Thursday, May 5, 2011

Writing For An Audience

One of the keys to good writing that I've come across repeatedly is to make sure you know the audience you're writing for. In practice, this can be a bit daunting. For instance, let's say I'd like to write an urban fantasy YA-crossover. Or, more simply, the next Twilight. Not neccessarily in terms of success, but in terms of that's the general audience I'm shooting for.

(Side note: Twilight was a large influence for my first novel. I really did enjoy the stories, but like a lot of people there were a lot of parts where I felt I would have rather seen this or that. And it always bugs me when people complain but offer no solution. In a way, my solution was to write my own book the way I wanted to see things. This isn't a criticism of the books, though, because you're never going to be able to please everyone. The goal then, is to hit more than you miss, and I think it's obvious that Stephanie Meyer did that. We may like each and every design choice she made, but overall the stories worked to the tune of millions of sales. Purests make take issue with the minutia, but writing is a business in addition to an art form and hobby. I would take an infinite amount of flak about sparkly vampires if I could achieve that level of success. I mean, how many people did she get to read? It's awesome.)

Anyway, that's a huge audience. You have everything from teenage girls to SUV-driving super-moms. How could you possibly write a story with all of those people in mind? When I first contemplated the project, I was disheartened by this. How could I ever succeed with so many people?

Then I remembered, the large following came after the novel was written. I don't think Stephanie sat down and thought: I'm going to write this for a million different people. The key, then, to this whole writing for an audience thing is to pick your ideal reader. Who are the one or two people you really want to like your story? Then, write for them.

For me, it was my wife and my sister. My sister was a fan of Twilight, being a teenage girl and all, but she is not your stereotypical Twi-hard. This may be a brother's love, but I don't see her as just another screaming fan. She's a very intelligent girl. She wasn't simply "Team Jacob" or "Team Edward." She could talk to me about the pros and cons of both. She was the whole reason I read the novels in the first place.

I'm 13 years older than my sister. Connecting and having a relationship with her is always going to be a bit of a challenge. We have the age difference. We have the sex difference. Books are one thing that really can ignore both of those. When she says "you have to read this," I now believe her. She's an excellent little literary critic in her own right, bringing in the unique view of a 12-year-old girl. And, as the industry has seen, that's not a demographic to scoff at.

Then there was my wife. She's always encouraged my writing, so I wanted to pay her back a bit. I wanted to write something she would enjoy too. She's not a big reader, but she loves stories. In particular, she is a big fan of anime cartoons. She used to watch them religiously in college late night on Adult Swim. (My wife is a nerd, and proud of it).

This is where the heavy influence of asian mythology comes from in my first book. I basically took the broad genre of "vampire stories" and combined a bit of "anime cartoon" and made a story of it. It was a whole lot of fun. I mean, I got to mess around with shapeshifters and samurai. If you don't think that is cool, then my books probably aren't for you :-).

In short though, that was my intended audience. Two people. If they enjoy the story, it has succeeded (and did). If anyone else enjoys it, that is just icing on the cake (which I'm hoping for).

In my second project, the more traditional fantasy I'm working on, I've added one more person to my intended audience. Well maybe two, if you include myself. A supportive friend has been helping me to navigate the fantasy genre. I've always loved fantasy, and it helps to have someone deeply familiar with the genre to point you to the "good stuff." I"m a voracious reader, so I'll burn through a genre in about a decade. I did Sci/Fi with a little fantasy in high school. I went for mainstream thrillers/murder mystery in college. Now, I'm coming home to fantasy.

In any case, if someone were to ask about how to write for an audience, the advice I would give is try to whittle it down. Write for people you care about. It'll invest you more deeply in the story and provide it's own reward. Quite frankly, they're likely to love your work anyway because they care about you. However, their confidence can help motivate you to do your very best. At least, it seems to have worked that way for me.


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