Archive | June, 2022

Happy Canada Day!

30 Jun

               I’ll be at work for it (as per the norm, LOL) but I will be heading to Battle for Canada at the Goldeye’s Stadium for Saurday and Sunday.

               Witchslayer’s Scion is now available in print. My niece has the only print copy of Witchslayer’s Scion in the province I am aware of, but more are ordered. I hope they don’t take as long as my DoM copies but I will let everyone know when I have them in my paws.

Reflections of Writing for an Audience Part 2

               A few years ago, I read a short story by Ron who was entering it a contest and it was for a high school audience. His story featured the casual use of alcohol. I pointed out that there was nothing wrong with that, but he ought to remove it. Why? Students in High School drink alcohol all the time.

               It’s not the audience, it’s the librarians and parents.

               Most parents aren’t naive and think their Precious Junior would NEVER – but there’s a difference between acknowledging reality and condoning a behavior. Removing the use of alcohol in the scene changed nothing (I believe the characters wanted hot chocolate, with a little extra kick or something). There’s plenty of stories for young readers that deal with adult issues, and that’s a good thing – but ultimately I think the majority of parents can have justified concerns. I was ready for Star Wars at eight, but other kids might not be ready until they’re closer to ten, and it may not be a violence issue so much as a sensory issue. Letting people know, being aware of concerns, it allows for the writer to have a general framework for what is acceptable for that target audience. It’s not censorship so much as understanding what the audience demands are.

               A lot of the stories I grew up enjoying weren’t age appropriate, and I’ll be honest – when I write, I often enjoy it when I don’t have to go the route of having the hero punch his way through the plot. There’s a time and a place for Conan the Barbarian, but there’s also a time and a place for stories where heroes use their wits as well as their brawn. When I’m done TA I’m going to be tweaking my MG steampunk mysteries, and they are similar to the tone of Ducktales and The Adventures of Tintin. There’s a lot that wouldn’t fly today – I’m not talking old fashioned depictions of race or gender stereotypes, so much as Tintin getting knocked unconscious and kidnapped a lot and there’s an awful lot of firearms.

               In general, I think because kids develop at different levels, it’s important to know not everyone’s ready for the same stuff at the same time, and just because I’m more advanced in my language or math, doesn’t mean I’m emotionally ready for some more complex ideas. That’s when sensitivity readers have their place when you want to talk about these complicated issues. I’m not saying they’re always right, but it certainly helps to have different perspectives.

               With kids stories, I like an invisible contract with the reader: Your hero may get in trouble, but we’ll get back to the problem we started with. That was honestly my reason for making Lorelei such a soft villain in TMatU. In that story, Daphne and friends encounter a lot worse characters than the sea witch responsible for beaching Daphne on land. They want different things, but there’s an unspoken promise to the reader – hey, we need to get back to Lorelei. I know things look bad, but we’ll get through the current obstacle. I asked my niece when she was younger how she felt about the Puppeteers and, if it was too scary and we could skip it. It was her favourite part of the book, and the puppeteers is the current WIP. Another kid, or even an adult, might find that part incredibly squeamish (kind of like how Neil Gaiman’s Coraline gets creepier as an adult then as a kid), but it’s good to know that when she was on the younger range of age appropriate, she adored that sequence so I know I’m not an outlier in the audience.

               This is where knowing your audience is super important. For instance, let’s pretend I retire in Pinawa with my parents and start my own Kayaking/Adventure Tour companies. I offer breakneck boating, death marches into remote locations, all the stuff that should be attracting hard core athletes.

               Then I find out the Red Hat Lady’s society would like to book me so they can go bird watching and have a pleasant hike (that needs to be accessible for everyone). Also, there’s another group who wants a pleasant pontoon around the lake and, another group is also interested but they’ve got small kids, so please no walkie into bear territory. If business is booming, I may refer them to someone else who does that or, I could recognize a need and tweak my business accordingly. There will be people who want EXTREME and I get to take them kayaking, but there’s going to be people who just want the boats and to go (they’ll be fine) and the people who have never done it before and need some lessons and a guide.

