writing for a modern audience header

4 Challenges of Writing for a Modern Audience

writing for a modern audienceSometimes I think everything I learned about life I learned from The Andy Griffith Show.

For instance, in the episode “Andy Discovers America,” when Andy is incredulous about the new school teacher “starting them awful young for history,” Aunt Bea just sighs, “Well, maybe they have to. There’s more of it these days.”

If that idea was true of history back in 1963, it’s even more true of literature in 2019.

One of the coolest things about this ultra-modern era is the insane number of stories literally at our fingertips. It’s staggering. Not only are we able to access the vast archives left to us by hundreds of ancestral generations, we are also living at an unprecedented moment of story output. Stories of all sorts—books, movies, TV, commercials, you name it—are created at a brain-numbing rate. Even those of us nerdy enough of to try could never sample them all.

This is incredible in so many ways. That I can decide I want to read Of Mice and Men, borrow it from Overdrive, and download it on my Kindle in all of three minutes (or less—I didn’t count) would no doubt astound John Steinbeck. Heck, these days we sometimes don’t even have to wait a week for a new episode of our favorite show. The latest season of Stranger Things? Pow. Watch the whole thing in one night.

And then what? What happens after I finish reading Of Mice and Men? After I finish bingeing Stranger Things? Well, I start looking for something else, of course. And something else and something else.

After a while, the stories we consume in our lifetimes rack up considerably. In 2002, I started tracking the number of books I read. At this point, I’ve recorded 1,777. Add to that the books I consumed before keeping a record. Then add what has to be at least twice as many movies. Plus TV (including many, many Andy Griffith reruns…).

Nearly everyone with access to either the Internet and/or a TV can probably say the same.

That’s a mountain of stories. An ocean of stories. A galaxy of stories.

But here’s the interesting thing. The more stories We the Audience consume, the more jaded we are likely to become in our consumption.

What’s this mean for We the Writers?

Basically this: today’s audience ain’t Granddad’s audience.

4 Challenges of Writing for a Modern Audience

Writers who are pointed to the exemplary writing of the classics often complain that the likes of Thomas Hardy and Edna Ferber couldn’t possibly get published these days. There’s some truth to that, in no small part because modern audiences are a far different crowd from those of a couple hundred years ago. (This is not to discount the continuing worth of the great classics. The evolution of the modern audience is firmly founded on all the literature that has come before.)

However, as modern authors writing for a modern audience, we must be aware of the unique challenges that face us, not only in connecting with the current audience, but also in recognizing the formative effects upon ourselves as members of that same contemporary audience.

You can start by taking note of these four crucial facts.

1. Modern Audiences Are Inundated With Stories

Generally speaking, the modern audience is pretty story savvy. They’ve seen it all, or at least feel like they have. And they believe (often rightly) that they are qualified to judge what they’ve seen or read, not just on a personal level, but on a technical level.

What This Means: It’s much harder for writers to pull off the old magic tricks. The audience not only knows someone’s working the levers behind the curtain, they also know exactly where the curtain is and how to pull it back.

At this point, audiences know every twist in the book. They have evolved super-smell when it comes to sniffing out foreshadowing. The gimmicks that might have wowed audiences of yesteryear are now seen as boring or even manipulative.

It’s true the story-consuming public may not understand all the conscious techniques of good story theory or storytelling, but they often do have an even better instinctive grasp of what’s working and what’s not than do those actually doing the writing.

What to Do About It: The only thing you can do to get a modern audience member to pay attention to your story, much less approve of it, is to write your guts out.

It’s not enough to write a good-enough story. Every single one of you reading this blog right now has read and watched hundreds of good-enough stories. Some of them you can name (probably just because they made you mad). Most of them you’ve relegated to the waste bin in the back your brain to save on cognitive space.

Write something brilliant. Write something original. Write something true. And most of all: write something packed full of so much quality that it stands out like a Thoroughbred in a lineup of burros.

2. Audiences Are Inundated With Subpar Storytelling

As awesome-sauce as it may be to live in an era with unlimited stories, it has its downsides. The biggest is simply that quality stories are ever-increasingly difficult to find amidst all the quantity.

The self-publishing boom of the early 2000s treated me well as an author, so I hate to knock it. But as a reader, it has turned out to be kind of a bummer. It’s frustrating and often defeating to have to scroll through page after page of the kind of ramshackle cover art that too often signals equally ramshackle storytelling.

But it’s not just that the Gatekeeper is dead and the Gates are down. Traditional publishing, Hollywood, indie filmmaking, and TV aren’t much better. There are shining gems out there to be sure. But the rubbish is piled so high and so wide, it’s hard for audiences not to grow increasingly jaded—and to some extent, numb.

What This Means: Modern audiences don’t have a lot of trust in their storytellers. After a certain point, they tend to assume (consciously or unconsciously) that any new story they try will probably disappoint them.

For example, going to the theater used to be a highlight event for me. I loved it. But somewhere in the last 5-10 years, I stopped going. I realized one day (after the extraneous debacle that was Jason Bourne) that I was increasingly disappointed with what I was experiencing whenever I sat down in a darkened theater. It wasn’t a highlight any longer.

Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

Secrets of Story (affiliate link)

In Secrets of Story, Matt Bird points out:

…every time an audience reads a bad book, watches a bad movie, or attends a bad play, it just gets harder for the next writer, because the audience is increasingly reluctant to care again.

What to Do About It: There’s both bad news and good news here.

The bad news, of course, is that if your audience is anywhere over the age of 15, you’re probably facing an uphill battle. They came, they saw—and they judged most of what they saw to be unworthy of their time and money. At this point, your story is going to be a hard sell to just about anybody (even your mom, if she’s honest).

