Friday, May 21, 2010

Who Are You Writing For?

I came across a fantastic quote a few years ago - 'Write first for yourself and then for the rest of the world'. Another way to put this is 'Write first with the door open and then with the door closed'.

For me this means that for the first draft of the story, or the book, you should allow yourself to be free creatively - to flow with the story and write the story you want to see, with the characters that you want to write about. Here you don't have to worry so much about passives, or if the descriptions are all that crash hot, as long as you are experiencing the story. This gives you a narrative drive and a kind of freshness, even if it is raw.

Then, when you open the door up, you are opening it up to critique and feedback from your critique group, editor etc. Here you start to think about what a cold reader really takes away from that prose. The descriptions need to be crafted until they are good enough to evoke that same feeling that you experienced inside the reader. The passives, which were good enough to give you the inside feel of the action, have to be replaced with more direct storytelling - this is the old Show Don't Tell chestnut.

But beyond this, when you are just sitting there alone, either working on the first draft or beavering away on the nth draft of the Great Novel, do you have a sense that you are writing for someone? Is your sweat and toil being directed at a particular reader? Or is it a pure artistic sort of fugue, where you are communicating with some abstract part of the Universe?

Many writers are very deliberate about constructing their stories. They think about the target audience, even the the main gender they want to appeal to. They might study the stats describing the book-buying public with meticulous care and try and be crafty about what they scribe. Mmmn . . . that's definitely not me. But maybe these strategic writers actually have a sort of person in mind throughout the process of their work. I'm not sure.

Who are you writing for?


Anonymous said...

Pure artistic fugue here. What an excellent term.

I've tried to be a strategic writer. "This is what sells" "This is who buys" but as soon as I get into it at all, that remoteness fades and the story goes where my back brain wants it. If I'm lucky, it'll be close enough to the outline to not require massive editing before I tackle the next chapter. But there's no telling where that one is going to land me, either.

C Kelsey said...

I started writing a comment... it went very long and drifted. How far did it drift? I had to start my own blog and use it as my first post.

It clearly must be Friday.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I write for me totally, subject, plot and all. Sometimes I give the subject to the market, like an antho or whatnot. I have loosened up enough however to let the story be me.

I've figured out that I have a style, and I've just about figured out what it is. It was a surprise to me that a lot of my writing is geared toward the characters and their internal machinations.

I also love a good concept story which is where the subject comes in. If the story has a first market tagged to it (like an antho), I make sure the concrete subject fits it, and "I" take over from there. I try to incorporate my own voice/style to the subject matter.

So, yes, the market may drive the subject of the story, the rest is me.


C Kelsey said...

Every story I've ever put to paper has started out as a story I (or one of my characters) wanted to tell to myself. It took me a while to come to grips with trying to write for an audience. Dave Freer read one of my older works a while ago. It totally bogged me down for a bit when he asked, "who's your audience". My only answer at the time was, "well, me I guess".

Amanda Green said...

Chris, great post. This is something every writer should think about. Most of us, imo, begin writing a story that we want to write. If we aren't interested in the story, more likely than not the end result will be stilted and forced. That's if we finish it at all.

However, there is a danger involved in writing for ourselves in that too often the second part of that equation is forgotten. The pitfall in all this is that, as the writer, we know what's going to happen. We know the characters, the settings, the motivations, etc. Because we know them, if we don't remember there is a reading public out there we are trying to reach, we forget to put those pesky details in.

This is often the trap new writers fall into, although I've been in group with writers with more "experience" than I who fall deep and hard into that pit. After reading several chapters of a former critique partner's work in progress, someone asked who the target audience was. There was a moment of silence and then the writer hemmed and hawed. Finally, when pressed a bit more about why they were writing this particular book, we were told because it's a book the writer would want to read. The problem was, as I said before, since the author knew the characters and all the details needed to bring the book alive, those details were missing. The writer had forgotten the second factor in the equation: they'd forgotten to open the door to the rest of the world.

