Studying Humans in Nashville, Tennessee

Original Post Date March 20, 2013 at 09:25 PM

This blog shares social experimentation techniques that can help an author hone a more authentic storyline towards potential readers. No probes or electrodes necessary.

Last Wednesday I left St. Petersburg for a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. I hadn’t left St. Pete since May 2012. Leaving the Treehouse, the name of my rented estate nestled amongst tall trees overlooking a lake, was easy as my writing partner shifted into doggie sitter. What gave my heart staggering palpitations was knowing my edited manuscript was sitting in a wooden cupboard. Not that Marie is a pyromaniac but I was worried about losing my editor’s notes. Extremist, yes, I know.

This trip was arranged by my talented business partner. She and another woman, a gifted singer, were attending a conference at the Grand Ole Opry Gaylord Hotel for their day job. I, like tick bird to a rhino’s hide, eagerly tagged along.

I took the first shift, oh dark thirty to noon. It was no coincidence that the Universe selected “Holiday in Cambodia” by the Dead Kennedys as my launch music out of the parking lot. The sleepy ladies bemoaned my punk love, but what they didn’t know is how significant this particular song is to Book One. I was listening to this song as I wrote a very crucial fight scenario. I felt the Universe wanted me to keep my manuscript in my field of consciousness even though I was driving.

I internalized the process of revision when I realized, hello, why not ask people what they find interesting? What do they read? What attracts them to a certain book or movie? It’s focus group time! Time to put my MS to use.

And so while my Nashville cohorts reinforced their product commitments, I made certain to small talk, mingle and yes, even eavesdrop on people.

Friday I spent the day at Vanderbilt University with young and progressive people. Not only did I get good feedback on what the kids are into these days, but they’re willing to help host an event on campus to promote Book One! Awesome sauce.

Good feedback came from individuals that reflected some of my characters. One gentleman I chatted up Saturday night was ex-military and very technically minded. Some concepts sparked intrigue while others he glazed over indifferently. Reading faces is a helpful tool in determining what works and what doesn’t.

Finally, I employed an open questioning technique on the ride home to experience how my road trip buddies respond. What I wanted to garner was what these women valued, what was ethical to them and what disgusted them. My protagonist is not a decent person but I have no doubt she’ll be likeable. So if I know what soft spots to push on actual people, I can have my character do that in her world.

I did all of this to keep the interactions in Book One as authentic as possible. I did not tell anyone that I was deliberately studying their reactions. It would’ve tainted the study. Thank you for participating in my social experiment road trip buddies and Nashville! Now to get back to work.

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