I wrote a book about two years ago with almost no prior planning or outlining done before the writing. I've since matured more and figured out that the audience for my book changes from chapter to chapter. I'm not sure how to remedy this- some themes that are non-negotiable in this book are more mature, but I feel that my writing isn't developed enough to write for that audience. How do I solve this?
First Draft: Discovery writing
I wrote a book about two years ago with almost no prior planning or outlining done before the writing. I've since matured more and figured out that the audience for my book changes from chapter to chapter.
This seems normal for a 1st-draft without an outline or plan. The method is generally called 'discovery writing' (as opposed to 'plotting' with an outline).
The strengths of discovery writing are the author's voice, and a pervasive mood or emotion that is maintained throughout – skills that improve with practice.
Horror and mystery are genres that thrive under discovery writing because (typically) just as characters define their goals they are de-railed, murdered, surprised by the plot, etc.
Stories that require character progression, or have very specific goals for each 'act' – ie: tragedy, biography – where each step of the story needs to be well-defined for the overall narrative to work, are not as benefitted by discovery writing.
Second Draft: What did you discover?
The 1st draft is set aside for a few weeks, or more. Two years is not unheard of, you certainly have some distance from the original.
You can now see what works – no need to guess or theorize. This is the main goal of the 1st draft: get it on to the page where it can be read objectively.
Second draft is about making characters consistent (now that you know who they are), fixing plot holes (now that you know what happens), and consolidating the narrative (merge redundant scenes, flesh-out minor characters and worldbuilding, probably re-ording events for dramatic effect, etc).
The second draft is a complete re-write, not just an edit. Elements that don't contribute or support the main theme and story need to be cut. Author-identified protagonists (Mary Sues) need to be reduced to mere characters who serve the story. Antagonists probably need to be paced so the early obstacles seem more important and later obstacles are not telegraphed too soon.
These are major re-writes to character and plot, but the author's voice, and that strong emotional tone is already baked in. 2nd drafts will be better with the benefit of hindsight and the specific 'working' example from the 1st draft.
Third Draft: a commercial product for other people
Beta readers, story doulas, and professional editors should only be consulted after a 2nd draft – after you have already made conscious decisions about how the story should work. There is no point in handing someone a raw manuscript and asking their opinion, if you have not already made the effort to give the story an intentional form and direction through your own second draft.
A third draft is also a complete re-write of the second-draft, but it won't be as drastic. Typically the objectives in the 3rd draft are about narrative pacing, refining the voice of the narrator, and probably few (if any) plot or character tweaks.
The goal is to communicate with a reader through a commercial format they are familiar and comfortable with. These aren't necessarily author-lead decisions.
Why do you write?
If the goal was to write as a hobby you can stop at 1st draft. There is no need to 'fix' something that was done for fun.
If the goal is to become a better writer, to learn about the craft and grow as a person, you can stop at the second draft – or never stop re-writing the second draft. Or write something else.
In 2 years you have matured. Happily this keeps happening your entire life, and writing can be an enriching part of growth and self-realization. It is satisfying to read something 2 years later and think "Hey, that's not so bad!" even when it is not how you would write it today.
If the goal is to publish, the third draft is a commercial product that will compete in a saturated marketplace. Your 'product' will be ruthlessly compared to other works, dismissed by readers who didn't like it, and forgotten by consumers in a fraction of the time it took you to create it.
This isn't everyone's goal, and it shouldn't be, but if you ultimately want to connect with an audience, first you must to impose your own second draft corrections until the story is moving in the direction you want.
Genre and Tone are probably the most important thing to consider in terms of determining your audience. You need consistency.
You see, I'm worried when you say the audience for your book changes from chapter to chapter. It shouldn't.
You see, audiences simply want to be entertained, but everyone has different preferences. Comedy lovers want to laugh, romance lovers want to see some love, and horror lovers want to scream and have nightmares.
If you're reading a horror novel by a guy like Stephen King, you know it's horror even in the light-hearted moments because the tone and world-building remain consistent. Overall, the story is a dark and grim tale. Any fun or sweet moments are only there to lighten the mood.
For King, horror is his thing. He could decide to switch it up a bit, but his horror is what everyone remembers it for. It's like with any talent, you find what you're best at and then you stick with it. Then your audience comes to you.
What you don't want to do is wildly fluctuate between tones at random. It can work, but it's a delicate balance. Don't bounce back and forth between two genres unless you're confident you can pull it off. Lack of consistency is the best way to annoy audiences.
For example, let's say I'm writing a horror novel but I'm not fully committing to it. I want it to be a comedy too. So I'm gonna throw some silly jokes right before the chase scene. And right after. Okay cool, now I'll have the monster maul several people. And...back to more silly jokes. Horror. Jokes. Horror. Jokes. Jokes. Jokes. Horror.
No middle ground, no gradual shift from one tone to the next, only constant indecisiveness. My tone goes from grim to silly so fast it gives my audience whiplash.
That's how you lose your audience, by never committing. Find what you're good at, see how it does, and then, if it doesn't work, you can always learn from your mistakes.