               That’s how I feel about changing a story. It’s not really censorship, so much as knowing what an audience would like and trying your best to accommodate, if accommodation is the goal. Not everyone is going to agree, because there would be people in the Red Hat Society who would have loved a more robust hike, but when they’re with their group, they probably know that while they’re with their group, this is the sort of activity that’s appropriate.

               For marketing purposes, people generally like to see an idealized version of themselves using the products they do. So when I’m writing a book for an audience who is twelve years old, they want to see themselves as older and more capable as opposed to average or more child-like. Not quite the opposite happens as we age – most people don’t want to be younger, but be mistaken for being younger because we associate youth with health, fertility, beauty, etc.

               When i was a kid I basically thought 16 was an adult. A very young adult, but a 16 year old could do everything I deemed important (have a boyfriend, drive, stay out late, have a job, they looked more like an adult than a kid) whereas when I was sixteen I was starting at myself and my friends, and as someone who hit puberty early, the only thing I got on my sixteenth birthday was my abs. The driver’s license came like, three weeks later (first try!) but I was still living under my parent’s roof and, I learned even as an adult, if I don’t tell my mother what I’m up to for extended lengths of time she gets stressed out. Shoot, even as an adult living on my own I have to text her in bad weather when she knows I’m on truck.

               I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sticking to your vision for your product, but I like to think of it as a framework when writing. Needs beat the hierarchy as opposed to wants, so if I were to approach this as a low language, high interest project, the needs are different than that of a child. What that means is that the prospective audience has low literary, but they don’t want to read books written for children. They need familiar language, but they want to be engaged – just as everyone else. So you as the writer have to make a decision – not so much as the story, but as a product as a whole. I love me some thick bricks – and the niece commented on that when she picked up Witchslayer’s Scion, and I told her that was the size I used to like to write when I was getting started, and it sits at around 135k. Usurper is still sitting around 160k, and my goal is to chop it down and send it to Champagne Books this year. I hated Ron’s suggestions that I cut it up into multiple books, but I also have to look at feasibility. Other authors get to put out 200k bricks, but while I’m capable of writing that length, I’m realistic when I’m looking at the POD prices. I can sell The Mermaid and the Unicorn and Dreams of Mariposa cheaper at events because they’re not super thick, and we don’t have the budget to mass print 600-800 page novels.


Reflections of Writing for an Audience

15 Jun

               I just signed Rogue Healer: Magus’ Gambit with Champagne Books. I have a decent leg up on the series as I’m basically just preening Book 3 and because I cut so much stuff out of said book, I have more than a decent leg up on another title. Not The Next One, as the focus will shift away from Koth in Book 4, and focus instead on Una and Sajera, but honestly I’d be lying if I didn’t say I started it like a year ago. Just a few scenes, and my other goal is to get one of my science fiction novels to Champagne for year end so it doesn’t feel like all I’m doing is the series.

               This is mostly not about my more adult work (as in meant for a more mature audience) but thinking about writing for other people.

               The main problem I see when I join review groups or agree to review something, is often I’m not the intended audience. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a profile on people like *moi* but I seem to not care about the romance being in the forefront, and I’ve been lectured lately that I should be more empathetic. Enjoying science fiction and fantasy has become more widespread accepted, my guess because of the internet but this is about writing for a younger audience.

               When I took my first creative writing course at university, I didn’t really get it when my professor asked, “Who are you writing for?” He asked if we were writing for an audience or for ourselves, but I naively thought that there was a market for books I liked to read. Why wasn’t it both? “I’m writing the book I wish existed,” summed it up. Translation: I’m doing this for me, and other people will like it.

               Should like it. Could like it (maybe).

