Writing Year 3 of 10: Writing Might Be Harder Than It Looks, Especially if You Confuse Your Audience

Listen instead of read? Click on this 24-minute podcast, where you can hear the interview with Sarah and an excerpt from Shatterproof. Or find the podcast here.

When Feedback Helps

Like I said yesterday, God is teaching me to care less about applause and commendation as an author. But, as a writer, people’s responses can be super helpful, just like my aunt telling me that I said “um” 68 times.

“I like Katrina’s writing,” someone told my sister once, “but it’s so hard to keep track of all the people in her books.”

Honestly, I’m not sure that I have ever gotten a compliment about Shatterproof outside of my own family. It’s the old joke – your mom will always read your stuff, no matter how bad it is. I remember my dad telling me that he felt like he was standing in Ringgold, Georgia because I described the town so well. My sister read pieces of Shatterproof to her husband as they drove through Hackleburg, Alabama – on their honeymoon!

Weird Update

Just to show how strange life is, literally days after I wrote the above draft, a beautifully written message arrived.

Hi! I am living in Poland, and my husband and I moved for a few weeks from our apartment to the country home of one of the families on our team. One of the highlights of being here (besides having a yard, a terrace, and a fireplace) is shelves of English books! I was delighted to find Shatterproof on their shelf. I was living in Mississippi Spring of 2011, and I clearly remember the storms, and the work crew from our church that went to Alabama. What a well-written book! I really appreciate the scientific information and history that is woven into personal stories. You are respectful of the people, but honest about the trauma. Thanks for an excellent book!

Jewel Kilmer

Seriously! I may be forgetting others who said they appreciated this book as well. The point is, I struggled with the characters. And, I had been critical of other books written about disasters.

Then I Tried It Myself

When I went out to research with my friend Sarah, I was taken in by the many fascinating stories and didn’t see how I could cut any of them. It’s just that the people were all so fascinating. A homeless man at Starbucks telling how he tied himself and his dog to a telephone pole during the tornado. A former drug addict recounting how he hid in the basement of a drug house, emerging to find the world gone. A mom, who hid with her children in a closet. Parents, who put their children in one closet and hid in another closet, and hoped they chose the right closet for their kids. A police chief who hid in a culvert after his car became trapped by fallen trees.

Also, we visited three towns, and each one had its own personality. The people we met in each town amazed us so thoroughly. I found it difficult to cut any of the towns from the manuscript.

I came up with something different than the system of the books I had criticized. But that system had its own problems! My characters bombarded readers like debris in a windstorm.

Probably, Shatterproof was God’s way of teaching me humility. The truth is, writing a single book about the stories of forty characters spread across three towns is just not going to be easy for the reader to follow. Shatterproof taught me that books are harder to write than one might think until they try it themselves! But I did take away a few valuable lessons.

Lessons

  1. Even in disaster research, the characters are not the audience. Yes, I had a responsibility to my characters to tell their story faithfully. But the characters were not my audience. I got confused about this. Had I not let the characters become the audience, I fully believe I would have a more readable book today. I would have cut a few of them out, without remorse, knowing that it was for the good of the readers, my real audience.
  2. Choose one person as your audience. In your mind, pick an actual person you know that will appreciate your writing. Then write for that person only. You can draw up an imaginary character if need to, or find someone on the internet that embodies the traits of your readers. But pick a person!
  3. For crying out loud, don’t criticize another author’s work until you try it yourself! Or, for that matter, afterward.

Have you lived through a tornado? Leave a comment and let us know!

Grand Opening Specials

Today is May 5th. We are currently smack dab between two of the most awful dates in tornado history – April 27, 2011 (Ringgold and Hackleburg) and May 23, 2011 (Joplin, Missouri). Check out the listing of Shatterproof in my new online store, complete with photos of readers. Perks of buying now include –

  • Receive a free leather bookmark
  • 10% off with code 10YEARS
  • I will enter you into the drawing for $100 cash.

I’ve had orders so far from the lovely states of: Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Minnesota and Mississippi! Thank you so much. I meant to say something on the podcast today, but I was too busy hustling packages to the post office.

Leo and Larry’s trivia for readers (you can look in the book): On page 252 of Shatterproof, what was Rob’s first thought when he emerged from the basement after the tornado? The first person to email me (Katrina@500-words.com) with the right answer receives a gift pouch of Captain Garrison coffee by mail!

Too late – prize is gone. Rob thought, I need shoes.

Congrats to Faith (my cousin!) who won yesterday’s trivia with this answer. Bethanie said, “I’ll just give orders from my bed.”

Next post – Thursday. Find the Right Voices! Inferno in the Lost Pines. Podcast includes an interview with fire survivor Debra. A must listen!

Leo and Larry practice tornado safety in the closet under the stairway.
I lost most of my photos from these trips, but this one captures everything about tornado damage.
Where once a house stood, only steps and blue sky. The valiant sunflower inspires me.

15 thoughts on “Writing Year 3 of 10: Writing Might Be Harder Than It Looks, Especially if You Confuse Your Audience”

  1. I liked Shatterproof. I thought the way you organized the sections with the map at the beginning of each to refer to, etc. made it easy to keep oriented, or to refer back when necessary. I am currently “social distancing” at a place away from my normal residence, and I don’t have my copy of the book with me. I don’t remember if you also gave the list of characters at the beginning of each section or not. But your coming back to the same ones repeatedly at the different time points helped keep all the stories flowing.

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Well that’s good to hear! Thank you for sharing! Have a nice time of solitude. 😊

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Aw! Thanks Emma! I’m intrigued that you stated it was easy to follow. I guess different people handle that number of characters differently. And I think my editors did a great job of helping streamline it too.

  2. Since Faith isn’t much of a coffee drinker I, her mom, will enjoy it! Thanks. I’m also thinking it’s time to reread your books.

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Ah that’s so funny! I sent an extra pouch along for you and I was thinking, Does Vera drink coffee? I’m pretty sure she does!

  3. I read Shatterproof years ago and enjoyed it. I don’t remember being bothered by all the characters… but then I am a Dicken’s fan and I think that my brain is sort of ADHD, so it must’ve been a good fit for me. People are so different that it’s impossible for one person’s efforts to either totally delight or depress the whole population 🙂

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      So true! And I think that is part of what God has been teaching me. Also, I am a hard-core Dickens fan as well so it would make sense that my writing might fit with other Dickens fans!

  4. Janeen Histand

    I enjoyed reading this book while on a trip to MS. Being in tornado alley while reading the book seemed to make it all the more realistic. And the information about safety during a tornado was great to know. Thanks for all the work to put the stories together.

    1. I also like the way you introduced the characters then took us through the storm with them.

    2. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Thanks Janeen! Reading location can make a book seem more real, that’s for sure!

  5. I really enjoyed the book. Maybe some people have a harder time with multi-character books then others? Reading your works on the tornado and the fires reminded me so much of the old Reader’s Digest stories from years ago. I put your writing on the same category–very well done.

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Thanks Jane! I appreciate your vote of confidence! You might be right about different levels of readers.

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