Know Thy Audience

It occurred to me this week that nothing I share here would be of extreme use to anyone but the newest of writers. But then I realized that there’s got to be someone that’s not as far along on this journey as I am, and if even that one person finds any value here, it’s worth it.

When I started this book (the first time) I thought I knew my audience. I really did. I was clearly writing historical fiction. Easy. Just get the facts right and we’re all good. So, this week, when I’ve needed a brain break from writing I’ve been browsing online looking at covers, trying to get an idea on how much money it would cost to launch this thing and also what the cover should actually look like to fit the genre.

So, as I am googling around I came across a Goodreads list of 2015 YA historical fiction, which was great because – recent and in my genre. Imagine my shock and dismay to see a disclaimer at the top that basically eliminated my book from their list.

Ummmmm…..

No time travel, except in certain circumstances. There was no explanation of what circumstances it would be allowable, so I went ahead and looked through the covers, getting some ideas. But, they said that time travel fell into the realm of science fiction.

Uhhhhhhh….

The crazy thing was that when I googled YA science fiction I got lots of covers with spaceships. That won’t work for me.

I googled YA time travel, and thank my stars, found a list of books that fit that genre. It seems super specific, but it did give me a better idea of why my book might be classified historical fiction, possibly. Or not. These books also have drastically different covers than the YA historical fiction books. That could have been bad…

So, to the point… why does any of this matter?

I want to sell this book. I want it to get good reviews. I want people to read it and want to buy the next book in the series. And the book after that.

And that won’t happen if I get the audience all wrong. Not just from the perspective of keywords and genres on Amazon, but also from the perspective of my writing. There are certain expectations placed on a story based on how it is categorized. Your audience buys your book expecting you to deliver a certain experience. There is a lot of leeway there if you’re telling a great story, but if you don’t hit most of the right notes you risk getting blah reviews because they thought they were buying something else entirely.

Someone who wants pure historical fiction could (might) be super-irritated to find out that my book spends a lot of time dealing with my MC adjusting to life in 1776. While I will probably hit all of the notes of historical fiction in my work, that one element could be enough to throw them out the suspension of disbelief that is key to an engrossing novel. If it irked them enough they might leave a negative review. Enough of those and even someone interested in my genre might skip the book resulting in lost sales.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Mary Sue. I understand that there are going to be negative reviews. I read them on the books that I adore as a reminder that every book isn’t for everyone, but, as a writer, I want to minimize the reasons that someone might leave a negative review on my book.

As far as the actual writing, this revelation has only changed my plot a smidge. I looked at the typical tropes of both the overall umbrella of YA and the more specific time travel and historical fiction. I held my book (plot outline) to the light of these tropes and figured out which ones I have to include and which ones won’t work. It brought some clarity, for sure.

The TL;DR here is that even if you’re in the very early stages of your book – plotting or just starting to write – do a little detective work and make sure you know your audience. It is way easier to examine your book in the early stages to make sure it fits where you think it should than to rework a whole book because you missed certain key pieces your genre audience expects. Do some googling and look at what your audience is saying. They’ll tell you what they want if you’re willing to listen!

Power Outage

Have you ever thought about how reliant you are on electricity? I didn’t. I mean, it’s everpresent, right? Always there to power whatever, whenever.

Until it’s not.

Last week we had a super strong storm come through and the power went out at about 9 in the morning. It’s not terrifically unusual since we live in the country a bit, but it still interferes with plans. We don’t have a generator or anything (note: research and purchase generator) so when the power’s out, we basically come to a standstill.

Thankfully it’s still spring and the weather wasn’t too hot or too cold. I wasn’t done with my daily words yet, so I finished up and closed everything up. No sense running down the battery.

I went through my mental to-do list and wouldn’t you know it, everything needed electricity. Every single thing.

So, I tidied up. Wiped down the counters. Which took all of 20 minutes (so, why do I procrastinate this task all the time? Ugh).

I just knew the power would come back on any minute.

Then I got a text from our electric provider that power wouldn’t be back until noon. Eh, that’s not so bad.

I wandered the house, wondering what to do. It was awful.

I texted my husband for pity (no luck). I tidied the laundry room. I folded a load of laundry. And it was 9:50.

Finally, after wandering in and out of the office six times I realized that I had a book on the shelf that I hadn’t managed to read. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlandish Companion Volume 1 to the rescue!

If you’re familiar with Gabaldon’s works, you know that she writes pretty hefty books, which turned out to be a good thing on this day. I was able to visit with the Fraser Clan, recapping the first four books and then enjoy a bit of teaching from Gabaldon herself, as she discussed writing, life, and publishing. I made it about 2/3 of the way through the book before the power came on at 4 p.m. moving from window to window to get good enough light to read (not bad eyes, just a cave-like house by design).

