Plan your audience

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This is the fourth of four posts (there will be a bonus next Tuesday) that I am sharing in the lead up to National Novel Writing Month (aka “NaNoWriMo”). Each Tuesday, I will have another few thoughts to share on how to get the most useful story out of your mad dash toward the pinnacle of 50,000 words. These posts will share tips and offer recommendations from my many years as a developmental editor and writing instructor to shape your ideas into something that doesn’t take the six months to a year next year to shape into something publishable. it is my hope that this “planning” is also useful to pantsers – giving your subconscious food for thought before you dive in.

I have already talked about three major components of storytelling: plot , setting, and characters. You’re probably still working on your characters, even if just the main ones because any character you want to have point of view should have goals, motivation, and conflicts. That’s all well and good, because the more you know about these characters the more likely they are to “talk” to you, share what’s happening with them, both externally and internally, and make the writing of their story easier. Just like a journalist getting to know your source, you’ve been researching who they are so they feel you’re interested enough in them to open up to you. That’s great.

The final element necessarily for storytelling however is determining your audience.

See, a storyteller shares stories. While that may seem self-evident, it isn’t easy. We can say we “write for ourselves” but if you’re joining Nano, you’re at least trying to write to share your progress with other authors. To share that progress, and get positive feedback, you unconsciously will write to them. This means that you are giving some thought to the concept of audience. Who will read your story? What will they think of your characters? What will they like about them? What will these readers think of the situations? Will they find them familiar, relatable, funny? …and so on.

Whether you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, contemporary or historical fiction, storytelling is about life. You don’t walk up to just anyone, anywhere, and start storytelling. You sift through a lot of clues to figure out if they’ll be the one most open to hearing your story. Consider this: What sort of a person might best enjoy hearing your story?

Audience as consumers of tropes

The audience for your story will provide a mental stimulus for both what to consider when you have multiple choices because they are fans of the genre, the trope, the character type, or the situational angst you’re presenting.

The physicality of your audience is less important than these things. Readers of all ages can be fans of almost every genre. Readers of all sexes are fans of almost every sex of heroic lead. So what will capture the attention of this wide array of readers?

The simplest answer is when writers present them with the kind of story they expect. The common elements of genres are often defined by a central plot question:

  • mystery: what or who has gone missing and who did the deed?
  • adventure: what is wrong and how do the main character(s) think they can fix it?
  • romance: what is it about each main character that makes the other main character lust after or love them?

Once you know the specific central question for the genre you’re writing, you have character and plot tropes that are common to the genre, since thousands of writers have at one time or another tried to answer the question by giving different takes. But there IS a pattern.

So fans of genres have tropes they expect and love. You are also a reader of the genre you will be writing (or you should be). You will be your story’s first reader. So start with a list of the things you like to read in that genre. Do you like the deep and brooding hero, the quip-cracking sarcastic heroine? Do you like when there’s a pet involved, or a particular profession?

But also what do you despise in the genre? You’re going to be writing the story every day for 30 days, so make sure you’re going to avoid or change the worst things you dislike about the genre.

Here are some places to learn about the tropes found in particular genres:

Go back through your character, setting, and plot notes and put in the things you love, invert or twist the things you despise. This will further refine your vision for your story because you will know which options to shy away from, and which to run wholeheartedly toward.

Example: When reading a paranormal story, you love the animalistic energy, giving in to primal urges, alpha-protective behaviors. So you’ll have at least one scene that shows each of these favorite moments, probably more. But let’s say you also dislike “fated mates” and have always wondered what would happen with someone who is attracted to the same-sex in human form when they have the mating urge in animal form. Build scenes into the plot that give those quandaries to your shifter main character and follow the problems through by using cause and effect. When you’re writing, you’ll let the argument happen, the conflict happen, and see it through to resolution. Pantsers, this is the surprise you live for.

Leave me your thoughts about considering your audience by defining the tropes to use in your NaNoWriMo story. Is there something about the topic that you think I missed? Let me know in the comments. Next week’s bonus post, on the eve of November 1, will be strategies for keeping up the writing pace.

~ Lara

A DOCX (Microsoft Word) version of this file will be included in the full packet available on the last of these four posts. Subscribe to my blog to be alerted when new posts are published. ~ LZ

Published by Lara Zielinsky

I have been writing and publishing for 20 years. I have been an editor of fiction for 15+ years. I am married, live in Florida and work from home full time as an editor.

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