Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Targeting Readership Part 4

Last week, I posted a list of previous posts on Worldbuilding in case you'd missed some:

I'm on the program at ChiCon7, and I just volunteered to do a number of writing-craft panels on Worldbuilding.  Apparently it's a core interest for new writers today, and boy have I got a lot to say on that.  There will be 3 more posts on it here in July. 

Worldbuilding won't do you any good unless you build the world to intrigue an audience.  So lets look at how to do that.

Targeting Readership Part 1 is:

Part 2 is inside this post:

Part 3 is inside and woven into the following post in my Astrology Just For Writers series which by mistake has the same number as the previous part but is really Part 7:

As I've established in earlier posts in this sequence on Targeting a Readership, Publishing looks at the age of the main protagonist to determine the demographic of the target audience.  That process may be an error, but it's what they do, so writers have to take it into account. 

Here are some clues about how to capture the older demographic -- which Hollywood insists you must do to have a 4-bagger, a film that appeals to a wide enough audience that it can make money.  A kid's film has to appeal to grandparents who'll take the kid to the theater! 

So how do you target such a broad and undefined audience? 

You pick a theme you can treat from a variety of "angles" with each character portraying a different, but plausible, opinion. 

Well, I've been saying that here for a while, but it begs the question, "What theme?" 

I ran into an intriguing post on Google+ -- a "sampler" (an image with WORDS), and the words were a quote from Richard Dawkins: "Faith is belief without and against evidence and reason; coincidentally that's also the definition of delusion."

It had drawn 375 comments (really high #) after only a few hours. 

I looked at it, nodded, thought, "good theme for a long novel" and scrolled on by.

Then I checked my Yahoo news feed page where I follow Discovery News.  And I found the following bit of research in an article about a survey of faith vs. age:

Participants answered three main "belief" questions, including their level of belief (from strong to atheistic), their changing beliefs over their lifetime and their attitude toward the notion that God is concerned with their personal lives.
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At first I'd thought the article would miss the idea that "faith" might (or might not) change with age.

In fact, they did ask about how people's attitude toward faith in God had changed with age, and they found that as people age, they tend to find belief that God exists to grow.

Today, in the USA, there's a cultural trend or shift taking place toward disregarding, disrespecting or just ignoring elders.  Most people will deny that, but if you're old enough to remember your mother's attitude toward her mother who had been born in say 1890, you might have a different feeling for how things have changed.

Could seeing a parent experience an increased faith that God is real be a source of the scorn for the Wisdom that comes with age, that can only be acquired via decades of experience?

I used to think (when I was very young) that Wisdom was either a myth or something you were born with, or not.  I found my elders due "respect" simply for surviving all they had survived -- but I didn't think they were smart enough to learn from experience. 

That changed in my twenties.  And today I can look back and see how my elders went from being young to being older-and-wiser-because-of-being-old. 

I see a "because" relationship between surviving the blows of life and finding Wisdom.

Now, the Wisdom that is found might well be a Wisdom that convinces the elder that God is a myth propagated by those who would control vast populations in order to drain their wealth and keep them poor and ignorant. 

Or it might be the opposite, the conviction that God is real after all, and the myth-spinning is indeed a smokescreen put up to keep people from learning how very real God is.

Or it might be that old brains just deteriorate and lose the ability to do critical thinking.

Look at all those possibilities, invent a CHARACTER to portray each point of view.

Remember, the characters need to change as a result of the events in the story -- events cause character change, the change in the character then causes another event, and that process is called "plot." 

Character Arc -- especially in a Paranormal Romance story -- is not separate from plot, but integral to it. 

In any realistic Romance (and SF or Paranormal Romance must be more realistic than reality because of the odd-ball elements) there has to be that pesky "meet the parents" scene with the potential in-laws interrogating the hapless suitor.

This gives you the multi-generational character spread you need to tackle the thematic issue of "Does The Conviction That God Is Real Require Discarding Critical Thinking?" 

Of course, if all your readers are well versed in Kaballah, that's a no-brainer and you have no story because critical thinking (in that world view) is required. 

If you are writing a novel you want to sell to the film industry, you must include an international audience, and this study did survey people in a lot of countries.

Here's another quote:

Support for the concept that God is concerned with people in a personal way ranged from 8 percent in the former East Germany to 82 percent in the Philippines. About 68 percent of individuals in the United States held that personal view of God.