               Things changed when my sister started having kids. It wasn’t just books, as I became hyper critical of cartoons, video games, and whether or not things were appropriate for her kids. Little things – like “Hey yeah come do zumba with me on the wii.” And me going from not caring what the character was wearing to very much caring what she was wearing. I don’t normally read popular books when they’re popular, but I’m not ignorant of popular culture and I noticed retellings of stories, and what’s emphasized and what they do now as opposed to ‘back when I was a kid’ (I don’t really remember the 80’s in any great detail, but bright colors, cheap animation unless they were Disney for the most part) I started to think about the stories that her kids would grow up with, as well as the stories I wished existed when I was a kid.

               So although I didn’t have time to finish it until I got laid off, I came up with and eventually wrote Garnet and Silver. I didn’t aim it at my niece for when she was a baby and a toddler, but I wanted her to have an alternative to some of the media she’d be subjected to when she was older. I didn’t feel comfortable writing for a super young child, but when she graduated from picture books to early readers and then chapter books, I realized she enjoyed a lot of the same stuff I did when I was growing up. It wasn’t all the same – for the most part I don’t watch much animation meant for kids, but I drafted The Mermaid and the Unicorns basically thinking about the kind of story I would have liked when I was about 8 or 9, although it’s marketed towards 10-12 year olds. I drafted another novel aimed at a more male market prior to drafting Daphne’s tale, and I’m editing it now but it doesn’t really sparkle the way TMatU did.

               She’s since outgrown the original audience I envisioned the book for, but she has made a request for another book, about the puppeteers that appeared briefly in TMATU. Honestly, I was tempted to cut the puppets scene because it was a little intense, but I let her read it when she was age appropriate and it was her favourite part. Let’s just say that story’s coming along, but also that I’m not thinking so much of the 10 year old as the teenager giving me feedback and what she’d like to see in a story.

               My aunt has pointed out there’s a need for books aimed at boys the same age that I did TMatU, as the vast majority of books are aimed at girls (and she thinks if I had rebranded and put less focus on Mermaids, I could have gone with a little more gender neutral marketing because it’s not really a girly-girl book. Then I saw the cover and loved it so…) so I’m also drafting up another novel aimed at that 10-12 year old demographic; not so much aimed at boys but aimed at people who like star wars with a male protagonist. I have also written two steampunk adventure-mysteries, so if you’re noticing that I’m reading a lot more YA or even Middle Grade on Goodreads after I finish the Aurora ballot, that’s why.

               I think it’s more natural to want to write to an audience if you see a need for them, but I’ll be honest, my big issue when writing for younger readers was I quickly graduated from them. Don’t get me wrong: The Adventures of Frog and Toad are brilliant, and I remember being at Costco and seeing a boxed set for Narnia as a teenager, wanting it but feeling too embarrassed to pick it up. I wasn’t discerning in taste as a child, but I knew chapter books were better than books aimed at my demographic. I didn’t get all of what the ‘adult’ books were trying to say, and I thought it would be weird to write for a group I wasn’t familiar with.

               In truth, what it took was being invested in people who needed a product from that demographic. It’s like there’s always a need for low-level high interest reading material. Basically the problem with low-literacy rates is that adults who need to learn to read don’t also need to learn their colors or what sounds farm animals make. They need to practice on material that’s easy to read, and also holds interest. When they move on to chapter books, they want to read material of interest for their age group now, not stuff they would have found interesting when they were a child.

               The problem as I see it is that most aspiring writers have an idea what they want to do, and that may change over time, but they need to be invested in what they write. I was told that the two ways I’d make money as a writer was : 1) Write Romance 2) Write Non-fiction (Technical writing) and part of me wanted to bang off some romance novels for the $$$. The problem, one of my professors said, was that they’ll seem disingenuous. You have to want to do it. I don’t particularly like looking for romance novels. I’ve read some that are done brilliantly, but generally, it’s not my jam. Don’t get me wrong, there’s times where you want to abandon/burn every project, but I think in general her point stands. The best parodies are written by people who love the original work, because they know it beyond the superficial.

               Deciding out of the blue, “I want to write for children” without thinking about a child you know who has a want or a need, really that’s writing for yourself and using a child-friendly format. There’s nothing wrong with that; the book Go the F*** to Sleep was written for adults.

