Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Finding demographics is not finding Nemo

My New Year’s resolution this year is to identify who I am writing for, and tailor my marketing strategy to that segment of the population.

I should have picked something simple, like losing weight, or bringing about world peace.

I would be lying if I said I write for one particular type of person–although Huw the Bard falls into the not-for-children category. I like to think my books can be enjoyed by both men and women.

Who are youIt’s just that I write whatever I’m in the mood to read, and I read everything, Fantasy first, sci-fi second, then mystery, historical, paranormal, books of political intrigue, books filled with naughty vampires. Romance, YA, hard sci-fi, epic fantasy–I read it all. This makes it difficult to categorize myself .

Looking in the mirror doesn’t help.

At IHop, I am a 55+, getting discounts and a special old people’s menu. I am a senior, according to AARP, and am entitled certain discounts when I produce that all-important AARP card.

These things tell me I am an older person, as does the mirror.

However, these visible signs don’t show the woman with mad kick-ball-skills, who plays Lego Star Wars until the grandchild says she’s had enough games for one day, and he’d like to play outside now. They don’t shed any light on me. the person who will read and reread a book until it is nothing but shreds–if I fell in love with it. The gray hair, the slightly less-than-svelte physique–these clues don’t offer a hint about my obsession with Final Fantasy XII.

And that is the problem.

I write for me, and I don’t know who I am.

The Creative Penn offers 5 tips to assist me in this process:

1. First we must isolate what types and/or groups of people the content of the book would interest.

Well-that is just the problem, isn’t it…but they do give an idea on how to approach that:

 "Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Example: If your book is about an archaeologist who uses Stone Henge to travel into the future, your book would probably interest history buffs as well as fans of speculative fiction/sci-fi.  If that hero happens to be a former Marine, your book might also interest military personnel and/or the families.” (It’s a direct quote, so I am ignoring the terrible itch to edit out the misspelling of Stonehenge.)

Okay–I think I can do this. My book details the adventures of a bard who is forced to  flee his comfortable existence and who finds himself running from one disaster to another with death-defying regularity.

2. Second, we must: identify other books that are comparable to your book and look at the profiles of those books’ main buyers/readers.

They also explain that concept a little further “The target audience isn’t always who the book was written for, but rather, who it ends up appealing to.  Twilight draws in tween and teenage girls with its premise involving a normal, everyday girl falling into a romance with an young, attractive male (the bread and butter of many young girls’ dreams), but it’s appeal stretched to the cross-section of middle-age female readers who love romance and enjoyed Anne Rice in her heyday.”  

Alrighty then–I was heavily drawn, as a reader, to David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.D. James, Carl Sagan, Agatha Christie, Piers Anthony, and Fritz Lieber–so I suppose my books reflects a certain amount of their (rather jumbled) influence.

Oh, and don’t forget Roger Zelazney. And Mercedes Lackey.

Well that has narrowed it down quite a bit! (Sarcasm–I know, it’s a nasty habit.) I could have included Tolstoy, James Joyce, Horace Walpole, and Louisa May Alcott, but I didn’t have time.

330px-Pin-artsy3. You are next encouraged to pinpoint what is special about your book.

Again, the Creative Penn offers us some insights on how to go about this: “If you tell someone you’re writing a book about a witch who uses her power of communing with animals to rescue a lost dog from an evil dog-napper, then A. Wow, you have an interesting imagination!  B. You may or may not have taken in 101 Dalmatians too much as a child and C. With such a premise, chances are, your story is more light-hearted than scary, so your target readers to which the mystery aspect of your story will entice are more cozy-type mystery consumers.” So what are the few key words, the hook I can use to sell Huw the Bard? How do I boil the plot down to a few key words? This could take a while, but I’m sure I can do it.

Honest.

4. Now we need to determine some demographics.

That’s the problem–I am the demographic, and I don’t know who I am. Mature Audiences, definitely. There is some graphic sex, although it doesn’t devolve into a porn-fest, There is violence, a witnessed rape, and murder. These are all there because they are watershed moments in Huw’s life, things that change his view of the world. There are also a haunted village and a bisexual knight who talks to his horse, so there is humor midst the misery.

chekhov's gun5. Finally, the Creative Penn suggests we feed the previous four tips into each other to gain even more insight and narrow down who our target audience/s is/are.

