Recently, I read a fantastic post by fellow NBWCG writer Annie Neugebauer about her take on “brutal honesty.” We had some disagreements on semantics, but overall, had a similar take on the issue. Critique should be delivered with poise and not include verbal beat downs.
It got me thinking about my sit down with Lou Anders at the recent DFW Writer’s Convention. His critique was straight up, no nonsense and exactly what I would have wanted for my time and dime. He caught the main question I had been dodging for months right off the bat – who was my audience?
Conventional wisdom says if you write a book about a 17 year old, 15 year olds will read it and older readers won’t “read down”. (Huge hits like Harry Potter or classics like Ender’s Game notwithstanding.) Long story short, I was writing a book for 15 year old boys. “They don’t read,” Lou told me. “They play Xbox.”
Sad, but true. (Ahem, my thirteen year old son reads the Economist at the breakfast table and absorbs Manga and thick non-fiction books on WW2 history with ease though…when he’s not on his laptop.)
So, on a second draft, I aged my protagonist. His problems became more about becoming his own man than simply saving his family. It added depth to the story and, perhaps, brought it to a larger, adult audience. Coming of age stories aren’t simply for young people in the middle of that process. They’re meant to speak to that universal experience.
Of course, I’ve got homicidal robots. Not much of an “universal” problem.
The other options were to make my protagonist younger. Or make him a her. Things I didn’t want to do. Already, the book was complex and not something I ever envisioned as a YA specific novel. Stupid on my part, perhaps, because that’s all anyone wants to publish nowadays. But it’s not what I write.
Having a clear idea of who your audience is when you start is useful. Even if you are a pantser like myself. It gives a solid idea regarding scenes, plot direction and the level of overall complexity. Doing a rewrite with an older audience specifically in mind was a very useful exercise.
Ultimately though, I wrote it for “you” – which is anyone that will buy my book. It’s part sci-fi, part superhero, part thriller and all smart-ass. It has twists, literary references and a side of darkness. It -might- even get kids away from an Xbox. Maybe. Hopefully.
Man, what a heartbreaking thing to hear. I’m immediately thinking of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series. They’re zombie YA novels targeted at the 15 year old boy, but they’re so good that everyone reads them. (I’ve read all 3 — highly recommend.) In fact, they’re so good that they’ve been causing that demographic to *start* reading. Schools are promoting them like crazy because 1) they’re the first books in a long time to get those kids to pick up a book and 2) they’re actually very deep and thought-provoking with high literary value. But I realize that’s the exception, not the rule. =/
Anyway, thanks for the shout out! And it sounds like Lou was a great choice. I’m glad you got some value from him.