer, know thy audience.  After hanging out on writing forums for a year and engaging face to face with other writers and their work, I have learned that we often fail to understand who we are writing for.  I have seen YA’s written with picture book themes and manuscripts for adventure-seeking men obviously penned by women. 

Each age group and genre has vastly different expectations.  As a rule, men do not want to read touchy feely dialogue and teens no longer care about talking bunnies in search of their mommies.  Not sure what you’re writing?  Check out Anne R. Allen’s Blog .  Once you know your audience, read a couple dozen books to get familiar with the style and language they seem to like.

DEVELOPMENT as in Character: Flat Stanley is an awesome book.  Yet most writers should strive hard to make their characters anything but flat.  To keep our readers invested, we need characters they care about.  Lynn Price tells how.   

DIALOGUE: Kill me now if your characters hold actual conversations.  Readers DO NOT want “Hello.”  “How are you today?”  “Good.”  “Great.”  “So…it’s cold outside.  Did you get the driveway shoveled?” 

Repeat after me.  “Ninety percent of what we say in life is really boring.”

The key to great dialogue is imparting character, not information.  It moves the story forward.  Don’t make your characters talk the same.  Likewise, don’t let them all have quirky speech patterns.  Keep in mind things like age, sex and genre when writing.  For a giggle, read here.

LANGUAGE: This goes hand in hand with dialogue and audience.  Write for your readers, not at them.  Don’t condescend and don’t use big words you yourself had to look up.  Both of these will kill a reader’s love for you faster than dumping your spouse for the waitress on your tenth anniversary. 

Sentence length and structure, as well as paragraph development, belong in this category.  Don’t confuse your audience with poorly constructed writing and Harvard words.  Rather, gently stretch their skills.  Teach, don’t preach.

EXPOSITION: AKA, back story.  If you have never heard of an information dump, now is the time to learn that agents, editors and the reading public despise this technique.  Why?  Read for yourself.

So how does one provide necessary information?  Artfully, I suppose.  I should be able to show you it is cold, the wind is blowing and a storm is moving in without telling you.  An example: 

She shivered and zipped her jacket against the wind.  Her tears froze on her cheeks as she screamed at the snow-filled sky. 

I have no sympathy for the villian explaining his evil plot to the tied up victim.  I’ve had an entire novel to show my villian’s motives through action, character development and dialogue.  He had forty-seven chapters to visit his mom’s grave, sift through his old diary, threaten his shrink for saying the wrong thing and generally act unstable in certain situations.  If I haven’t managed to convey the message by chapter forty-eight, my book shouldn’t be in your hands. 

If you’ve made it this far up Submission Creek with only one paddle, I’ll throw you another one to make your trip a little easier.

SETTING: Description of characters and places often comes in the form of exposition.  A good writer can bypass this tendency by choosing his words carefully.  Adverbs and adjectives do not create setting, nor do they qualify as good descriptors.  In fact, they can detract from our writing significantly. 

Not sure what I mean?  Robert K. Lewis will explain.

So there you have it.  Two paddles to help you navigate the publishing waters.  Plot, Audience, Development, Dialogue, Language, Exposition and Setting.  The key to making it work, however, is knowing how to use them. 

What are your writing strengths?  Do you consiously tackle your weaknesses?  If so, how?

~happy canoeing!