Circles of Writing

So today I’m going to talk to you about the circles of writing, which is not the same, mind you, as writing in circles.  And you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little strange, but I’ve been fighting the crud older son brought home and am probably a little feverish.

This is btw, not about other writers in your circle.  You should have those.  You should have as many as possible (got to catch them all!) because you know, you never know when you’ll need help with a promotion.  One of the big advantages of indie is that you’re not competing with other authors (really, just because they bought a book from Bob, doesn’t mean they won’t buy one from Mary.  The whole publishing slot thing is a thing of the past) but can help each other instead, which means we can have as friends the only people in the world who understand this crazy business (gypsies, tramps and fabulists) and never let envy mar the friendship. (One of the saddest things in the world is to see indie writers send their fans to other writers’ listings to say “don’t read this.  Bob Bobson’s book is much better.  These are people with their heads stuck in the past.  Your reader might be choosing you over a craft beer, but he’s not choosing you INSTEAD of another writer.  Most book addicts are more likely to get worse from feeding the addiction.  They’ll read Bob’s book, then come around and read yours if it feels close to the same.  If Bob’s really is better, he might be ahead of you on the buy list, but that’s just a matter of buy timing, and anyway, are you guys putting books out at the same time for a reason, or are you both really the same person?  Never mind.  Relax.  Sell that book and don’t worry about Bob.)

What this is about really, is choosing what you should write.  You could call it “writing to the market” but it’s not really.  It’s more “writing in a way that you reach the largest possible market.”

It will shock you of course, but we writers are powerfully weird people.  Most of us have weird things and obsessions that might be part of what compels us to write.

The thing is to sift through your obsessions and the things that you’re likely to waste hours reading online and off, and find the light touch, the thing where your interests intersect with the general public’s.

And trust me, taken to an extreme, even the most innocuous obsession can be off-putting to the general public.

Recently there was much kerfuffle on the right about a movie called Show Dogs, because people (who are supposed to be writers) got extremely upset and decided it was a movie working  “grooming children” (For sexual abuse.)

Were they right?  Oh, hell no.  If that had been the intention of the film it would have been much, much weirder.  Think Hollywood.

So what was the horror and terrible reviews?

Well it’s about a normal dog who has to win a show so he can rescue a baby panda.  Apparently part of dog shows is that they feel the dog’s genitals.  (I know they do this with some cat shows, since breeding value is part of it.)  And the dog objects, and has to overcome his phobia before he can win the show.

You can see how, in a movie aimed at children, the idea that you have to overcome a phobia of being touched by strangers is a problem.

OTOH I can see how the movie could do that in a completely innocent way.  How?

Well, because you see the writers are probably really immersed in dog shows.  So they know this “feel up the dog” thing is normal there.  And they can’t understand why on Earth anyone would think it had any other meaning than “this is what they do in dog shows.”  Also, it was something obvious for the dog to object to.  Duh.

And this is the problem of perfectly normal things that you’re so immersed in you don’t see how normal human beings will react to them.

The way to counter is to keep in mind that writing is a form of communication and that you’re communicating with your reader, and therefore have to take in account where your reader is, and where you have to meet him.

I had to become a little more aware of this than most writers, because my earlier stories set in Portugal got me called things like xenophobe and a “narrow minded pain.”  Not knowing, you see, that AMERICAN readers would read more into stuff like the pastry being kept on counter/non refrigerated than I would, I described Portugal accurately.  Having eaten a lot of pastries from little glass domes on counters (not anymore, no, but back then) and not died, I didn’t find this “disgusting” or “subpar” and was just writing what was different from the US.  I had no clue how US people who’d never been abroad would react to it.

Those reactions forced me to learn what people expected and the pictures in their heads and meet them half way.

Which is only sensible.  I mean, you’d not write a novel for the English market in Russian.  This is the same thing, call it “facilitating intercultural communication.”

I call it “being aware of your audience.”  Or playing both sides of a chess match at once.  (That’s the mental feel.)

It starts with choosing your subject, and realizing there are subjects that have a greater audience than others.

It’s a Venn diagram, really.

Take my obsession with Tudor England, for instance.