               That’s not to say you have to relearn everything from square one: Far from it. But it would be like me deciding to start writing westerns when I haven’t read any in probably ten years. It’ll take time to know what’s standard, what’s cliché, and what a modern audience wants. And I like watching westerns from time to time.

               This is getting a little long so I’ll do a part 2 when I talk a little bit about some of the choices I make and marketing.

Dealing with The Quiet of The Quest

6 Jun

I will start this by saying this is sort of but not really a response to the reviewers last month that said that some of my scenes dragged in TMatU. It prompted me thinking of the idea, but really the idea isn’t “Hey this scene is too long” so much as, “What do you do if you’re at a boring part of the journey?” Some writerswill just skip to the next interesting bit, but some authors want the reader to really get a sense of what the characters are going through. I think there’s different strokes for different folks, so I’m going to be looking at this from a lens for those who like mainstream adventure-style stories, not more literary ones.

Wheel of Time is infamous for the “Slog” where very little happens in several of the middle books. Things do happen – major events, really – but those events take up a relatively short time in a book where we spend a lot of time posturing with nobles for a succession story that could easily be removed, as well another story about one of the main characters searching for his kidnapped wife that could have been removed without effecting the plot, but ultimately built up the world and characters. It seems that they take up an awful lot of time and when we could be learning about the Dark Tower, as well as taking away from the fracturing of the White Tower.

 WoT isn’t unique to this. In the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, tensions rise and the trio get into an argument and Harry points out that Ron shouldn’t be expecting to find a Horcrux every other day.

The PS2 game Shadow of the Colossus only has boss battles, but it’s not like you go from colossus to colossus immediately. Part of the reason for not having any other real obstacles – short of you pitching Wanderer off a ledge that will kill him – was to emphasize how alone and isolated he was except for his lone horse companion.

Video games don’t translate like books though. I think if you don’t want to bring it to the audience’s attention, you can use the lull to build something up. That can be character development, or world development, or something else that the reader would find interesting.

For the most part I think it depends on the audience and expectation, but for the most part this is not a big deal so long as you consider who your audience is and what their expectations are. There is already a precedence for really long, really involved world building, so if that seems to be your audience, they might be fine with it. That being said, if people are waiting years between sequels, I think it’s important that they have some pay off in books. I’m was told that I could skip certain books if I so chose, but because it was a first read through, I wade through.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I for one like the extended scenes in the original Lord of the Rings even if they don’t have any real bearing to the overall story. Small scenes, especially in the shire, build up the world. I like the scenes where Bilbo painting his kinfolk in an unflattering light, them choosing baking over a kiss and the comforts of home over grand halls or great feats. I also never complain about the ‘fake out’ endings for the end of Return of the King, if anything I was disappointed that the Scouring of the Shire didn’t happen and at least in the theatrical version, what happened to Sauromon and Grima Wormtongue was left ambiguous. Would another battle at the shire have seemed smaller and less significant then the climax of finally destroying the ring? Yes, but Tolkien wasn’t writing an action-adventure cliffhanger novel. It’s stood the test of time and builds slowly, and because it did the work, the pay off is there and doesn’t seem hackneyed.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer and I don’t think writing tight novels where every scene counts is necessarily a bad thing. I do know, however, that I for one will skip sections if I see that the author doesn’t have dialogue (and we’re not in a battle) or even POV’s I could care less about. For the most part I think audiences don’t want the author to show their work and marvel at world building as much as to know what happens next, or how someone they’ve built an emotional attachment to will triumph. I think there are definitely audiences for slower, more literary styles where we spend an awful lot of time contemplating feelings, but for the most part I would give audiences some pay off or mention that the character was bored on the long dusty road, and almost got into a scrap for amusement and then move on to the next part of the story that people would reference. It may not always work and there’s no pleasing everyone, but I think in general that less is more – that most audiences will fill in the gaps that the writer doesn’t tell them. It’s not the easiest to show loneliness, doubt, or despair, because these aren’t emotions that the majority of readers particularly want to feel when they’re reading.

It’s like characters who brood. A little goes a long way.