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Discussion Starter #1
sigrosenblum said:
Funny and true. Yet my sypathies still go out to authors who are hanging from the dilemma. Will sheltered or unsophisticated readers understand that the Rio Grande is, indeed, a river?

Imagine a line: "They found his battered body in the Rio Grande." What is that? A big plaza? Church? Park? No, I had better say "River."

This is the kind of self-torture writers go through. It's enough to make you drown yourself in the Big River!
Good point... so when writers don't have a specific target readership, they have to decide on something between going with a higher level of language complexity (risking alienating those who don't understand), and writing at sixth-grade level just to make sure (and risk boring some people).... If you try to find a happy medium, how do you decide what that right level is?
 

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Annalog said:
I agree, especially with names of rivers, mountains, etc. While I notice the repetition, it does not bother me. It can be more confusing when the repetition is missing than when it is present. This is especially true now that there is a community named Rillito. We also have Rillito River Park (with repetition), Rillito Park Race Track (without repetition), and River Road (without Rillito). Since the Rillito itself is usually dry, it could also be a reminder that it can be filled with water to call it the Rillito River. ;D
I hope that I am not repeating information. It has always been my understanding that newspapers are written to the 6th grade (12year old) - younger?. And that is why the level of writing is so basic. Writing so that one who has no idea what a Rio Grande is will understand the Rio Grande River.
Right?
Just Sayin.....
 

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Probably depends on the paper and the focus audience of the story, but, for general interest stories, I think you're probably right.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
It makes sense for newspapers and other publications that are meant to inform the public to aim at a low-average reading level.  (Now if only the IRS would get with the program in their instructions...)

But what about novels?  How do you decide at which level to write?
 

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Susan in VA said:
Good point... so when writers don't have a specific target readership, they have to decide on something between going with a higher level of language complexity (risking alienating those who don't understand), and writing at sixth-grade level just to make sure (and risk boring some people).... If you try to find a happy medium, how do you decide what that right level is?
It's not always easy. But every writer, copywriter and journalist have to make the effort.
 

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Susan in VA said:
Good point... so when writers don't have a specific target readership, they have to decide on something between going with a higher level of language complexity (risking alienating those who don't understand), and writing at sixth-grade level just to make sure (and risk boring some people).... If you try to find a happy medium, how do you decide what that right level is?
There are some guidelines and "rules of thumb." Most patient education materials are written at a 4th/5th grade level. I believe the New York Times is at a 9th grade level; USA Today...6th grade. There are formulas (built into word) to calculate the reading level of a document.

L
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Leslie said:
There are some guidelines and "rules of thumb." Most patient education materials are written at a 4th/5th grade level. I believe the New York Times is at a 9th grade level; USA Today...6th grade. There are formulas (built into word) to calculate the reading level of a document.
Yes. As I said, it makes sense for publications that are meant to inform to aim at a low-average reading level. But I was wondering about novels, and how authors decide at which level to write.
 

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Susan in VA said:
Yes. As I said, it makes sense for publications that are meant to inform to aim at a low-average reading level. But I was wondering about novels, and how authors decide at which level to write.
Given the option, most authors will target the largest demographic, however the subject of a novel is probably the real determining factor. That is: sometimes writing for a higher education level is simply unavoidable due to the language required to properly describe the events within a book.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Jeff said:
Given the option, most authors will target the largest demographic, however the subject of a novel is probably the real determining factor. That is: sometimes writing for a higher education level is simply unavoidable due to the language required to properly describe the events within a book.
That makes sense. I'm sure that this is all fairly subjective, but part of me wants to analyze this some more and pin things down. Bear with me... :D ::)

The "largest demographic" level that you mention can't be just the average reading level of the population, but instead the average reading level of that segment of the population likely to buy/read books. Presumably that's somewhat higher.

So are there statistics that show, for instance, that most buyers of mystery novels have at least two years of college, so that you can aim for that level? Or do you just wing it? Or do you go by what other authors in the same field are doing, and match that?

In translation work it's always useful to find out the target audience, so that your output is appropriate for those readers. But, again, most of the time that's material meant to inform, so you aim low unless you know that the intended readers are experts in the field. For creative writing I wouldn't have a clue how to determine the "right" level. Just trying to understand better... This may seem really obvious to you writers, but it isn't to me.
 

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Susan in VA said:
This may seem really obvious to you writers, but it isn't to me.
Perhaps not so obvious.

To a novelist considering a target audience, age and gender are probably more important than education.

  • Age is a factor that blurs the statistical lines of educational demographics simply because the high school dropout who continues to read may eventually attain the same vocabulary and comprehension level as someone with an advanced degree. (Feed your head, to quote Gracie Slick.)
  • Gender is very difficult factor to quantify because the data are badly skewed by the basic fact that more women read fiction.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Jeff said:
To a novelist considering a target audience, age and gender are probably more important than education.
Age I can see, for the cumulative education aspect as well as the shared experiences (and therefore familiar references) of a particular generation.

But gender? OK, if you're writing a romance novel it's probably for women. (I feel like I'm on thin ice here, but I'd wager that the statistics support that statement.) What about historical novels, or thrillers/mysteries, or SF/fantasy? Those probably have a far more gender-balanced appeal. And does that mean you choose (or avoid) phrases based on the presumed average reader's gender?
 