The diagram on the left (AH!)is things that fascinate Sarah. The one on the right is the broadest possible net you can throw over the subject.

Note that I’m not assuming this is all that “normal people” are interested in.  I’m assuming this is the subjects relating to Tudor England that THE ABSOLUTE MOST PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN. Which means, people who aren’t interested in Tudor England (or history) at all, but are still interested in royal weddings, etc.  Most of the have at least heard of Shakespeare, so that goes in the middle.

My area of greatest gain, to write about my obsession but also get the largest possible audience is royal romances, particularly those involving that horror, Henry VIII, or things related to Shakespeare and shakespeare’s plays.

And the more you put into it of those things that the wider public shares, the more you’ll make money.

It was a shock to me, for instance, to discover that most historicals are at a disadvantage in relation to most contemporaries when it comes to sales.  I discovered this in my long slog through fanfiction and fan fiction writing.  More people (by a factor of ten) will read a contemporary story than one set in the past.  This is true even for Jane Austen fanfic, which would seem to be counterintuitive.

But it helps.  It helps to know what people care about outside your head and that voice behind the eyes.  Not just in initially choosing the subject, but in every decision along the way.

I figured out this week, while writing a space-positive story that I’d taken the societal evolution to its last instance and so the society should have cannibalism.  And then I realized this wouldn’t work for readers who aren’t in it (in general) for how amazingly intricate the world building is, but for characters they can cheer on and like.  Which is kind of hard when the character is snacking on a baby.

Sure, your political obsessions can lose you fans, but so can all other obsessions, including an obsession with taking stories to their logical conclusions.

Always keep in mind the audience you’re writing for, and attempt to attract that mythical “normal reader”.  He might not exist, but he has lots of brothers and sisters, and they buy a lot of books.

Think of what would attract the most people, or put most people off, then keep that in mind while writing.

Most of the time there is a way to still write what you want (except maybe eating babies) but you need to slant it differently, so you attract the largest audience possible.


36 thoughts on “Circles of Writing

  1. Which is kind of hard when the character is snacking on a baby.

    Now why won’t readers like that character? 👿

    Oh, I’m reminded of a short story where two diplomats have visited a newly discovered “lost colony” where there are no large land animals (even ones from Earth).

    The senior one remarks to the junior one that we’ll have to turn down the planet’s request to join their federation.

    The junior one asks why not.

    The senior one replies they served us steak for dinner. 😈

  2. Shucks. (snacking on an infant femur) This discourages me from publishing my WIP. It’s very logical. Makes Spock look like a flighty crybaby.

  3. You can see the movie version of the danger of breaking expectations by looking at the Disney Star Wars kerfuffle. The Last Jedi turned off enough fans that Solo became a failure, especially since the expectation of what they would get in Solo was not anything they would want.

    I know there is more to it. But I wish I could send this post to the right people so they would improve the coming movies.

    1. It’s like a blogger when _Rogue One_ came out who said that she was terribly disappointed because she went to see a Star Wars movie. She hadn’t been mentally ready for a war movie. Where was the happy ending, the good guys surviving by the skin of their teeth, the guy getting the girl or vice versa?

      1. Describes my reaction exactly. That and I loved the snark of K2-SO, and want to see more.

    2. The Star Wars side of Disney needs to take a page from the Marvel side: people don’t go to see the Marvel movies just because Marvel and “oooh special effects”. They go because they are (mostly) ripping good entertaining stories.

      Star Wars is a sandbox with SUCH potential. Frankly, they oughta go talk to some of the Star Wars fanfic writers out there…

      (I loved Rogue One, but I hated the ending. Even though it was heroic/made sense. My personal headcanon is that K2-SO lives on, because unlike the others HE could get a backup copy made.)

      1. My daughter-in-law and I agree with you about K2. We should write some stories about it.

        1. I do NOT need any more fanfic plot bunnies, darnit! 😀

          (But I do admit to totally hunting down Rogue One fixit fics where most/all of the cast survived. Because they are SO MUCH cooler than most of the bunch in the ‘sequel trilogy’…)

    3. Somewhat off topic, but I loved Sonny Bunch’s review of Solo:

      “It was…fine.”

