This week’s writing prompt is provided by my daughter and fellow author: Jennifer Lott.
What is good writing? It’s always filtered through the lens of the reader. My sixteen-year-old sister is reading A Tale of Two Cities for English. To her credit, she is responding passionately to the injustices of the French Revolution. She also has the modern smarts to know that an editor today would go crazy over Dickens’ lengthy descriptions and dialogues. Everything she is taught about writing contradicts his style. Her teachers tell her that every word should matter, that words seldom repeated have more power, that long and short sentences make good pacing. My sister and I were reading the book aloud when we stumbled over the following quote: “blowing the people up and exterminating them from the face of the earth, and doing without them.” My sister expressed her exasperation by saying: “I will turn on this light and illuminate the room, and have light to see by!” Yet Dickens was commercial in his time. Not literary or redundant – but popular.
As an unpublished novelist, I have been thinking of it in terms of agents. At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, there is a panel called “Idol.” Anonymous works are read aloud to a panel of agents, who raise their hands at the point that they would have stopped reading. Most amateur writers need to hear critiques like “too much description; nothing’s happening yet.” At one Idol, the description of a gymnasium floor was shot down by all agents. It turned out to be a trick: an excerpt from a published novel written by Margaret Atwood. I would have put the book down myself. But Atwood is a name, and has an audience. An audience that trusts you makes all the difference.
Audience can be a matter of time period, the stage of an author’s career, or variables like age or interests.
Prompt: Take a scene from a work in progress. Who did you have in mind for the target audience? Try adapting your scene to suit a different audience. For instance, a scene focused on a married couple is probably for adults. How would that scene change if the book were for children? How would the story change? What if a cabin in the woods were for an audience that loved magic? Would a supernatural element help or hurt your cabin?
See Jenny’s interview at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference here.