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Susan in VA said:
But gender? OK, if you're writing a romance novel it's probably for women. (I feel like I'm on thin ice here, but I'd wager that the statistics support that statement.) What about historical novels, or thrillers/mysteries, or SF/fantasy? Those probably have a far more gender-balanced appeal. And does that mean you choose (or avoid) phrases based on the presumed average reader's gender?
According to a report, that I'll never be able to find if you challenge me, you would lose that wager. The report stated that romance novels and history books are the least impacted by age and gender. Although many men will not admit to reading romance novels, according to the study that I mentioned, they do.

In reference to traditional publishing, I can't speak to your question about gender specific phrases with any authority other than to say that Harlequin has very detailed guidelines. Leslie, Sig or one of the other experienced publishers would be a better source.

Independent authors are by their very nature all over the board. Some write carefully for a target audience and others simply let the words flow. We are in the midst of a new era in literature that's been spawned by the e-book and self publishing tools so the rules change daily. What fun.
 

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Susan in VA said:
And does that mean you choose (or avoid) phrases based on the presumed average reader's gender?
I don't know about phrases so much, but...

In the world of authors of male/male romance/erotic stories, there's a heated debate about whether only gay men should write m/m vs. straight women. It's interesting given that 90% of the authors are women and they estimate that 90% of the readers are also women. But a certain vocal minority believe that women can't "get it right" because they don't have certain body parts. Of course, this ignores the obvious fact that many women have been with men and probably have a pretty good understanding of how the whole sex thing works. I mean, come on...can an author only write a murder mystery if they've murdered someone? A story about a person dying of cancer only if they've had cancer? I don't think so. It's called imagination.

I have a personal joke that you can always tell a male m/m writer because the men seem obsessed with the length, girth, and amount of emission (in CUPS!) of a certain body part. Female authors find other descriptors to be more salient. ;)

L
 

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Hey can we delve deeply into the book writing process here.
Or should someone start another "public please" thread?
Because I think there is a lot of info about the process that has just started to be touched on in the last few posts, that many of us would like to hear about and/or ask questions about.
Like the gender thing in writing.  What makes a "girly" book.  You know the romance novels. Why do women (apparently mostly) read them?  And where do the experiences written about come from?  Same thing about an action book primarily appealing to men?
Is this the right place, because as you can see I got a lot of questions?
Just askin......
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Jeff said:
According to a report, that I'll never be able to find if you challenge me, you would lose that wager. The report stated that romance novels and history books are the least impacted by age and gender. Although many men will not admit to reading romance novels, according to the study that I mentioned, they do.
I wonder how they came up with the study data, then, if men won't admit to it... ???

Jeff said:
Harlequin has very detailed guidelines.
LOL! I can just imagine... quotas on the numbers of references to brawny chests and pounding hearts... (ok, maybe that's unfair, I only ever read one Harlequin novel and that was over 15 years ago, so if that's no longer accurate don't anyone get upset, please).

Jeff said:
Independent authors are by their very nature all over the board. Some write carefully for a target audience and others simply let the words flow. We are in the midst of a new era in literature that's been spawned by the e-book and self publishing tools so the rules change daily. What fun.
I imagine it's very exciting to be a writer at a time when there is such growth and such changes imminent, some of them probably not yet predictable.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Leslie said:
It's interesting given that 90% of the authors are women and they estimate that 90% of the readers are also women.
Really?? Is that a quotable fact? That would support a point that I was making in a paper... is there any place I could find a documentable source for that statistic?

Leslie said:
I have a personal joke that you can always tell a male m/m writer because the men seem obsessed with the length, girth, and amount of emission (in CUPS!) of a certain body part.
;D Just like in real life....
 

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Discussion Starter #17
geoffthomas said:
Hey can we delve deeply into the book writing process here.
Or should someone start another "public please" thread?
Adding my opinion here -- I think that's a great idea, Geoff! Is there any way that the mods could move these past few posts (the ones that pertain to the mechanics of fiction writing) to a new thread? There's a lot left to explore...
 

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Susan in VA said:
I wonder how they came up with the study data, then, if men won't admit to it... ???
Given all the heat I took from women on this forum when I said that I enjoyed Gertie's Ariana's Pride, my guess would be that men might be more forthcoming when responding to a survey than they would be in a public conversation.
 

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Jeff said:
Ditto Jeff. Exactly what I was thinking! Or, to translate from the Yiddish: O tempore, O mores!

Interesting discussion. My hunch: There are all sort of animals in the fiction jungle. Some publishers and authors try to craft a best-seller in a frankly Machiavellian way: Exposition here, followed by tension there, interrupted by comic relief now, and a dollop of sexual inference right after that. Then a hint of violence and a relieving resolution of conflict before the final wrap-up. There are even books on how to measure, hammer and saw your way to fiction fame.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the completely intuitive writer, a natural story teller. He slashes through rules and formulas. She strives for one thing: to keep the story and the reader moving forward. Everything else falls away. For they know that unless that "pull" is there, nothing else matters--however targeted the prose. Old-time copywriters had a favorite injunction: "Every word a baited trap." Not a bad mantra for a novelist, right?
 

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sigrosenblum said:
Ditto Jeff. Exactly what I was thinking! Or, to translate from the Yiddish: O tempore, O mores!
Ha, Sig. You nailed me with a quote that I'd reconsidered and deleted. When I wrote it I thought it was funny. When I re-read it, it seemed disrespectful.

The freedom that indie publishing provides is a double edged sword. Edge One: Authors can now flaunt convention to truly release their creativity. Edge Two: Authors can produce works that are less than they would have been with the benefit of a good editor.
 
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