Saturday, October 24, 2015

Writing to Address your Target Audience


Audiences come in various sizes, so the idea that you will be able to appeal and relate with every one of your patrons is a pipe dream. When you are writing a piece of literature, you need to decide two things before you begin: Who are you writing this piece for, and is your target a part of your particular niche?
 When I say to define "who" your target audience is, what I mean is that you need to decide whether you are writing for somebody you're expecting to understand jargon and colloquialisms, or whether you will need to explain everything with smaller words for them.
 For example, if you are writing a childrens' book, you will need to discern what age group you are writing for, and use sparingly any intricacies or particularly difficult words. Perhaps go online and search for some vocabulary lists to find synonyms for, that way when a child reaches that point in your book they can ask what it means and an adult can tell them "auburn just means reddish-brown."
 Congratulations! You just contributed to that child's vocabulary!
 I remember when I was a child playing video games was one of my most profound and impressional forms of media. Very often I would ask my grandparents the meaning of different words I came across. One example, from a collectible trading card game, was the word "ante," to bet.

 Suppose, however, that your target audience is not children, but teenagers? Do you want to sound hip? Cool? Then you need to partake in their other forms of entertainment. Figure out what they enjoy watching and reading, and in turn watch and read them yourself. Familiarize yourself with their language and jargon.

 When you are writing for a large, varied audience, be sure and write in the meanings to all of your jargon. Remember, if you weren't trying to explain to your audience thoroughly the subject you're writing about, you wouldn't be writing about it. So as not to insult, however, you can rely on subtlety.

Chekhov's Gun

The gun above the mantle is a concept in writing which denotes the value of the words you write. It can be argued that the letter written by Anton Chekhov to a friend is one of the most important rules in writing: That everything written into your narrative be irreplaceable, and that you should leave out all else.

Thus, the rule reads, "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired."

This implies that every element of your narrative be as important as your characters. The reason for this is twofold. First, this removes fluff from your story, as nobody enjoys reading filler.

 The second reason is to denote significance. You have only a finite number of pages between the front cover of your book and the end.

Never shall a single page be able to be deemed "unimportant."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Building NPCs


So often do we ignore the shopkeeper that sells us our goods, the roguish stranger we pay for information, our sisters and brothers. Let's talk about them.

The Family

When coming up with family members, you have only a few options. You don't want to come up with too many, because there will far too much conflict. You have to give your characters time to grow accustomed to that family member being there for them. The support our family offers us, there's a reason we complain about not knowing what we have until it's gone. Not until you have established an emotional connection can you sever it, and take from them what they took for granted. The helpful mother, the loving sister, or the boyishly charming brother can all tug at these heartstrings simply by disappearing from your characters' lives.

The Shopkeeper

Weaponsmiths, armorsmiths, apothecaries, blades for hire. No matter the good or service, someone has to sell it to you. Unless for story reasons, your merchants must be good at what they do. Make sure they try to rip your characters off from time to time. Not every shopkeeper has a heart of gold, and most of them only want to take yours from you, and sell it back at a mark-up.

Children

Kids are tough, cruel, and annoying. They don't have the sense of morality that comes with worldly experience, so they rely, naturally, on an "eye for an eye" mentality. If one punches another, nothing in the world matters until the blow is returned.
Not all kids are horrible, however; Their mentality comes in as many flavors as ice cream. Reality, for them, is simultaneously monochrome and technicolor. Not all children are innocent, either. The signs of psychopathy can be found early in mental development.
The hardest thing about emulating children in our stories, though, is the fact that they universally possess a sense of whimsy we adults have long-since discarded for fear of being thought maniacal.
 It's a double-standard, but that's how society works. We can't always have our heads in the clouds like they can. Life gets in the way of that.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Character Development

Start with a Name

Despite the old addage, your name says a lot about you. We know that Henry O'mally is Irish, male, and most likely Caucasian, just like we know that Jamal Krew is likely of African decent, but most likely does not live in Africa. Kimiko's parents are Japanese - and although she was born in America, we can deduce that her brother Michael is younger, because his name is of Anglican origin; He was named after his parents became more assimilated into western culture.