Just give me Chekhov’s gunnow. I need to shoot something.

Several times.

Seriously–the article I’ve drawn these suggestions from is a good article, and it goes on to discuss how to use your target audience, which I did find somewhat illuminating.

At this point, if I can get even ONE concrete idea that works, I am feeling good about it. After all, it’s January! I’ve got a whole year to get this down, before I have to admit that this New Year’s resolution has gone the way of my weight-loss dreams and visions of world peace.

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What I’ve learned from Agatha Chistie

The_Body_in_the_Library_US_First_Edition_Cover_1942I don’t know about you, but I loved Agatha Christie’s novels as much for the great characters as for the mysteries. She had a way of putting the reader right into the society of the time. Take, for instance, Miss Marple.

She’s elderly and has no visible means of support, yet she is not poor. We think she must be living on inherited wealth, but while she is not poor, she also is not conspicuously rich. She is an elderly spinster who was once engaged, is obviously from a good family, and is godmother to a number of young men and women who sometimes get into trouble and need her sharp eyes to sort out mysteries.

She has a nephew, Raymond West, who must be a sister’s child as the name is different, yet no mention is ever made of Jane’s family beyond him. Did she raise him? She is quite close to him.

The_Moving_Finger_First_Edition_Cover_1942She is well-traveled, and can afford to go to Egypt, and to the Caribbean. Miss Marple has close friends in high society. She knows people with hyphenated names and large estates. She doesn’t let wealth or social standing blind her to the true frailties of human nature–she knows that greed and sex are the root cause of nearly every crime.

She owns her own cottage in St. Mary Mead, and it’s not small or mean in any way–she has the ability to hire a young lady to come in and help with the heavy cleaning, although it is difficult to find one who respects the china.

A_Caribbean_Mystery_First_Edition_Cover_1964Miss Marple takes great interest in the life of her village, and it is through her knowledge of that life that she is able to solve complicated, well planned murders. Her ability to work out the motives for each suspect is directly related to how their actions remind her of certain people she has known over the years in her village. Be careful what you say around her, because she will know what you did by connecting the dots between what you said and what happened.

All this information about Miss Jane Marple comes out in her conversations with other characters, delivered over the course of an entire book, and yet one feels as if one knows her right away.

The_Murder_at_the_Vicarage_First_Edition_Cover_1930In the first full book in which she appears, The Murder at the Vicarage, she isn’t really as likable as she is in later books–she seems a bit of a gossip, and rather mean-spirited at that, always expecting the worst of people.

But over the course of 12 books she evolves, and so does our knowledge of her–or does it?

She is genteel, slightly nosy, very comforting and she is on to you–so don’t even think about doing it.

What I have learned from Agatha Christie is that memorable characters grow on you over the course of the book–they are not delivered fully formed on the first page. They are intriguing and we don’t always know what they will do next. There is a hint of mystery about them, and at the end of the book we want to know more.

A_Murder_is_Announced_First_Edition_Cover_1950This sense of intrigue is what we want to instill in all our characters, whether we write sci-fi, romance, fantasy, pot-boilers, or cozy mysteries. If you think about your own experience in life, once it is apparent that you know everything there is to know about a person, they cease to intrigue you. It is the complexities of your friends that keep them interesting, the little things you never knew that amaze you when they are revealed.

Developing a character, deploying just enough information at the right moments to pique the reader’s curiosity is a balancing act, and I’ve come to believe that not everyone can do it with finesse.

Revealing the character over the course of time, and allowing them grow is crucial to keeping the reader’s interest. I think this can only happen if the author has a true understanding of who their character is. This person must be fully formed in the author’s mind so that when they emerge on to the paper they have a sense of realism, as if they are someone the reader would want to know.

nemesis agatha christieMiss Jane Marple was modeled on Agatha Christie’s step grandmother, and on her Aunt (Margaret West), and her friends. Observing these sharp old ladies taught Agatha how a little life-experience can cut through the smoke and mirrors to the truth of people’s’ motivations rather quickly, and that they were often correct in their sometimes mean-spirited assumptions.

I find that doing a small biography of my characters for my own records helps me to understand my people, and while I generally write in the genre of fantasy, people are who they are regardless of the setting you place them in. Characters will react and behave a certain way depending on their history and values. Some are brave, some are lucky, some are stupid beyond belief, but the ones who keep you reading are the ones who still have more to reveal about themselves when the last page has been turned.

