Authors write to be read. We write not only for ourselves, but to share our thoughts, our words, our stories with others. Unless we happen to be Emily Dickinson, we inevitably realize that our words will be read by someone other than ourselves (even if it’s only our mothers). In short, we write for an audience.
When we write our first story, who are we writing it for? What spellbound audience are we envisioning somewhere in the backs of our brains? Chances are the only audience you had in mind at that point was yourself and, perhaps, your family. Most of us write that first story for no other reason that because we want to satisfy and entertain ourselves. At that point, we’re writing almost entirely for an audience of one. But should we be lucky enough to grow our audience in the interim between Story #1 and Story #2, the simplicity of our focus has a way of evolving, and not necessarily for the better.
As we add more people to our audience, not only will the pressure to perform multiply, but so will the pressure to conform to what we think our audience wants to hear. No longer are we able to please only ourselves; suddenly, we have a whole host of readers to think of. And, naturally, we want to please them. We want to give them exactly what they want, for reasons of personal pride as well as professional necessity. But the simple fact is that we can’t please everyone. And when we start trying to please everyone, we’ll very likely end by pleasing no one, including ourselves.
“Know your audience” is a common tenet of all media. After all, if you don’t know your audience, you can’t give them what they want, right? Yes and no.
Writing for an audience, instead of merely to an audience means you’re molding your artistic vision to please the whims of the public. You’re risking the creativity and the uniqueness that only you can bring to your writing. When you catch yourself censoring a passage or altering the direction of the plot simply because you feel this is what someone else would want you to do, you’re sacrificing the artistic gift that is distinctly yours. You weren’t meant to write stories the way others would have you write them; you were given the gift of storytelling so that you might tell the stories you were meant to tell.
It’s tempting, particularly with a sophomore novel, to pander to what we think readers want. But if they loved your first book enough to become your rapt audience, then likely what they want is more of the same, more of you.
Believe it or not, none of this is to say that writing with a specific audience in mind is necessarily a bad thing. It’s essential to know your audience and to know what they expect from you. When, how, and if you decide to fulfill those expectations needs to be an educated decision. Also, we need to avoid the pitfall of thinking that just because our artistic vision is ours that it’s 20/20. It’s not. Period. No one’s is. Therefore, it’s vital to obtain the objective influence of a select part of your audience.
In their book Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach and Kristen Keckler suggest:
Think of your writing as a conversation with a reader—just one. Two people intimate over a meal, say, or over a cocktail or coffee, head-to-head. What if your audience was not a huge roomful of frighteningly various souls but one single person, the king or queen of good listeners, always nodding in interest, always with you, and a genuine friend, always ready to question your logic? What if you started to think of your writing as a conversation?
Pick a dear friend with whom you enjoy conversation and argument. Now picture that friend reading over your shoulder as you sit down to write or revise your story.
What must change? ….Tailor your sentences to the needs of one reader, and you’ll tend to make your work more accessible to all.Writing to an audience is one of the inevitable joys and frustrations of the writing life. We can’t avoid it, despite its pitfalls, but we can channel it by narrowing that audience down to specificity.
Related Posts: The Making of the Perfect Novel
The Importance of Pleasing Ourselves in Our Writing
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Story by K.M. Weiland