Decide Age After the Current Year

This one will not take a paragraph to explain. Children of the 1970's will always look for familiarity to life in the 70's. 80's kids, especially Generation X, were angsty with a very "fight the power" attitude. 90's kids still love 90's TV and will not let us forget Saturday morning cartoons.
 This only really applies to stories set in our world, but the year someone was born can tell us a lot about their history. We can deduce what they grew up with. What the media was doing. Who the celebrities of their time were.

Physicality is for the Unimportant

Unless the character you are designing is for a video game, nobody is going to care about his silvery lock or crimson eyes. Save this uniqueness for less central characters - support characters. Don't go over the top or it will end up meaningless, but make sure your less than memorable characters have something worth remembering about them.
 Your main character already has our attention. His commanding officer, however, is most recognized by the stink of cigar. His wife should be plain, perhaps marginally beautiful, because we'll see enough of her to form a memory. The sister he rarely hears from, though? Stunning and barely clothed enough to work at a strip joint.

World Building

Today, I'm going to talk about what it takes to build a world. This applies to many scenarios, but I imagine it will find most use from Dungeon Masters and novelists. Keep in mind this check list is only a guideline. Take what I say with a grain of salt.

Seven Cities

The number seven is an arbitrary, abstract concept. Your world can have as many or as few cities as you like. Hell, they don't even have to be cities! Just give your audience a few venues to explore. It can even be fun to think about yourself discovering these places for the first time! What is the first thing you notice in this new place? What is the last? Thinking about the exits, where do they lead? All of them? What if someone steps off the beaten path and cuts through a person's yard to get to where they're going? What happens then?
Just because your audience does not get to experience every venue in your world does not mean they stop existing; Just because you've never been to Queens, or Cincinnati, or Albuquerque does not mean they don't exist. You may have even met people from those places without ever realizing it. So, why haven't your characters? What are the chances of never, ever meeting a man from China? What are the chances of running into a young woman from Kuwait tomorrow?
Honestly? Both are pretty high. The world is a huge place, and people don't like to sit around.

Seven People per City

Again, the number does not really matter, but on the off chance such strict numeration helps you further flesh out your universe, I will include it.
Include a multitude of people in your world. Not just one per venue: think about walking through a bazaar or a supermarket. No two faces, no two voices, are the same. There's always a grumpy old fart perusing the coffee isle, an annoying brat pestering his mother, a little girl browsing school supplies.
 Then you leave the market, and there are a hundred new faces. Each person in your world should have their own story, even if it is boring or uneventful.
 You aren't just writing one story. You're writing thousands, millions, one for every person inhabiting your world. All at once.

 Sounds daunting, doesn't it?

Seven Years

Time is the oldest thing you know, and it didn't start with you. The same way that it won't stop just because we stop experiencing it. Things continue moving, life goes on without us. The same can be said about your characters. What happened before your character's birth? What went on before your players or audience got to this part of the story? What was going on before you started writing up this world? What took place before you first said "Once upon a time..."?

And remember, retroactive continuity is your friend!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Genesis - How Not to Begin Your Story

"One upon a time..."
"In the beginning..."
"Long ago, in a faraway land..."

Far too often do we begin our epic flights of fancy by distancing ourselves further from our precious fantasies. I would like to ask why. Why do we push ourselves further from our creation, when in reality we wish we were right there, living out our tales instead of simply narrating them?
 Sure, it could be argued that this is our mechanism for separating fiction from fact. In this way we ensure the world that we do not believe our own otherwise harmless lies, but that is the beauty of storytelling. We have to learn to teach ourselves that in order to craft our tales properly, we must be as willing as our audience is to suspend that disbelief.

Please, learn to lose yourself in your creations, because if you can't... how can you expect anyone else to?