I’ve written quite a few Project Proposals in my time as a software engineer. The goal is clear: to communicate to a technically minded audience the problem space, the proposed solution, the tasks to achieve that solution, an analysis of risks involved, and timelines and anything extra can go in as an appendix and… yawn, I’m putting myself to sleep here! The point I’m trying to make is that a technical piece is well defined. It’s fixed. It’s mundane. It doesn’t need to deviate.
Why? Because the subject matter and the audience demand it. Frivolity isn’t appreciated, nor ambiguity, nor irrelevant stories.
To liven things up, I might slip in a few smirk-worthy words to elicit a laugh and keep the reader interested (read: awake), but in terms of freedom of writing, it’s a cell. And that’s OK, because I don’t write technical documents to entertain the troops.
I do write fiction books to entertain my audience.
Who is my audience?
Good question, and it’s one that you, as an independent author (yeah, I’m talking to you!) should ask yourself before, during and after writing. After? Isn’t that taking the cliche too far? No, not at all. While you’re proofing your book, or while someone else is doing it, you’ll want to be sitting in the audience’s seat, having a mid row view of the whole thing with fresh eyes.
That’s not to say that the audience drives the narrative. If you only ever wrote what people wanted to read, then you might as well get on the payroll for Mills and Boon. I’m not having a stab at romantic escapist fiction, I’m saying that the story inside you shouldn’t be stretched and squished just so it fits a mould that appeals to the widest audience.
Sometimes a story isn’t a nice one. Sometimes it’s more challenging than the audience finds comfortable, it doesn’t have a happy ending, it involves topics that aren’t palatable. Must the story be sugar coated so that it goes down easier? No.
Sometimes a story doesn’t have an amazing revelation. There are no twists and turns. The butler did it, we know he did it. Must the story be altered to introduce some level of complexity? No.
So where does the Audience come into it? Going back to my technical writing, the audience expects a certain level of consistency, proper editing, grammar, spell checking and such. This is given.
But the audience also wants to be taken for an interesting trip. It might be scary, it might be funny, it might be utterly enthralling, it might be mildly amusing.
In any case, a person reads fiction to be somewhere else, to do something else, to be led through a different world and look at the odd trees and strange looking fish.
Who isn’t my audience?
Anyone can pick up your book. It’s a scary thought: there is a book-hungry world out there, full of people who don’t know you – and some who do.
Does that mean you have to write for everyone? No. Do you have to care whether or not your grandma is going to pick it up and read your raunchy love-scene in Chapter 5? No. Well, unless she’s the kind that sports a double-barrel rolling pin.
Otherwise you’ll stifle the artistic side of it. If it’s supposed to be hard hitting, and you water it down, you’re only going to annoy your real audience, the ones who actually want to read your book.
If you’ve come up to the part where the protagonist finally lets down his defenses and makes passionate love to the girl who has seen his true nature, and you shy away because the thought of your fifth grade teacher reading your colourful language or naming parts of the body, then you lose out, and so does your audience.
Let’s say a protagonist discovers the deadly plot against her was master-minded by her own best friend. The betrayal is uncovered, it’s a fight to the death. If the book is for a younger audience with less tolerance for the grisly details of knife versus flesh, then exploring more about the betrayal and less about the violence is perfectly acceptable.
Using the same example, an older audience doesn’t expect to be halfway through a fight scene, only to have it ripped away with an analysis of the character’s emotional state. It would be better, in this case, to keep the momentum of the fight scene running up to the point of the actual stab. After this, during the shock of the blade entering the heart, the author is free to look at how each character feels, how things got so bad, the remorse held by both parties, etc.
So how does one stop Granny from pickup up your erotica, or little Timmy from flipping through your space opera?