There's nothing wrong with writing for yourself, as long as you remember that you need to share the "inside information" with your reader if the piece is something you want to sell. Just my two cents' worth.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. I have to admit to being very much the same. It's strange actually, I have a sense that its all being directed somewhere, but I can't tell you where:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. Friday is definitely my favourite day of the working week, despite how much the brain can get by then.

I read your post, you rambler you.

So true! I have my gripes with all those tropes. Surely must be a market for UF with actual male characters.

I am definitely in the Shoot him! Category there with what's been published.

Did I mention my new Urban Fatasy book has almost exclusively male characters? Looks like I'm in for a battle to sell this one.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Linda. I terms of starting points I think its surprising how you can use almost anything to spur on a story. Even if you have an over-arching theme or storyline, there is just so much scope within that to colour it all in with your own unique ideas - i.e. for charcter etc.

It sounds like, with your focus on character, you would happily working in other poeople's universes if you were given scope in the characterisation, or given new characters.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris (2). That 'who is your audience question' stumps me as well. I have some indefinable sense of what I am doing and where its all going but beyond that - faith really, that's its going to land where its supposed to.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. That's the trick isn't it? Getting all those things you assumed and took from granted out onto the page. It can be really hard to see what you have left out, or what you have written there in a sort of 'short hand to yourself'. I guess that's why critique groups and experienced readers are so important.

Tricky balance though. If someone does not get your story, you may shoot yourself in the foot being too deliberate about explaining things. That's where getting the right feedback and being able to judge it is crucial - I'm still learning that part!

C Kelsey said...


I came to all those conclusions because I was doing research in order to target the UF stories that I'm writing. The current state of the genre actually put me off writing my stories for a bit. Then I realized that they were stories that *I* wanted to see written, so I'm writing them anyway and hang everyone else. :) However, having done the research, I have a reasonable sense of what my audience will ultimately be. This may or may not color the writing.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. Good luck, mate.

Kate said...

I am so screwed. I have a target audience for everything I write. It's "people like me" - which is a very small, select grouping only found in the very best insane asylums.

Basically, I write what the story insists I write, and try to shade things towards what normal people might like. I've yet to find any normal people who can tell me if it works, though.

Anonymous said...

Urban Fantasy . . . I think we need a new name for a genre that focuses on the interactions of magic and the modern world, stories without the romance focus, especially the very dark sexual focus.

Modern Fantasy? I dunno. Does Jim Butcher write Urban Fantasy?

C Kelsey said...

Kate, what's a normal person? I don't think I've ever met one.


Stephen Simmons said...

"Normal person"? Hmm ... I'm a person. (I think. I'm fairly sure I'm a noun of some sort, and I don't seem to be a "place" or "thing", just going by strict definitions.) And I'm subject to normal force, since I'm inside a gravity well ... Does that qualify?

I'm with Kate, though. If I have a "target audience" at all, it's "people who like books similar to the ones I like". Of course, that's not a very narrow focus -- "books I like" ranges from The Silmarillion, through Douglas Adams and Donaldson, to Dumas ...

Chris McMahon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. I wrote a fair amount of stuff that is contemporary, but has magic. I used to call this Urban Fantasy until I saw what people defined as UF, which was nothing like it. So now I call this 'contemporary fantasy'. But I could come up with.

If you get a better label, let me know!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. I see a fantastic new market for you! Partner with a psychologist & bring out a new range of therapeutic audio books designed for crazy people:) Tease then into (or out of) great new parallel worlds!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Stephen. I'm sure you can find plenty of company with that list! I'm sure most writers are not that deliberate about the target audience. I think if you can write a realistic engaging character and get a reader to buy into their delimmas, then you can lure them into almost any territory.

Synova said...

I've decided that I don't write for myself often enough. I always figured that it was a virtue of sorts to be workman-like enough to write for an audience. And maybe it is, but I also tend to want things to be right before I go on, and I get pretty wound up in second guessing what will work or not.

If "this works for me" was what I was worried over I'd have a better chance of knowing something "works" and moving on.

I hope.

But then I actually got some writing done today, so perhaps the "write for yourself first" idea did its job.

I also got my ginormous desk (it was free) and my computer and shelves set up in my new "office". Yay!