The good news, however, is there’s a lot of room at the top. If you can climb the rubbish heap and hold aloft your polished gem of a story, the audience will enshrine you. (For better or worse, good marketing is also instrumental and, usually, indispensable.)

The first thing to do in the face of an increasingly tough audience is to refuse to give up. The second is to commit yourself to the long haul of writing a truly excellent story. Do it for yourself and for your audience, but do it also for  your fellow writers. As Bird pointed out, bad writing is hurtful to all writers. One writer’s good story, however, makes it that much more likely another writer’s good story may also get its chance with that same audience.

3. Audiences Are Accustomed to (and to Some Degree Accepting of) Subpar Storytelling

Audience members may curtail some of their story habits due to disproportionate experiences with subpar stories, but they’re unlikely to quit cold turkey. Even if it weren’t all but impossible to opt out of stories in our media-driven culture, few people actually want to. We love stories so much we’d rather settle for poor stories than give them up altogether.

The problem here is that audiences—including the writers who are members of those audiences—become complacent in their acceptance of subpar work. How many times have we chosen a book or gone to a movie, knowing it was probably less-than-great—but it’s all that was available at the moment? When we are inundated with enough of these problematic offerings, we start expecting them, and then we start accepting them.


What This Means: For my money, the most insidious problem with this scenario is that these pervasive subpar stories are the ones writers are now learning from. For starters, many of these stories are extremely famous and profitable. So it would seem evident these are the stories we should all be imitating.

Furthermore, by their very ubiquity, these stories are becoming part of our era’s archetypal narrative. We are permeated with these stories. They inhabit our subconscious—which is the incubator for our own ideas and instinctive understanding of story. Even if we’re not taking all these stories seriously, we’re still gobbling them up by the hundreds. And you know what they say: we are what we eat.

I will often observe or participate in discussions in which a new writer will argue against good advice with the insistence that “[such and such a popular story] did it this way!” If pressed, a few more supporting examples might even be produced. At the risk of sounding too Mom-like, let me put it this way: just because a famous (and perhaps otherwise brilliant) author did something stupid doesn’t mean you should too.

What to Do About It: This is exactly why it is so important for authors to be not just members of the audience, but conscious members. Become a keen observer of your own reactions to the stories you read and watch. What do you like? What do you not like? What are you perhaps unconsciously accepting just because? And, most importantly, why? Why does something work? Why does something not work? And… how could it work better?

Writing well is no accident. It is what happens when an author is purposefully conscious of the effects of any given story and its techniques.

Let me also say this: you’ll have a better chance of keeping your writing healthy if you’re eating more veggies than candy. The occasional “junk” movie or “stupid” book, just because that’s the mood you’re in, is fine. But if that’s the bulk of your story intake, you’re in trouble. If you want to be great, learn from the greats, not the oh-well-this-isn’t-amazing-but-it’s-all-we-have-so-we’ll-just-make-do.

4. Audiences Think They Like New and Shiny

Storytelling is so glam these days. So many gorgeous book covers. So many stylish new visuals in the movies. So many hot modern actors with their hot modern haircuts. I’ll admit to stocking my Kindle with beautiful YA books that turned out to be a year’s worth of really bad reading. I’ll also admit (in a much more mumbly voice) to watching Nicholas Sparks movies just because the lead actors are beautiful.

When browsing shelves at the library, it’s so much more tempting to pick up something with a shiny new cover versus this:

Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte Penguine Classic

Or some vapid new action movie versus this:

Judgment at Nuremburg

What This Means: Here are two anecdotes from my own experiences as an easily-distracted member of the modern audience.

As a reader, I took a break from my long-term pursuit of reading the classics. I was going through some difficult life stuff, and I just wanted to read “easy” and “fun” fiction for a while. So I chased after the pretty covers and found that, sure enough, easy though they might be, they started giving me a cotton-candy feeling in my stomach after a while.

So I decided to go back to the proven masterpieces for a bit. I chose Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, dove in, and from the very first paragraph experienced an almost palpable sense of the satisfaction that only good writing can create. No, Wharton’s not “easy.” She’s not even particularly “fun.” But in comparison to all that fluff I’d been distracting myself with, she was incredibly rewarding.

Same thing happened to me as a watcher. The simplest metric for knowing whether or not I’m engaged in a movie is whether or not I reach for my phone. If I’m bored, the phone comes out. I’m looking up the actors’ bios or the story’s factual context or the trivia on IMDb. But if I never pick up the phone, it means I’m hooked.

After a recent library visit when I brought home about an equal number of modern versus “old” movies, I was fascinated to find myself on the phone in the middle of almost all the modern movies. But Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson? I was rapt. The phone never got so much as a fingerprint on it.

If there’s a moral here, it’s this. Audiences don’t always choose the stories they should, even when they know better. Mostly, however, this is because the new stuff and the good stuff isn’t overlapping as prodigiously as it could.

What to Do About It: Again, good news, bad news.

The bad news is audiences are easily swayed by pretty things. In an age of short attention spans, new and shiny often seems much more interesting than old and proven. Marketing is king, because marketing is how readers and viewers find the content. If the marketing seems good, then the audience believes (often even when they know better) that the content should follow suit.

On the other hand, the good news is that because you live in this pretty modern age, there’s no reason your pretty book cover or stylish script can’t be the next shiny thing to snag the audience’s attention.