Over the study period, just five of the countries showed a consistent growth in their belief in God: West Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia and Slovenia. Meanwhile, 16 countries showed a consistent decline in belief: Australia, Austria, East Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway and Poland. Some countries showed a mixed pattern, with some measures moving toward belief and others away. [See full list of countries ranked by God belief]
"Belief in God has decreased in most countries, but the declines are quite modest, especially when calculated on a per annum basis," the researchers write in their April 18 report of the survey.

Though modest, this decrease could add up to a real effect over time.

"If the modest, general trend away from belief in God continues uninterrupted, it will accumulate to larger proportions and the atheism that is now prominent mainly in northwest Europe and some ex-Socialist states may spread more widely," they write, adding that it is possible the trend could go the other way, with belief in God seeing a rebound.
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If you know about the political trends in these countries, you can probably put political parties to the characters' beliefs (or anti-beliefs).  Today there are more political parties than just Communist that advocate atheism.  Don't try that unless you really know what the attitudes of those parties are. 

The point here is that the readers -- or film audiences -- will be composed largely of people whose beliefs are in flux.

People who are changing belief attitudes generally experience uncertainty or even fear, free floating anxiety, and other emotional symptoms they don't want to name.

Fiction is a wonderful way to calm down when anxious, but the writer has to understand the sources of anxiety better than the reader does to pull off that trick.

Explain and discuss the growth of Wisdom, and how useful, practical, accurate and trustworthy that new Wisdom might be, all in show-don't-tell -- in images, symbolism, and character "Aha!" moments. 

This is where theme infiltrates worldbuilding.

If you take the general theme, "As You Age, You Begin To Understand How Life Is Orchestrated By God" -- then you build a World where this or that Religion dominates, and maybe people convert from one to another Religion as Love happens.  You find your characters, some on this side, some on that, and some in transition, and you will discover what conflicts have to play out because of the theme.

Changing any parameters of the worldbuilding (such as the tenets of the Religion you're dealing with) will force a change in the nature of the Conflict driving the characters to act and resolve that conflict.

To capture the widest possible readership or audience, you must have a character for each audience segment to root for -- and that character must achieve some kind of triumphant resolution of his/her conflict. 

All of the characters conflicts must resolve in a SINGLE EVENT - in one scene, not a chain of scenes.

A good example to study for this plot structure does not involve Religion much, unless you consider "Circus Flying" a religion (which in this book, you could!) is Marion Zimmer Bradley's circus novel, CATCH TRAP. 

This novel is ostensibly about a gay couple in the era when gayness per se was anathema, but it was especially forbidden in the largely Catholic world of Circus performers.  That's their conflict -- they must choose between their love and their art, and discover that art is fueled by love (not sex, love, though there's plenty of gay sex in this novel.)

This is one of the novels Marion Zimmer Bradley used to teach me the craft of writing.  I watched her wrestle the ending into that single scene structure, raising the powerful punch of the ending and clarifying the theme.

This novel is an example of how multi-generation changing belief systems should be handled.  This is not about Religion, which is why you can learn to write about Religion by studying how this book is put together, you can gain an objective perspective.  This book is about a change in CIRCUS PERFORMING as profound as the change in our society from Atheist to Believer and just as generation-specific.

It took her 20 years to write this book - drafting and re-drafting, changing the characters and the plot.  But the plot had to have two disparate parts, two basic conflicts joined by the theme of Art must be fueled by Love, and in her mind sexuality was inseparable from Love (in mine, it is not.)  This is a master-work you likely can't duplicate (yet), but Religion is going to be central to the next generation's favorite entertainment. 

See the Pluto by generation in various signs in the post for Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That blog post also tracks Neptune through the signs and what that might imply for our generations. 

Pluto was in Sagittarius 1995 - 2008 (and there was a baby-boom in the USA in the mid-1990's).  Sagittarius is the Natural 9th House in Astrology, and the 9th House represents philosophy  (12th is "Religion" as in "The Church" the institution; 9th Represents the concepts intertwined with Justice, with Jupiter and kindness.)

9th House is also international publishing, communicating over vast distances (not the discovery of planets out there -- re-energizing the modern youth into wanting to communicate with "them.")

This is the generation that will find the matter of belief in God, and how that changes with age, to be very entertaining.  They'll want to read about religious conversion, and maybe conversion from atheism to some belief -- or vice-verso. 

Also remember that Uranus makes a complete circuit around the Sun every 84.3 years or so, and mystics attribute the beginning of venerable wisdom to living through your 80's.

According to the study quoted above, people seem to awaken to the reality of God in their 50's, so what's left to learn in your 80's? 

Neptune takes 165 years to circle the Sun, so whatever it tracks won't turn up in your characters unless you're writing about Vampires and other immortals.  You wouldn't do that, would you?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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