It was the best day! Guilt-free reading all day long. The kids survived too. The electronics lasted until about 10:30, then they played outside. It was great!

I almost wish I could arrange for the power to get shut off every few weeks.

Nah, not really. I’ve got a book to write!

Once More With Feeling | An Update

An update to my post about the headway I made on my fresh new plot.

I wrote the beats in a day.

One day.

Can I just say that this story is so much stronger than what I had written previously? Like so much stronger that it could take it’s older cousin out back behind the barn and beat the pulp out of it.

It probably should. Then rifle through its pockets for any spare adverbs.

I wrote Chapter One in one day. Just blasted it out. No more staring at the screen wondering what happened or more importantly, what will happen.

I may get this done in record time. Fingers crossed.

Once More, With Feeling!

Guys.

Someday I will finish this book in a way that makes sense. I SWEAR!

Last weekend I was slogging through another scene that was just not feeling right and I googled something and started bouncing around and then somehow landed on Libbie Hawker‘s Take Off Your Pants!

I giggled at the title, read the blurb and the reviews and bought the book. I read it in one sitting and dove into the exercise of plotting my book her way.

Guys.

I think it worked. It took me 3 days to write a full, cohesive, end to end plot. WITH A THEME! Which in hindsight was probably what was eluding me, but Libbie’s explanation just made it click.

Next, is looking at Beats and Chapters and fleshing this thing out.

Guys.

I am so in love with this book in concept and I really think it can work. I really, really do! I just needed a way to make what was in my head come out in what I was writing.

So, it’s kind of like a from scratch start. In fact, I think it will be just that. Because when I applied Libbie’s plan to the story, the story kind of… changed. A lot.

But, if this fresh new story is one that is good and can actually sell, then it’s all been worth it.

Bonus: Her plotting instructions immediately firmed up the story for the next six books. I now have a working framework for the whole series. And loose plot ideas for each of the books.

Guys.

If you struggle to get a cohesive story going…

If you are planning on writing a book for Camp Nano…

If you are already thinking about NaNoWriMo…

If you plan to write a book just because…

Go. Go now and buy Take Off Your Pants!

P.S. Libbie Hawker doesn’t know me. I seriously did buy her book Take Off Your Pants! Then because I write historical fiction, I also bought Making It In Historical Fiction. It was also top-notch and made me feel much better about where I was already going. I also came away from that one with some action items that I may share in a future post.

Hello! My Name is…

For me, choosing a name for a character is one of the most nerve-wracking things I have to do. I worry that I’ll get it all wrong, that they won’t fit their name, that it will sound stupid.

Besides, thinking up all those names all by yourself (especially if you want to use names from cultures other than your own) is nearly impossible.

Here are some of my favorite resources for naming characters:

Nameberry
Nameberry is like my one stop shop for first and middle names. They have handy lists of names which is great if you’re looking for something specific? Say Colonial Names for Boys or Girls? How about Mermaid Baby Names? Or Saint’s Names? You get the idea – if you need categorized name suggestions, this is the site for you.

Behind The Name
I also love this site. I use it more for naming secondary characters or even background characters. It’s easy to go to the randomizer, choose a nationality or ethnicity and have the site generate a name. I just keep clicking until I find a name that…er…clicks.
I also love looking at their lists. A couple favorites are the list of Scottish names and Irish names, simply because a handful of these appear in my own heritage. One neat feature that I enjoy is the ability to look at a name and see a list of its usage in other cultures. I chose the Scottish name Christie (which is masculine and not at all how I have heard it used here in the States) which is the diminutive of Christopher and has a nice list of uses from other places. It was this feature that helped me with my family tree making and led to the Scottish ancestry of my main family.

Using these sites has saved many of my characters from having really dull and overly modern names. Hoping they can help you too!

Chapter One | The Struggle is Real

I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling rewrote the first chapter of her first book 15 times before she felt like it was right.

That simultaneously made me feel better and also cry.

Last week I had to make the call to leave chapter one behind and jump to the next stage of the story, otherwise, I feared I might park there for all eternity. There’s so much riding on that first chapter, though, it’s so hard to set it down until it’s perfect.

And it’s far from perfect. Right now I think it just gives too much away too soon.

A little peek inside my life – All growing up whenever we would watch movies as a family, we’d be 20 minutes in and my mom would have the plot completely figured out. She wouldn’t say anything, but we could all tell by the look on her face. Granted, it never seemed to take any joy from her – never being surprised, but I think of that as I write. Because ultimately, I want the reader to be farther in than chapter one before they start grinning like a fool for having figured out everything that comes after. Including what happens in each sequel.