The catch, of course, is that you want your story to do more than catch your audience’s eye. You want it to keep their attention. And that requires, first, an awareness of the type and quality of stories—new and old—that capture and keep your attention. Write those stories, and write them well.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What do you think is the greatest challenge of writing for a modern audience? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Yes to all of this. Do you think that authors of yore took more time to think about their writing rather than diving into the story? I feel like authors now are pushed to produce story after story too fast. No time to mull it over.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writers have always needed to feed their families. Dickens, for instance, could sure churn them out!

  2. This has to be the line of the week!

    “Even if we’re not taking all these stories seriously, we’re still gobbling them up by the hundreds. And you know what they say: we are what we eat.”

    . . . another example for my archive of writing that grabs me.

    Oh, and yes, mom, if Steven King jumped off a cliff so he could write about the experience, I probably would, too!

    Until now, I would never admit how much I enjoyed a glimpse into an actor’s background using IMDb.

  3. Emily Anne says

    I feel this post so hard. I am incredibly jaded by the glut of bad media out there. A lot of mainstream books that make it on bestseller lists these days fail to entice me. When it comes to movies, I mostly stick to pre-1980s work, as a lot of quickly edited, sloppily written modern fare fails the phone test for me as well. Not that all older movies were classics, but I find the slower mode of storytelling and lack of hardcore shock value much more compelling than the in-your-face style dominant now. Like, when sloppy movies like THE LAST JEDI are considered avant-garde, compelling storytelling by modern critics, it makes me trust critical opinion even less.

    This post is sobering but encouraging though! Be the change you want to see in the media landscape!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      To be fair, it’s often much easier to sort out the bad stuff of previous eras just because they aren’t as accessible. But I find myself increasingly going back to the older stuff too.

  4. So sad but true. Thanks for putting light to this topic. After seeing the new Avengers yesterday I know why I haven’t missed going to the theater in years! What a disappointment and sadly obvious Hollyweird propaganda. I’m beginning to distrust anything that comes out of them as off the “Deep [State] end.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No spoilers. I haven’t been able to see it yet! 😉 I admit that although Marvel fulfills many of the problems I’ve mentioned here, I still have a major soft spot for their movies.

      • I find Marvel movies to be somewhat repetitive. Sometimes the stories grab me, but the over reliance on CGI and less so the story can make these movies too much alike.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          No, it’s the truth. Marvel has made a couple good movies, a few bad ones, and a lot of so-so ones that are mostly saved by their characters.

  5. David Snyder says


    I think this a masterful synopsis, and so true on all levels. I am fortunate enough that a pretty well-known literary industry expert has offered me some guidance on writing and her advice to me included some astonishing tidbits that mirror your own observations.

    For one, she said that her own family, formerly staunch members of the literary intelligentsia who once read hundreds of books a year, now read nothing. Zero. They spend all of their time watching Netflix and Amazon Prime. And she has been at the very vortex of the commercial literary industry in various powerful roles. I won’t betray her identity, but suffice it to say that she should know what she is talking about.

    The picture is not pretty. People have stopped reading, basically. And as this lady put it: “If your main character is not the most outrageously idiosyncratic character the publisher has ever seen in his or her life you don’t stand a chance. Ask me why there are so many bad novels being published, and all I can say is this: no one knows. You got me.”

    BUT—there is good news. If you can write a GREAT novel—one that oozes life and originality and rises above the garbage pit you are describing—then the publishing industry will give you everything you want and make you a millionaire. It can be done. But it has to be great—there is no room for good. You have to make their jaws drop open. That’s what she said.

    SO, in that context, I use your masterful Scrivener template every day, and focus intensively on the extreme labor that careful writing requires. Because I have no interest in wasting my time.

    I simply cannot think you enough for all of the hard work and love you have put into these tools for writers. I recommend them to other writers all the time.

    I hope you are feeling better and have a great Memorial Day.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “BUT—there is good news. If you can write a GREAT novel—one that oozes life and originality and rises above the garbage pit you are describing—then the publishing industry will give you everything you want and make you a millionaire. It can be done. But it has to be great—there is no room for good. You have to make their jaws drop open. That’s what she said.”

      Hear, hear! I have much faith that we’re about to experience a sea change.

  6. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    Getting people to read or listen to what they should and not always what they want.
    One example is reading or listening to articles pertaining to politics. In truth most politics are complicated, but too many people don’t want to be bother with complication they want easy and quick answers. They desire black and white..What’s bad about this is iit leads to polarization and this leads to both groups demonizing each other. To its extreme this can lead to violence. Unfortunately the issues of today are not black and white but are mostly shades of gray.
    One of the hottest issue today is immigration. One group says they’re criminals, they’re stealing our jobs, and/or they will suck our welfare system dry. Not total;y true as statics can prove. Then there is the other group claiming they need political asylum and we can feed them all. This isn’t entirely true either.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Jedi do have something a point about the danger of most absolute statements.

      • Tony Martucci says

        Hahaha Jedi quotes. I love it! But does the master not also tell us – “Do or do not. There is no try.”

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. So many good gems contained within. Thanks very much. I also want to thank you for your book outlining software. I just got it and plan to use it for the sequel to my first novel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hope you enjoy it! We received your Support question, BTW, and the programmer is looking into it.

  8. Why do publishers re-releasing classics make such horrid covers? Do you think if I made a horrid cover, readers would try my book assuming it’s a classic? 😀

    • candacecolt says

      My guess it is because a lot of schools put them on the required reading list & since the kids “have” to buy them, covers are irrelevant. Probably all located in the same section so it’s a grab-and-go thing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve seen some pretty snazzy ones too. But part of it, I think, is that because classics are public domain and free anyone to republish, not much money is spent on cover art.