 

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Many’s the Fool

Heart of Neveyah relief 3-4-2013 001I’ve been working full speed on fleshing out the fourth book set in the World of Neveyah. It is the third and final book in the Tower of Bones series.

One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve progressed as a writer is to cut the backstory into manageable chunks. I, as the author, am totally into the backstory, but you as a reader may not be. In my previous work, my readers have to slog through a long lead-in before the real action begins. With each successive book, that lead-in has become shorter.

In order to avoid this tendency, I have been working to an outline. Because I have the final half of the book nearly complete, all I am working on is the first half of the book. I have given myself a strict number of pages to accomplish all of this in, which means it is forced to be all action, with the backstory slipped in incidentally.

Mal Evol relief 3-4-2013 001The first half of VOS happens concurrently with Forbidden Road, and some of the incidents from that tale are viewed through the eyes of those left at home.  This book must detail what happened at home and wrap up Forbidden Road. I want it to be a stand-alone book, and it can’t  give away the core of Forbidden Road. Thus, it can only reference what the characters know of the incidents that occurred in Mal Evol as they affect this tale.

Fleshing out this tale is requiring a lot of incidental backstory for me, 90% of which will not make it into the book, but which serves to cement characters and how they act and react in a given situation.  Hence, the outline:

First 1/4 chapters must address:

  1. The redemption of John Farmer
  2. The arrival of bad news and Dane Bransson’s descent into depression and anger
  3. The premature delivery and death of the baby.
  4. Marya’s descent into madness
  5. John and Garran journey to Braden

Second ¼ chapters must address:

  1. Building the wall
  2. Zan’s concerns re: setting the truth geas on Christoph
  3. The resettlement of Braden to Aeoven and other areas,
  4. Attack by the Hounds of Tauron
  5. Completing the Wall
  6. Arlen and the road to High Point Camp/ Jaxon
  7. Edwin’s anxieties
  8. Friedr’s worries re: his disfigurement and how Aeolyn will see him
  9. Lourdan’s Remaking

map of Neveyah relief 3-4-2013 001This is the first half of the book and must be complete at the 50% mark. By giving myself this road map, I am not completely nailed down creatively, nor am I completely winging it. I am forcing myself to stick to the meat of the matter and be sparing with the fluff.

I have set an arbitrary length for the book, and the second half was dealt with the same way. I actually wrote the second half first during NaNoWriMo 2012, because it picks up where Forbidden Road Leaves off and I was in the zone.

Writing the character of John Farmer has been fun. I’ve written a kajillion anecdotal stories for him as a novice and a young journeyman that won’t make it into VOS, but which will possibly be used at a later date in a volume of short stories. By virtue of having these tales, I know who John is. I know what makes him tick, and, most importantly, why he is who he is.

AnneMcCaffrey_DragonflightBoth Agatha Christie and Anne McCaffrey were geniuses at conveying that sense of history with an economy of words. When I think of each character in the compelling books written by these women, the characters I loved and who stuck with me most had a sense of history. The author knew them, even the most minor of characters.  HOW they knew their characters, what their style of writing was, I don’t know, but me — I make a little personnel file for each.

In this post I have just been talking about the fourth book, but I hope to publish the third book set in Neveyah, Mountains of the Moon, by summer. It’s hard to say if it will be through the editing process by then.  I will never rush to publish anything ever again, knowing what I know now about this business.

Some indies have this idea that they have to get it published NOW, regardless of whether an editor has told them it is not ready, and this is bad. Plot holes, threads to nowhere, these are bad, even if you are intending a second book in that series. Even worse is the nearly overwhelming urge to just add a bit to the tale before you click the publish button.  Has anyone else seen what you wrote? How do you know that what you think you wrote is what you really did write? And did you make your revisions by hand, or were you using Dragon? ALWAYS key your revisions by hand if you are physically able.

As an editor, I have seen some interesting manuscripts written using Dragon Naturally Speaking Software.  Words that are technically correct but make no sense until the editor realizes the words actually rhyme with the intended word…you see where this is going.  

Many’s the fool who rushed to publish and rued it later. I was one of those with my first book, but just like many other firsts, I learned a great deal from that experience. Thus I use the map, the calendar and the editor – the three most important parts of any tale.

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