I also read somewhere that to get a good 100,000-word book you really need to write 200,000 words. Then cut like crazy. Trim it, put the trimming through a woodchipper, and sprinkle a little of the waste in as backstory. The rest will just live in a pile of broken pieces in the darker corners of my brain.

Which made me…

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Anyway, I am marching on, soldiering through and all that. It’s on to see about the rest of the book, eventually circling back around to that all-important first chapter.

But first I need to get off the floor and get the mop…

Character Family Trees

I was working on Chapter One (still) and hitting a wall, so decided to take a bit of a break to do a little world-building exercise. All of my characters have first and last names, of course, but I thought it would be fun to give them middle names. I like that as a “percolating” activity – I have some thing to work on, but it is sufficiently low pressure as to allow me to think about how to break-through or go around the wall I have come up against in my story.

I was googling around for Colonial era names and found this tidbit on naming conventions. It was an interesting (and quick and easy) read, but induced a little bit of panic as well.

I had only gone so far as to name the current generation of characters, the ones that actually have appeared on the page so far. I hadn’t actually thought about where they came from. This lead to jotting out a real quick family tree.

If I stick with the traditions, my characters names have to come from somewhere. Every name needs a bit of a story. What made this easier was that I could fill in the Grandfather’s names just from the names I had already chosen (oldest = paternal grandfather, second = maternal grandfather). It was the younger two that provided the twist I needed.

The twist was the discovery that my four brothers have a mother that’s Scottish (who knew?). I discovered that when I realized that the third son’s middle name was actually his mother’s maiden name. The youngest brother is named after their mother’s favorite brother. The greatest part about their Scottish roots is the natural conflict that will arise over loyalties during the Revolution. <rubs hands together with glee> See Highland Scots and the American Revolution.

Granted, this is a world-building/character exercise, and the bulk of the information that I jotted down last night may never make it into the story in any meaningful way, but it does inform the story. And it serves to give me something to drop into the story in bits and pieces.

On a side note, I have been working on mine and my husband’s genealogy for 15+ years off and on. The naming conventions referred to in the above article are real – I can attest to that. It’s incredibly frustrating trying to keep all of those same named parents, grandparents and kids straight. It was that revelation that caused me to be an absolute stickler about record keeping in my own family tree – and my character’s!

I haven’t decided yet if I need to print out an actual form to fill out, or if the scratched out tree in my notebook will suffice, but I will write everything down, always, lest I exchange one John for another!

World-Building, Again.

When I set out to write my first draft I had a handful of characters in mind. The very linear story that I wrote about them is really the backbone of the book that I hope to complete.

The great thing about this story is that it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. There have to be other people that float in and out of scenes and lives, and sometimes just get mentioned in passing. Those people add flavor and depth to the story.

Think about how dry Harry Potter would have been without the characters that didn’t get much page time – the backbone of the story was about Harry, Ron, and Hermione – but without the other students and teachers the book would have been weird. A boarding school with 3 students, a headmaster, a game warden, and one teacher?

So, the world is filling out. Characters have names and a heritage. I have a spreadsheet to keep them all straight. They span the globe, both in heritage and location.

It’s exciting seeing the world come to life before my eyes.

Beta Edits

I got some feedback from Beta. It was mixed and when I thought about it, spot-on.

Also, [deep sigh] it created a lot of work.

Basically, there was some bloat and some unnecessary drama. The theme was a little on the weak side.

It’s hard to hear criticism about your creative work, even if you asked for it. I had to sit with it for a little while. But the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent that I had a good story, it just needed to lose some weight.

I re-evaluated. I took all the pieces apart and examined which of them were absolutely, positively doing their jobs in the book. Those got put back. The rest got put in a file that I can open and visit sometime.

I ended up writing a new intro (first few chapters), rethreading the first half and rewriting the second half. I cut an entire group of characters because their involvement was fuzzy. I changed the primary setting for the bulk of the book. I answered questions that I had been uncertain how I would answer. There are still some questions at the end of the book (the good kind!) but I know the answers now and how Phoebe will find them. That’s a much better place than I was in before. When I’m writing the story and I don’t even know how to answer the questions, that’s not a good thing. [insert embarrassed face here]

I think the book is more exciting, more clear, and has a NEW and IMPROVED twist at the end! It also sets up book 2 EVEN BETTER.

Made it a goal to write here more often, so look for more angst-filled ramblings as publishing draws near, ‘kay?