  9. I have been a subscriber to your website for a few years, and I enjoy your informative and challenging blog posts. “Writing for a Modern Audience” earns my endorsement as one of the best you have written. You succinctly capture the essence of paying attention to your audience. I originally oriented my trilogy toward middle-grade readers, but I subsequently learned that I had been fortunate enough to write something that appealed to a variety of readers. When I autograph my books today, I tell folks that the books are written for the young in age and the young at heart. Keep up the good work, Ms. Weiland.
    Robert Lee Murphy, Author of The Iron Horse Chronicles.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m not sure who said it, but I think often about the advice that children should not be given anything to read that an adult would not enjoy as well. The multi-generational appeal of so many great children stories proves this. Kudos to you for continuing the trend!

  10. I think the game for writing great stories is still character and character voice–that’s what will keep attention. But, gaining attention amidst the noise? I won’t pretend I know how to do it. If you write something that leaves your audience speechless, you can’t expect to get much from word-of-mouth.

    And, if you address a truth your audience is not yet willing to accept, expect that they will not like it. Books that “bite or sting” may suit Kafka, but most readers would rather remain unbitten. So, commercial success lies in preaching to the choir. But, what’s the fun in that?

    There’s the thing our readers want and the thing our readers need. We can try to give them what they want in the first act and what they need in the third act, but someone will spill the beans and steer others clear of the danger. A great book can be quite a dangerous thing.

    I tried this in my book, Merry Friggin’ Christmas: An Edgy Christmas Comedy. It’s intended to be a Christmas gift for atheists. Atheists will love the beginning and hate the end. Christians will hate the beginning and love the end. One rather honest 3-star review gave grudging respect: “…well-written but disappointing.”

    Yes, a better strategy is preaching to the choir. It may be no fun, but it’s a living…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s my belief that the best rule of thumb for “pleasing” the “right” audience is to write the kind of book you would most like to read. If you’d love it, you can bet others will too.

  11. I have to say, this is one of the most insightful blog posts I’ve read in a long time.

    I almost bailed out of it early on since it wasn’t reaching me, but then I ran into this line:

    “For my money, the most insidious problem with this scenario is that these pervasive subpar stories are the ones writers are now learning from.”

    Yes! I’ve read so many cookie-cutter indie stories that have no meat in them, I’ve stopped buying most indie books and focused more on trad published authors with long, successful careers. It’s not that there aren’t good, even great, indie authors out there. It’s that they’re so hard to find.

    Since I enjoyed writing a romantic subplot so much in my series, I decided it might be fun (and profitable) to write a romance of my own. Except I’d maybe read four romance novels in my entire life. So I bought a slew of romance novels in the sub-genre that appealed to me, and most of them didn’t grab me. Then I picked up a Nora Roberts box set on sale and started reading that.

    The first thing I noticed was the quality of her writing. There was all that “fresh writing” that Margie Lawson teaches in her Empowering Characters’ Emotions class. From page one, I started highlighting phrases and sentences. I _never_ highlight in my Kindle books.

    The third book in the box set had me crying my eyes out for the entire last quarter of it. Obviously, Nora had grabbed me and wasn’t going to let go until the story was done.

    And this:

    “I was fascinated to find myself on the phone in the middle of almost all the modern movies. But Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson? I was rapt. The phone never got so much as a fingerprint on it.”

    This is so me! (Except for me it’s an iPad. Old eyes.)

    The only thing I question is whether today’s reading audiences are willing to put in the work to read a more complex novel. As you pointed out, the bestsellers with multiple long series are often subpar books, but lots of people must be reading and enjoying them because they _are_ bestsellers. The short attention span generation seems to prefer short, simple books they can read in a day. It would be extremely discouraging to take the time and effort to write a better (or at least, not subpar) book and then not have it sell many copies.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As I’ve discussed elsewhere, reading fiction is a learned skill. Many bestsellers are judged critically by more experienced readers when the truth is that its these books’ “lower” standards that make them accessible to the widest possible audience. That’s not to say these books are unworthy. Indeed, if new or inexperienced readers can be hooked by these entry-level books, then their reading skills will grow over time, making it possible for them to tackle and enjoy meatier works.

  12. Joan Kessler says

    Much as we may dislike the modern book age, we must live -and write- with it. Like all things, this too shall pass, but until then, it’s best to be aware of the conditions we are working with, and you’ve given us a great heads-up in that department. Thanks for the post! -Also, love the graphic! My b/f loves searching Netflix, but I go numb after a few minutes scrolling, besides which, I already have TCM & BBCAmerica! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I got a good deal on Hulu last Black Friday. I’m liking it better than Netflix overall. It has a more limited selection–which actually is a plus.

  13. Fabulous post! Thank you for the deep dive and retrospective.
    Take home: Write fresh great alive stories!

  14. lmadden42 says

    I found it extremely interesting that you coupled Edna Ferber (a favorite of mine but not considered anywhere near a writer of classic dimensions and sadly no longer read) with Thomas Hardy (have never been able to get through any of his books, but he’s a recognized literary giant).

    There are many good writers who are dismissed because they appeal to popular tastes. Herman Wouk, who died just a few days ago is another example. I’ve read Marjorie Morningstar many times since the first time (when it was a newly released novel) and my admiration for Wouk’s story telling only increases.
    The real test, of course, was the Caine Mutiny. I grew up in a Navy family and all the Naval officers I knew, including my father, loved it for its authenticity.