  4. But but Sarah, if we don’t check off all the boxes then the Snowflake Brigade will have their delicate lilac-scented feelings hurt. Then they will never give us an Award! Tragedy!

      1. I must admit, I am having a bit of fun watching them thrash like a pike on the hook lately. A Republican got elected in America, and every Leftist in the world is having a snit. The SFF Special Snowflakes worse than anybody.

        They got every single thing they said they wanted, we all walked away whistling because who wants to stay someplace where they all hate you, and the stupid sonsabitchez keep running after us.

        Besides, I know Sarah read that and laughed. ~:D

        1. They got every single thing they said they wanted, we all walked away whistling because who wants to stay someplace where they all hate you, and the stupid sonsabitchez keep running after us.

          And they will continue to do so, for two reasons:
          1) Their faith, like Islam, commands them to convert, subjugate, or slay all unbelievers;
          2) It gives their lives meaning to “fight evil.”

          Think Yar’s Revenge.

  5. Man, and I’m one of those people who will take a story set in the past over a contemporary one almost any day… (Provided, of course, that the author’s historical errors aren’t too egregious and/or it’s a period I don’t know much about and so am not aware of egregious errors. Usually it’s the former, though.)

    I love that there’s an actual market for what is, technically, Jane Austen fanfic. I’ve picked up several on Amazon, and so far most of them are at least fairly good, and there’s only been a couple I gave up on–and that was because the author kept using what amounted to modern syntax and slang.

    But yeah…I have to be careful about what I start geeking out over in public places. I got some very odd looks a couple of weeks ago when I enthusiastically mentioned I was reading a really good book about the Black Death…

      1. I suppose a lot of folks find it easier to ‘imagine themselves there’ in a contemporary setting. ::shrugs::

        I will definitely buy your Jane Austen fanfic!!!!!!! 😀

  6. Far as I can tell from both the autistic screeching from the pizzagate crowd and the rational observations from everyone else (since I have no interest in actually seeing the thing), the grab-the-balls part of Show Dogs is basically the scriptwriters thinking this was a cute way to get away with juvenile innuendo. Take something dog show judges do for real (check males for two normal and properly-descended testicles — normal dogs don’t even notice) and turn it into what ten-year-old boys do in the locker-room to torment the body-shy geek.

    1. Well, and I seem to recall reading that even a lot of the bigwigs in dog show circles came out and said “Yeah, no, we don’t actually do that in most shows…” (I know virtually nothing about dog showing, though, so I have no idea if that’s true, or if they were just distancing themselves from the movie.)

  7. Am I the only one who saw this post title and figured we were going to get something vaguely akin to the circles of hell? : – )

    1. Not with those people. Their heads are in the way. Makes them retentive.

  8. Good advice. A while back, I was looking for something I’ve written to post here and realized a lot of it is X (not necessarily XXX) rated. That’s niche and if I ever finish any of it, I should probably publish under a pen name.

    I’m not sure if I want to clean it up or leave it. I don’t plan on writing ever being my full time job, so niche is OK, but I certainly wouldn’t mind selling a lot of something.

  9. “It was a shock to me, for instance, to discover that most historicals are at a disadvantage in relation to most contemporaries when it comes to sales. I discovered this in my long slog through fanfiction and fan fiction writing. More people (by a factor of ten) will read a contemporary story than one set in the past.”

    I wonder if this is also why all human alternate universes fanfics are popular in books, movies, and shows with supernatural elements.

    1. Humans of different cultures are hard enough to write well. I can think of TWO writers who pulled of a truly non-human viewpoint character. Plenty more who wrote good non-viewpoint non-humans, but actual inside their head POV non-humans? Just two. Of course my standard for “That’s a non-human thought process” may be different than others . . .

      1. I only know of C.J. Cherryh, whose Chanur series is one of my favorite books with non-human viewpoints. Who’s the other author you’re thinking of?

  10. One thing I loved in the Starslip Chronicles webcomic (now gone) was them watching a historical drama cop show on TV, and the entire 20th century was a weird mishmosh.

    1. Schlock Mercenary has definite misunderstandings of the past (our present.) Usually fine-tuned for comedic effect, of course.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: