Tuesday, January 21, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite "Important" Things.

As I begin to write again after a couple of years away playing mommy, I am making a list of important things to keep in mind.  The more I analyze my writing against my life’s inspirations, I am discovering that many of these important things pertain not only to writing, but also to life. So I call this,

These are a few of my favorite “important” things.   

As you’ll notice. “important" is in quotes because I’m not sure how relevant they are in the grand scheme of the writing world. See, what you may or may not know about me is I have no formal training.  

none.  zip.  zero.  nada. 

I didn’t even take a literature classes in college. I tested out of English at an early age and never looked back.  In retrospect, this may not have been the best choice, but then again, if you don't think your hobby will ever be more than a hobby, why seek out the structured instructors who need only to follow a lesson plan and make sure their students pass, leaving little room for creativity and rule deviation. The faults of our educational system however are not for this blog, and I'm becoming a bit dramatic, so I digress. That being said, Here is my official disclaimer:

             Take what you read here with a grain of salt.  If you think it sounds good, and makes sense, 
             that makes me happy.  If you think it sounds like crap and the ramblings of a mad women, 
             then please put it out of your mind – perhaps next week will be better (but I’m not making any     

Here, in no particular order (but in case you are counting, there are five) is the long awaited list!

  • Know your audience
  • It’s all about presentation
  • Balance
  • GOAL(s)!
  • Presenting the best version of yourself

And because I clearly have a lot to say, we’ll do this across five separate articles. 

# the first:   Know Your Audience

This is a good life lesson, not just an authoring lesson. Even if you are a loud mouth, tattoo covered*, somebitch who swears like a sailor, (which is just fine if that makes you happy) you should probably tone down the profanity and insulting nature when you are at dinner with your mother, your childhood priest, and your four year old niece.  

You should say things like: 
              “Please pass the carrots Father." 
                                 "Yes, I do think that white color brings out your eyes." 
                                                  "Oh thank you for noticing, this tattoo is modeled after a Renoir I saw while visiting the Louvre during my junior year abroad. 

The same concept goes for children’s stories: 
you need to know who you are talking to.
The nice thing is that as an author, you can decide who you want to talk to, then market and sell your stuff to them.  
Let’s enter stereotype-land for a moment, shall we? If I don’t want 50 year old biker dudes reading my books, then I might write about starting kindergarten, getting a new baby sister, and the emotional conflict that exists between fluffy white bunnies and their very dear friends, the silvery pond guppies.  (for geographical reasons, of course)

But, when you are in desperate need of a birthday gift for your four year old niece, she will tell you about this great book that she saw at the library called:

Starting Kindergarten so I can get away from my baby sister. 
An emotional tale about bunnies and guppies.

There are a handful of things to consider when picking your audience; let’s stick with small children’s literature for now.                
                Reading or listening? – if your audience is made up of children who cannot yet read, they will be listening to the stories. (If they can’t read, they won’t be reading, deep stuff, I know). This is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because you don’t have to write in simple, easily understood words that early readers seem to appreciate.  A curse because you now need to make the book interesting to the parents as well as the kids. They are two slightly different audiences.
Story complexity – Will the plot hold the attention of your little non-reader? A story with the following plot line is probably not going to make it, no matter what age your audience is. 

The cat found a mouse and became it’s friend. The mouse introduce the cat to his family and everyone was happy.  The end. 
There’s no conflict, there’s no suspense, there’s simply no reason to read it again. Zero emotion was evoked between the front and back cover of the book. Maybe a kid will want to read it again if the cat looks supper cuddly-wuddly and the mouse is wearing a funny hat. But I'd call it two or three times tops.  And I promise you, Mom is not going to recommend that one to anyone at playgroup.    
Character development – will your characters grow and change in a way that not only keeps the attention of mom or dad (the story reader) but also a way that your little listener can relate to? Do they get into a little bit of trouble, or discover something about themselves that kids can relate to: A new talent, a new skill, a new emotion, a new body part?
The Cover – Kids are most often exposed to new books at the library or at school.  If the cover doesn’t look interesting, they are not going to even want to pull it off the shelf. Also, older kids are going to select completely different books than younger kids.
Relevant pictures – anyone who has read a story to a curious 2, 3, 4, 5… year old knows that if the kid can’t understand the pictures that are supposed to enhance the story, you’ll spend more time answering questions like, “who’s that? “what are they wearing?” “why is she over there?” “what happened to this guy?” “why does that bunny look sad?” and on and on and on and on... 
In the grand scheme of things, these questions are arguably fine if by the end they promote a better understanding of the world around them. (Impressionable Intrigue, remember?) But they are not okay if they turn a 10 minute book into a 60 minute book. That now lost hour is usually right before bed. In my house, books that take an hour to get through, do not get read again.   

We’ve donated several books to “friends” of ours because they take too long to get through. A terrible gift, I am aware. 

In fact, we’ve donated several books that don’t meet one or more of these criteria. ...Unfortunately, we’ve donated a lot of books.  

To recap:

Pick your target market and define it well. 
Stick to your definitions or you will be stuck with a less than desirable book that won’t sell.  A book that people would really love if only… if only it were better.

Next time we’ll dig into “Presentation”.  Thanks for reading!

*I have no ill feelings against people with tattoos, I have one myself that I’m quite fond of.

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