    For me authenticity is what counts. Authenticity in world building and truthfulness in exploring the human heart. Edna Ferber and Herman Wouk had both of these. Maybe Thomas Hardy did too, but I’ll never know.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ferber was on my mind since I’d just made a list of all the Pulitzer winners I’d read. My next challenge is to read all the ones I’ve missed!

  15. I can consume a bad story. A good story consumes me.

    Sturgeon’s law applies in all eras. We remember Dickens but forget the penny dreadfuls. Most stories that survive their eras do so because they have some merit. It not a fair comparison to lay them against the unfiltered output of the present. In a few decades, we might know enough to make that judgement.

  16. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    I don’t if this has been mention before, however it may be worth repeating.

    Many many years ago I was reading a book on cartooning and in it the cartoonist said draw a hundred cartoons, when done pick them up and throw them away. That way you get rid of the garbage.

    So maybe it would be a good idea if the aspiring did this. They could look at it with fresh eyes and would be inspired to say, “This is horrible! I can do better than this.” and then do it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s a similar bit of advice in the writing world, about how we all have to first write a million words of dreck. But I like this. It’s very vivid!

  17. Dave Withe says

    K. M. ;

    I like your statement of the problem. I confirms in detail what I’m sensing (my ancestors were Seers in the old sense).

    It seems we have three options:

    1. Continue to trail the Market (ABA) as I feel most of we Christian Writers have been doing for a while, with Tolkien, Lewis etc do overs.

    2. Adapt to and try to Conform to the emerging market to fit in… um doesn’t Heb. 12:2 say don’t do that?


    3. Create our own New Marketplace as Lewis, Tolkien, Perretti, Jenkins, and others did in their breakout times.

    You might not agree totally with their thoelogy; but I lived through Perretti and Jenkins (his son’s movies are extraordinary too). They both shook the church world, sparked revivals and broke through into the secular press.

    When God breaks in, the world notices.

    As Christian writers we are heirs of those who Turned The World Upside Down in the first century.

    The Gospel always has been and still is the most revolutionary force in all history.

    As writers we are expected to be a bit crazy. As Christian Writers we should be radical (rooted) in challenging and overturnig the corrupt notions of status quo, secular society (which lies in the wicked one).

    My inspiration ends here, for now.

    But I’d like to challenge every Christian Witer that reads this, to start praying for inspiration to find and get into the next Market Creating Breakout.

    Mike Anderlee did it from a modern Catholic perspective (definitely not CBA stuff), we should be able to as well.

    Jesus said our faith can move mountains. If Caleb at 80yrs old could conquor the mountain of the giant Anakims, God can inspire us to upend the Publishing Marketplace for Christ, again.

    Write on beloved siblings

    Dave. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “As writers we are expected to be a bit crazy.”

      I like that.

      • Dennis Michael Montgomery says

        So as a writer if I’m caught committing a crime and tell the judge and jury that I’m a writer they’ll let me off because I’m crazy.

  18. JA Schmidt says

    Great article KM. Do you think the commercial pressures and successes of some novels spurs on the emulation and continuation of ‘meh’ novels? Like you I downloaded a bunch and have struggled to read most of them. Hate to wait the money but how does one know ahead of time? Or do we just wait for word of mouth/reviews to see which ones are on top of the pile?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think the current commercial model, in general, is both allowing and encouraging certain regrettable trends.

  19. Hello Katie;
    So happy to hear you again, the blog posts were insightful, but having you read to me is entertainment as well as educational.

  20. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    I wish I that I expressed condolences to you sooner for your cold. I’ve had at least one for every one of my sixty plus years and they are not any fun.

    If you are unfortunate to get another bout of the sniffles try eating a jar hot sausa with chips. You may find the the burning more preferable than the pain of a sore throat.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks! This was just about the worst cold I’ve ever had, or the longest lasting at any rate. I’m very grateful to be fully healthy again!

  21. You are right on with your observations. My husband, a novelist, also mega agrees with this insightful post. Last May, he wrote a guest post titled, “Novels Like a Ship in a Bottle.”

    It begins: “One of these days the person standing in front of you at the convenience store, at Starbucks, at the post office, or just about anywhere two or more are gathered will tell you he has just finished writing a novel. Hearing this, a woman standing behind you will reveal that she completed writing one the month before and is now at work on another.

    “Time was when only manic-depressive alcoholics and worn-out, cynical English teachers aspired to writing a novel….”

    Love your perspective on this. You keep things real. Thanks, as always, Kate

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Creativity is the life’s blood in all of us. I tend to think stories are the most primal form its expression.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  22. This post resonates with me. I *have* actually found newer writers, both indie and tradpub, who have meat on the bones of their stories. But a lot of stuff from the last decade or two is just broth so weak, it can’t even be called flavored water.

    A problem I see with the new stuff is that, as Snow White put it in her Epic Rap Battle against Elsa: “You’re a copy of a copy.” Too many new writers, and their born-yesterday editors, don’t seem familiar at all with what came before, both in their genre and otherwise. In archaeological terms, they’ve only gone one-layer deep in their reading. Their writing reflects no knowledge of the foundations miles below that layer.

    Worse, new writers don’t seem to know much about the world as we live it, so they do a terrible job of transporting readers to their made up worlds. I have abandoned fantasy stories where the author supposes that money just spontaneously generates in the purse of a princess, or they think noblemen are just random rich people.

    In contrast, for all the grimdark of Game of Thrones, GRRM at least grasped the roles of infrastructure and geography in a country’s wealth, and an individual’s. He also married up his fantastical politics with real life analogues, e.g., War of the Roses, which ground the story up to a point. Note, the stopping point comes well before the fantasy elements.

    I agree it’s important to consume media more critically. By chance I went without a TV for a few years. Now I bingewatch a show or two if I’ve reason to believe it’s good, then I move on. During the years I didn’t have a TV, I got a year’s worth of entertainment off a single video game (it was 60 hours to begin with, before the expansion packs and DLCs). My to-read list on my Kindle is long enough that I no longer feel compelled to finish lousy stories. Don’t settle for junk 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I watch movies and subscribe to streaming services, but I consciously avoid “TV” (except for certain live events, like the Super Bowl). Channel surfing just promotes junk viewing because it’s “there.” When I watch (or read) something, I want it be a conscious choice. Then at least I have only myself to blame if it’s bad. :p

  23. Sally Chetwynd says

    I understand perfectly that many writers must produce content in order to put food on the table – they may not always have the luxury of taking the time to polish a piece of work to perfection, they may have to let it be at “good enough.” And that is often good enough for their needs and that of their clients.

    For those of us whose writing falls into the “hobby” category (although we may be just as dedicated to the art and craft as the professional writers, and as driven – we write because we must), we might embody a phrase from the Bard – “To thine own self be true.” Part of that means being true to one’s characters.

    As for you professionals who manage to be true to yourselves and your characters and also wrangle the time for that in-depth polish, my hat’s off to you. I am humbled.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “To thine own self be true.”

      IMO, this is what any artistic calling comes down to. Whether or not your story is perfect or even good is beside the point. What’s *not* beside the point is how aware and honest you’re willing to be in pursuit of your art.

  24. I’ve been a student of the writing craft for a long time and your post made me wonder if the craft techniques of yore need to be updated or are they still valid for today’s reader. Thanks, as always, for the post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The archetypal bones of story remain the same throughout time. Stylistic trends definitely evolve, but for the most part, good writing remains good writing across generations. There’s a reason we still hark back to Tolstoy and the Brontes as all-time great writers.

  25. Thank you for your outstanding post. Could it be that the generations before us had, as a whole, a deeper allegiance to what really matters in life than does this generation? It has been said that the literature of a culture reflects the culture. Have we become a shallow, superficial society that can create only shallow, superficial literature? Has mediocrity replaced excellence? If so, then we must ask ourselves why?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Let’s put it this way: I believe our modern culture faces many challenges to deeper living that our ancestors did not. For one thing, the prevalent commercialism of art, however convenient it may be for those of us who earn our living through it, has certainly had its effect on the creation process.

      • So here’s a question, prompted by an essay I saw over on tumblr a while back that kind of floored me, but…re: the effect of commercialism on art…have you considered taking a look at the difference between “mainstream” art, and fanfiction, when you talk about “modern audiences”?

        Because it was pointed out in this essay (“On Fanfic & Emotional Continuity”, is what it was titled) that GENRE-wise, they have distinctions between them that go well beyond copyright or originality of setting/characters.

        It has a LOT to do with their audiences being so incredibly different in terms of their tastes and what they “expect” or hope for in a story.

        Namely, the argument (pretty compelling for those of us who read/write a lot of fanfic) was that “fic” OFTEN has a much more relaxed stance on pacing or what people would usually think of as “plot structure”, and is almost always much more character-centered and character-driven than a lot of modern mainstream fiction (which is often “plot-driven”, and ideally, “tightly” plotted/paced, in contrast).

        It’s not that nobody who writes fanfic creates anything “tightly paced”, mind; it’s that plenty of people have plenty of happy readers without worrying about “pacing” at all! But ever since the 1960s with our “fandom grandmas” in the Star Trek Fandom, the depth and development and dynamics of characters, have been celebrated at the front and center of it

        Heck, it’s to the point where common Alternate Universe takes on casts of characters include things like “the coffee shop AU” or “the college AU” or even “modern AU” for fantastical settings (think LotR or Star Trek) – all stories where instead of envisioning some wacky physics or a world with dragons, inevitably the whole point is “here are the characters living their lives as Normal People… let’s see what happens!”

        What happens is often say, 40 chapters of wildly different lengths 90% of which is characters dancing around their feelings as they snark at each other and like…live their lives?

        Something that mainstream fiction readers would and often do decry as “terrible” pacing with “no” plot – but… that’s wrong.

        It HAS a plot: the plot IS the character development! And it’s not that the pacing is bad – it’s that it has the pacing not of a fairytale or an epic or a play, but of Life, with an ebb and flow, slow periods and fast ones, and maybe, yeah threads that go nowhere.

        Mainstream fiction lovers very often don’t like it. To some, many such stories would feel messy and “unstructured”, and have long stretches where “nothing seems to happen”.

        Fanfic readers LOVE it though, because there’s a bunch of Something happening on the character end. And it’s a noted thing among many of us that we gradually…just…stop reading as many “mainstream” books, because “fic” is more appealing?

        And the funny thing is, because of that and the sheer number of people in Fandoms around the world, I don’t think there’s zero market for this “commercially” – I just think nobody has managed to realize that there IS a massive market for this, and/or nobody knows how to market it in a market already dominated by “tightly plotted thrillers” the like with their perfectly balanced three-act structures and action-driven plots.

        So I guess my point is – you need to know WHICH modern audience you are talking about, because there’s at least two wildly different ones in English-speaking circles alone! 😉

        Do you write for the “mainstream” with expectations of Firm Structure and possibly Action-Driven Plots?

        Or for the people who gravitate to underground “fic”, with its relaxed expectations of pacing but you had better put the right emotions and complexity and development into your characters?

