Who do write for?
What purpose does your story/novel/poem serve?
If you don't the clear answer to that, take some time today to think it through. Otherwise, you may never know if your work is reaching an audience who wants and needs to see it.
Too often, we write without intention because "my story is for everyone" or "I'm just writing this for myself".
Let's move away from that right now. Your story isn't for everyone. Not everyone will give it 5 stars. Don't believe me? Go have a look at The Handmaid's Tale on Amazon and see how many single star reviews there are. And that's okay, because Atwood wasn't writing for them.
Who is your story for?
What do they look like?
Where do they live?
What do they do for a living?
What other things do they read? Watch on TV?
What do they talk about on social media.
Only when you know the answers to these questions can you begin to write with intention. And writing with intention forces us to narrow our target audience, understand the genre we're writing in, and produce better work.
I think it's safe to say that as many as half the writers who come into my novel writing workshops want to write something "totally unique", or "unlike anything else out there."
See, I get it. You are you, and your voice is your voice. Why copy someone else's? I've been asking you for the past couple of weeks to not copy others, right? We don't need any more skilled copiers. We want the real you.
But, we also want reminders. Echoes of stories we're familiar with. Lines that rhyme.
Which means, one of your responsibilities as a writer is to know your genre like a boss. You must become an expert in your field. If, for example, you write in the YA dystopian genre, you'd better know who all the key writers are in that field, what they write about, how long their stories are, viewpoints, etc.
So when someone unfamiliar with your work picks up your book and starts reading, they should know what kind of story this is. If you tell them it's hard science fiction and your readers think it's more like fantasy (because you want it to be unique), then you've got a real problem.
Uniqueness should not apply to the genre. If I'm looking for a cozy mystery, don't give me Fantasy Island because you want to be different.
Uniqueness applies to your voice, which comprises how you jigsaw a story together, how you spin words into fascinating combinations, how you lead the reader to understand the Big Ideas you're presenting. Don't scare off your reader with an unfamiliar take on genre.
Bob Denver played Gilligan on the old Gilligan's Island series. He wasn't actually Gilligan in real life. He didn't really live in a bamboo hut with the Skipper.
Patrick Stewart isn't really Jean-Luc Picard, although we may wish that were the case. No, Stewart is an actor. He played Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's played hundreds if not thousands of other roles.
You are not your novel. You're the writer.
You are not your painting. You're the artist.
If you think Gilligan is an oppressed idiot who couldn't do anything right, Bob Denver wouldn't take that personally. Why? See the first line.
So how come if some random person doesn't like your novel, you feel compelled to take it personally? You are not your novel.
When we first begin writing or painting or playing music, we tend to imitate those who influence us. And, yes, we are constantly influenced by what we read, what we listen to, who we hang around with.
But there's a difference between being influenced by others and copying them. On the latter, the thinking goes like this: If Game of Thrones is a huge success, and I reverse engineer how it's structured, then I can also write a successful story. It's the pursuit of the guarantee: we minimize risk of failure and rejection by copying what's been successful before.
I know writers who will take a novel and map out every scene change, every switch in viewpoint, every plot twist - minor and major - in an effort to reproduce someone else's success.
Can this work? Sure, I suppose. A Quest is a Quest, right?
Will it guarantee success? Not at all.
Of course, you can write a novel or two this way, and maybe that's okay if you're learning the craft. But at some point, you need to stop copying and start creating a story with your voice, your characters, your themes and plot twists. And that means giving up any kind of wish for a guarantee.
I've tried to "like" Christian fiction.
I'm not talking about Narnia where the message is couched in allegory. No. I'm talking about the pablum that gets served up by contemporary Christian writers who see the world (or, perhaps more truthfully, their publishers see the world) as a sugar-coated, no one swears, namby pamby, smiley-faced place.
There's obviously a market for that kind of story. To those who like their Christian fiction sweet, have at it and enjoy. To those who write that kind of story because certain publishers will only pick you if you follow the rules, enjoy.
I'm not your audience.
I want the grit. I want the protagonist to struggle with these ideas of Good and Evil, to make them real. A lot of people curse. A lot of people are violent and nasty. I want to see them struggle. Give me the grit so the characters are forced into decisions they may not be ready to make yet. That's okay. Show me how people struggle in their own lives.
That's the kind of Christian fiction I want to read. If that's the kind of story you write, tell me about it and share a link to your book.
Hi, I'm David. I'm a science fiction writer, lover of Star Trek, fascinated by a potential future of hope. I write from a Christian worldview. Want to know the darker details? Click here.
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