Picking Your Audience: How Early Should You Do It?

I’ve often wondered about this. Some of you may be sitting there (or standing, depending on what you’re doing) and screaming at me for even asking such a daft question but is it really that silly?

Identifying your audience early shapes the story

Any story begins as an idea. An acorn, if you will, that will grow into (hopefully) a grand old tree. We, the writers, are the ones nurturing this growth from start to finish – and sometimes beyond, even if no one knows about it! It’s rarely a case of ‘this is my idea, no it’s time to get writing’ although even I find that hard to resist.

There’s the research element, looking at similar stories across a range of mediums and the market itself and the planning stages too, from character creation to settings and more. Then there’s the audience. What audience do you want to write for, is it suitable for your story and how can you ensure the two go hand in hand?

These are not easy questions and you may find yourself compromising in one way or another. The risk here is that you may become disillusioned with the entire project because it isn’t what you originally wanted to write, or for who you wanted to write to. That may mean you need to change one aspect to ensure that enthusiasm isn’t going to wane at any point.

The biggest benefit I find working this way is that it gives you a clear goal right from the outset of the process. Some people need that end goal in sight but it can take time nail it down so don’t think you can get past this in just a day.

Your story and writing style determines the audience

The flipside of this, however, is that I firmly believe some writers are better suited to different genres and audiences than others. I’m going to use J.K. Rowling as a partial example; Harry Potter is a phenomenal series but other works, largely adult fiction, hasn’t taken off. I’m not the biggest fan of her writing style, which is down to what I like to read and how I write, but there has to be a reason for that, surely?

I’m not saying she should write more Harry Potter, but maybe that audience is something to consider? We’ll see.

We can all write for different audiences, in different ways and styles but there are some that suit us better, that we feel more comfortable with and everyone, apart from the very best writers, will produce better work in their comfort zone. Even the ‘best’ will be better in their favourite zones but they have found a way to reach a high standard, a believable standard from a reader’s point of view, even outside it.

It’s something I’ve put a focus on over the last few years, writing outside of this comfort zone, focusing on different audiences. I won’t let many people see this stuff right now but maybe one day, I’ll get it to a level that I can be happy with. I’m proud of myself for trying and it does teach me a lot. It’s also why I can understand that some stories and styles just don’t work together.

Some rules are made to be broken but others, not so much.

Conclusion

Like with a lot of topics to do with writing, creative processes and indeed, the Arts in general, it’s all down to personal preference. I don’t think it’s easy to say “I’m going to write a young adult novel” and have it happen – at least not all the time. The project may start out with that intention but if you aren’t able to adapt along the way, I don’t believe that it will get anywhere.

Plans are great but we, as writers, change throughout the writing process. Almost as much, if not more, than the story we’re writing. Another part of this, is also understanding the markets and how they evolve as well. Everything’s connected.

It’s certainly an interesting discussion but not one that’s likely to be settled any time soon. However, that is it from me for 2015. It’s been a year full of ups and downs and I’m going to take a few weeks off over the holidays to recharge and to get ready for 2016. So, whatever your plans and beliefs are, and whatever you have planned over the coming weeks, enjoy it and I’ll see you in January.

Ciao!

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“I’ll Try Anything Once…”

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

I’ve been distant again. Striking a balance between work, writing, blogging and living is quite difficult with my new role. I’m working on that but I’ve got a few posts lined up over the coming weeks so keep an eye out for those.

Today, however, I want to share a special experience with you all. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my favourite writers in my relatively short life – and I hope there are many more meetings to come in the future – but last Sunday (27th September 2015) I got to meet one of my all-time favourites.

And that, ladies and gents, is the fantastic Margaret Atwood.

What’s with the cliché?

It’s true, I used one. I don’t use them often in my writing, though I do have a love of puns and ironic clichés when I’m out and about.

How many time shave you heard someone say ‘I’ll try anything once’ but then the next chance to do something new they turn it down? Probably a fair few times. I’m guilty of it too, but I’m trying not to be – unless there’s a damned good reason.

This phrase, along with a number of others, is seen on motivational pictures, posters, memes, videos etc. That’s fine but how much impact do they really have now? There are so many of them – anyone can make them and share them online. ANYONE.

When it comes from someone you admire and respect, it hits home a little harder – and when said person is Margaret Atwood, who I have a huge amount of respect for and who has done so much, it encourages me to do the same.

Writing from experience

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? Well, other than telling you (without bragging – much) that I got to meet a top author, it’s also quite an important aspect of writing.

Can you write about romance without experiencing it? What about pain, heartbreak, excitement, joy and all the rest? Can you talk about death and the impacts it has on people if you haven’t lost someone?

In short, yes.

You CAN write about it but will it be convincing? Will your readers see through the bullshit or can they connect with it, empathise with the characters and situation and will they be moved by your words?

I’ve always believed you can’t write about what you don’t understand, and that’s why I try to do as much as possible, learn as much as I can and never stop growing. I’m not saying use real life examples but really stop and think about the emotions you’re trying to convey, the tension you’re building, and let your experiences guide you – and readers – through it.

You’ll get a much better response. Fiction is often an escape from the real world but think of your favourite characters or moments – how do they make you feel? That’s a good starting point.

Accommodating genres

Now, before you all scream the house down – this does work in genres. So you’re writing a fantasy novel and there’s a huge battle coming up. Sure, you’ve never been in that situation but would your characters be nervous (just an example)? Think to when you’ve been your most nervous and start there. Yes, you need to imagine beyond that but be consistent with it.

Never lost your loved one? Fine, think back to losing anyone – as hard as it is – and start there. Even a pet. Maybe you lost touch with a friend and regret it. There are always better places to start than making it up.

Even in historical fiction, you can find similar situations or occurrences that can give a starting point. If we all wrote the same thing, no one would be interested. That’s part of why writers are valued because it’s their take on something. It can be discussed, compared, thought on and a lot more.

It all comes from a small starting point. That flash of motivation to go further.

A great source of inspiration

Author events are always fascinating for me. Whether it’s a conversation, a Q&A, a signing, panel or anything else – it’s a great insight into another writer’s mind. What I’ve learned so far is that writers are weird.

We’re strange. Our minds wander off on tangents that seem relevant but often aren’t. We also need reigning in a little bit because we can get carried away at times.

This is great though, because you see the passion and love they – we – have for the craft. Sure, we want everyone to read our stories, to enjoy them, talk about them and such but in the end, I reckon we are driven to write.

There’s plenty I’ve done no one will ever see and that’s fine. It’s not all done for other people.