        Granted I think a “mainstream” writer at their best can often do stuff with characters that appeals to “fic” folks, too (heck, my favorite books and movies do exactly that; that’s why they’re my favorites!), but there’s definitely a difference in focus and what is considered “most important”. Ficcers often care less about pacing and MOST about characterization and the relationship dynamics between characters.

        PS, found an archived copy of that essay and some of its responses if you want to read it:


        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Interesting. I don’t read fan fic myself, so when I reference fiction generally, I’m talking about original works, whether intended for publication or not.

  26. Excellent post and and something I’m always thinking about–going deeper into the story for something new that will connect with readers.

    FYI – that’s also a favorite episode of mine, especially the look on Andy’s face when the “new teacher” walks into his office and puts him in his place. 😁😁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I adore The Andy Griffith Show (or the first five seasons at any rate). So many gems, so many examples of great storytelling.

  27. Rudy Fisher says

    I am VERY interested in a blog post with a list of classics you recommend learning from. Considering how much of a handle your have on the craft, your recommendation is held in hogh regard! Thanks again for the great work!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ultimately, I find there’s something in just about every one that we can learn from. There’s always a reason for why we remember a particular book down through the years. Dickens, the Brontes, Austen, Hemingway, Faulkner, and so many others are worth reading.

      • Mary George says

        Joseph Mitchell for eloquence.
        Dorothy Parker for serious sass with literary excellence.
        Thomas Wolfe for autobiographical story and rhapsodic narrative.
        Jojo Moyes for sleek, contemporary style and theme mixed with humor.
        Kerouac for distinctive, cool and irreverent literary style.
        Yes to the Bronte sisters, Dickens and Jane Austen!
        Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Patchett, EB White, Heather Bergstrom, Somerset Maugham and Colum McCann . . . Frank McCourt, Ishiguro, Neruda, Charles Frazier, Toni Morrison, Rosamunde Pilcher. . . .

        Any self-published books from Amazon in your genre with high ratings, that could very well display commercial success hand-in-hand with cringe-worthy storytelling. It’s a lesson worth learning.

  28. Andrewis*still*editing says

    Yeah, this is one of your deepest posts yet.

    You might recall that I’m writing a kids’ fantasy series, essentially aimed at a Harry Potter audience that exists this decade. All along I’ve been conscious that I’m writing in a post-Rowling world; that if I’m lucky enough to pick up an audience, they’ll be savvy to anything I can try to hide within the pages. After all, their parents learned it with Harry.

    And that’s even assuming I can approach the skill and quality of an early Rowling, which is a long way from guaranteed.

    Today we’re also in a post-Martin world. Every week that Game of Thrones was on, there were over a hundred YouTube channels analysing the stuffing out of each and every word, and predicting what everything meant, especially given the extra background and story given in the books.

    And George have some STUFF in his books. Hard stuff, stuff a lot of good Christian folk don’t want to read about, frankly – and then even a heathen like me might find a bit strong. How do we reach an audience whose sensibilities have been so numbed already when there’d be little that surprises anymore? (Jaime & Cersei: yawn, seen it before).

    Now, don’t think I’m putting any of that in my kids’ series, but I won’t always be writing kids’ stuff. But I do know that even that can be darker and edgier than Potter was, because she already took us there by the end of her series, so the audience has already seen it. It’s almost like dealing drugs, I guess.

    I don’t have an answer, other than to say that I’m aware of it, and I guess if you’re taking it into account at least that’s something.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have a suspicion that this is all going to come full circle. The moment the grimdark stuff fully ceases to surprise us may well be the moment when it’s the Andy-Griffith stuff that starts surprising us all over again.

      • Andrewis*still*editing says

        I’m a little older than you, and I grew up watching black and white reruns of Andy Griffith. That whistling tune was a happy place 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I grew up with it too, thanks to reruns!

        • Just a thought here on the creative process. Shouldn’t you, as Katie suggests elsewhere, be taking your story in a different direction? I think a big problem is trying to “outdo” best selling authors by copying what they do. I would no more want to write a GoT “sequel” than a Harry Potter one. I know you say it is a fantasy and aimed at the generation that grew up with Harry and the like. OK, make it fantasy (I happen to like and write in that genre) but do something different.
          But maybe I misunderstood the issue you have. if I did, apologies.

  29. Tom Youngjohn says

    Get a Patreon account and I’ll give you $2 a month.

  30. Great post Katie. I’ve had the same feeling when recently (re-)reading successful books like ‘The Martian’ and ‘Ready Player One’ and then diving into novels by Heinlein, Neal Stephenson, Arthur C Clarke, Greg Bear etc. The former are ‘OK’ novels, with a good story to tell, but the authors really do keep the narrative simple in terms of sentence construction, grammar, vocabulary etc. It’s almost like they wrote it with an easy screenwriting adaption in mind, or was it to meet their audience’s/editor’s expectations, or is it just the natural way they write, which then does happen to successfully gel with their readers?

    So how short do sentences need to become to keep attracting a modern audience, more used to tweets and Instaposts? It now concerns me that, when penning novels of my own, I’m going to have to ‘dumb it down’ to make any headway in a crowded market. But doesn’t that just turn me into a newly-minted member of an ‘older’ generation exhibiting a form of writerly snobbery?

    You’ve rightfully highlighted a dilemma for me – and I suspect many others…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I wouldn’t worry too much about sentence length. Write your own voice as well as you know how.

  31. Abbey Gepp says

    A book is one of the greatest wonders of world. Why are so many people fond of reading? The world of books is full of wonders. You and characters of books can find at yourselves in different countries and have a lot of adventures. The book is a faithful friend. They form our values and characters. We try to look like the characters of our favourite books: to be brave, honest, not to be silly and greedy, to be true friends. We enjoyed the beauty and wisdom of fairy-tales and fables when we were babies and Granny read them to us. They taught us to be kind, clever, hardworking, to understand other people and help them.

  32. Great stuff. It challenges me to push the boundaries of my stories. I want to be the best writer I can be. Reading stuff like your blog urges me on. Thank you.
    With regard to what I think is the greatest challenge for me writing for a modern audience, I think it must be to grab someone’s attention. Like you say, marketing is crucial; getting your story right in front of a willing reader. I found, when I was putting up stories on Wattpad that nobody found them, and when I went looking for others I only found teen stuff that seemed to be written without editing and was being praised by others who were writing similar stuff. I felt like the kid at school who shouts and shouts, but can’t get a hearing and can’t break in to the gang. I think this may be a bit of an odd angle to approach the question from, but as I’ve not yet published my first historical novel I don’t have any other first hand experience as a writer. As an audience member I instinctively know a great script and story from a so-so one. So I agree that they stand out, but they stand out in a sea of not-quite-so-goodness. But everyone’s got to learn somewhere. I recently submitted a drama script to the BBC Writersroom. I wasn’t asked to join their team. They sent a nice email saying thanks for trying and they shared they’d had over 3,000 scripts sent in. Wow!
    I need to challenge myself to rise through that pile of slush and to learn my craft so that I can bang louder on the gatekeepers’ gates. Marketing, though, remains a big challenge for me.

  33. Your blogs are my weekly writing energiser and as always this one didn’t disappoint. I grew up when there were just 2 TV channels in UK. Although there was mediocre stuff around even then, the lack of choice meant I was “forced” to watch the movie greats. Older films got more airtime than the new so I had seen exceptional films like Judgement at Nuremberg by the time I was in my early teens. They are worth watching by anyone just for the sheer satisfaction of immersing yourself in a high quality film but particularly by modern writers wanting to study the craft of storytelling. Even now I will rewatch Bette Davis in All about Eve.

  34. A general comment.

    For a start, I believe everything written in the post is basically true.

    What I wonder about is why given that there is so much poor quality stuff out there it isn’t under fire?

    By that, I mean look at Hollywood as an example. Fantastic budgets and they can buy the best. But the stories themselves lack the zap factor (as Ms Weiland has herself pointed out with her wonderful series on Marvel and story telling). Why are the scriptwriters allowed to produce single dimensional characters and predictable stories?

    In this regard, I am a little amused and saddened by the way GoT was thrashed by the screenwriters. And we have over 2 million fans petitioning for a remake when the series has just aired its last series and episodes. There is a craving for good, well thought through and executed story telling.

    I wonder if the repeated return to old classics and reboots of old movies isn’t an indication of a creative blind alley, particularly in commercially-orientated organisations.

    I have just finished reading a movie review for Thunder Road. At one point the reviewer said the following: “He gives us lightning flashes of wacky, mostly one-man portraiture instead of a multi-character glow of evolving narrative….Cummings shot it [movie] for $190,000 in 15 days. That sounds like a joke budget and a joke schedule. But the laughs may be on bloated film-makers who spend far more to produce far less.”

    Addressing the “art” in Thunder Road is about telling us something about our humanity, a facet of story telling that seems largely lost in big budgets. I suspect the same applies to a lot of writing. My wife loves literary fiction and we talk about her reads a lot. One thing that comes across is that the basics are often ignored even by established authors.

    Difficult times, indeed, for indie authors.

    And a thanks for a very thought provoking post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good thoughts.

      I recently watched Eddie the Eagle and read in the IMDb trivia that the director decided to make it because “they don’t make movies like that anymore.” It’s the truth. When they do, it’s a breath of fresh air.

  35. Thanks for reading “The Secrets of Story” and for the link! I love your blog and podcast.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hey! Thanks for commenting. Really enjoying the book. I’ve enjoyed your insights from your blog from way back.

  36. Brilliant post.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. It’s really depressing that with our limited time and shrinking attention spans, most of us see reading as an investment, or an item on a checklist – including me.

    Jeff Goins wrote an article a few years ago (“Why The Hunger Games Is the Future of Writing”) where he talks about how books should be written to reflect that, which I disagree with. But that might be where the novel is headed. I’d really like to hear what you think about it.

  37. As a relative newcomer to the world of being a professional author, I’m finding your blog really fascinating, thank you x

  38. If I have zero will to write for the day, I can listen to a podcast or read a post, chapter, etc., about writing instead. So here I am. Thanks for the thoughtful podcast.

  39. Colin McIvor says

    Brilliant and thought provoking post as ever. I think the interesting thing about substandard writing is that I can read these books in literally a matter of hours if not less because it is easy to skip through so much of what is written and you really dint loose anything at all. I am however in the process of reading one of Terry Pratchett’s books for literally the 7th time and if i don’t read almost every paragraph i will miss some small detail that is important in maybe a couple of chapters. Also even on the 7th read I am finding new nuances and subplots. But, for me the acid test is that I can’t wait till bedtime so i can dip into the next chapter. That for me is the sign of a good book

  40. Movies are now more about social engineering than ever before. Like you stated in your essay, the this is the best you can get, so bend over mentality is designed to insist that we settle for less. Reminds me of that classic Ted Knight line from the old film “Caddyshack” when he’s admonishing his spoiled nephew Spaulding: “You’ll get nothing and like it!”


  1. […] K.M. Weiland examines 4 challenges of writing for a modern audience. […]

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