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On Writing > Writing for an Audience

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message 1: by Bonita, scribbler (last edited Apr 15, 2009 09:21AM) (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
When in the mood to write, I don’t really have a plan. All I know is that I just feel like writing. So I’ll wait and stare into the blank page and try to decipher what’s bothering me the most and go after whatever red flag pops up in my mind. It could be about family, relationships, or a memory that has stopped by for a visit.

The reading audience doesn’t come to mind until the second or third draft.

I don’t know quite how to word this question. Someone help me out.

Does a story have to be controversial to be interesting? Why do readers come to the end of a happy, sweet story and feel let down? Must all content be gaudy, violent or extreme before it can slap the reader in the face? If a reader can’t identify with a character or situation do they lose interest?

Since I don’t initially write with the audience in mind, I’m just wondering (besides the writing itself) what makes a good story good? Is it the subject matter or the characters? Both? What makes a reader want to keep reading?

Now I feel like I’m in over my head.





message 2: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
"What makes a reader want to keep reading?"

That's it... that's the question I wanted to ask.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Why don't we come up with a poll. Let's list aspects of a story and maybe we can get a consensus.

Voice
Plot
Characters
Pace
Tone
Subject
Prose

??


message 4: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
ahahaha! okay then



message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

ok? Do you want to do it?


message 6: by Matt (new)

Matt Comito | 23 comments a great writer can make an account of something completely mundane and tedious into a riveting and entertaining read

how?


message 7: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
sure, give me minute pardner


message 8: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
"a great writer can make an account of something completely mundane and tedious into a riveting and entertaining read

how?"


We may never be able to figure this out but I'm all ears.



message 9: by Shel (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 54 comments Hm. At what point do we focus on an audience.

I think there is part of me that is always focused on where I want to take the reader as I tell a story. But the really close work on that point comes with editing. If I can read something I wrote three weeks ago and the intent is intact, if it's apparent to me that I'm taking the reader down the right path, then I'm on the right path with the way I tell the story. In college, I was called the vein opener because I was a ruthless editor.

I don't know if other people do that, or if it's as you put it for most people - you write to solve a problem, or something like that, without considering the audience. I worked in the editorial/journalism world when I first got out of college, in which I learned the importance of being as lucid, concrete and simple as possible, that the goal is to convey an idea or information, and my job is to be a throughput for it.

Or, maybe I think all that because I just read Strunk & White for the third time this year.

I will say that my way creates a lot of writer's block, because instead of being focused on telling my story for the joy of it, I continually think about the path I'm trying to lead the reader down. In the best of times, when I really have the mojo and I'm on a roll, they sort of merge together and are indiscernible - because I know I'm telling a story worth telling, maybe?

As to the question of making mundane and tedious riveting and entertaining, really, you guys should check out that article about David Foster Wallace I posted, and the excerpt that accompanies it. His most recent novel is all about boredom. No. Really.



message 10: by Esther (new)

Esther | 26 comments Mod
I'm not a seasoned writer by any means. I started writing poetry when I was really young, then gave it up as a frivolous pursuit. I felt as if I was being hypocritical because when I was young I wrote because I needed to...because phrases or voices popped into my head and wouldn't leave until I had a listen and let them speak fully. When I got into the seriousness of writing through creative writing classes in college, I realized I knew nothing about the meter and structure of classical poetry and, therefore, felt as if my writing to write was simply...wrong. In that respect I didn't write for the audience...I felt I was the audience. Sometimes things came out that sounded good, but other times they were my way of questioning myself and my circumstances.

This semester I'm in a fiction writing class and while I find myself completely unfocused as to MY audience, I have noticed that my critiquing skills take this into account. One girl wrote a story about talking wolves with a religion and I felt myself unable to slip into the mindset of the age range of the intended audience, and figured it was because she had not written with such an audience in mind. Turns out she had an audience in mind, but her several of her ideas conflicted with that...but that's not the point.

I guess the point I was trying to make (why am I so damned long-winded tonight?) is that I agree that audience is perfected in the editing process. When I write it is because I need to or because I have something I feel I want to try to say. It's not until I go back and re-read things that I find the "this doesn't fit" parts...and for me those parts are because I'm not speaking to the right audience.

When I write a first draft I have a hard enough time just coming up with beginning, middle, and end. Add in the need to speak in the voice of my characters and I'm all screwy in the head until the editing begins.


message 11: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
I'll have to read that article again. Of course, all writers will have their own process. But yeah, for some of us, the audience takes a back seat until the editing.

Sometimes I write with my creative cap on and Mr. Editor tries to get in the way... Hey, you should sharpen up that sentence. ...while I'm trying to find the story. Or maybe I'm writing about something I know very little about... We need to research that don't you think? ...and put a marker in the margin to read about that later.

I guess it just depends on the story you're trying to tell.

Journalism is very choppy (to me) and precise, like tailored clothing with limited movement. My daughter is a journalist and it has changed her style of essay writing in a major way. I'm worried about her writing (but don't say anything) because it's informative and clear cut and really quite excellent, but (this is coming from a creative writer) sometimes very boring.

But that's just my personality. And you have to find what works for you. I don't care for poetry all that much - too many rules. Some people prefer the rules, but I'd like to be able to find a nice balance between the two...

When I'm writing for an audience of women my age, I think I do okay. But I'm starting to wonder if men my age would yawn at my stories. Right now, I'm reading Needful Things and some of King's opinions on what turn women on is retarded.




message 12: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
Esther, you're on the right path. I think we have taken the same route when it comes to writing. If you have that overwhelming urge to write (like everyone here) and it's all you can think about, then you have to write. It's your gift. Sometimes you have to push away all the censors, all those people who said, "You're not doing that right!" and just let it rip. I'm starting to think that we all write for ourselves at the beginning and more for the audience as we sharpen our skills.... and we're all at different levels. That's why I'm thankful for this group and all you guys... so much talent and so much to learn.


message 13: by Shel (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 54 comments When I'm writing for an audience of women my age, I think I do okay. But I'm starting to wonder if men my age would yawn at my stories. Right now, I'm reading Needful Things and some of King's opinions on what turn women on is retarded.

Yeah, I'm struggling with this one right now. The novel I'm working on is pretty internally focused in terms of the action and POV... it's not a grand, sweeping plot by any stretch.

I have written a couple of passages from the male characters' perspective and they are not completely bad but I don't think they ring true. It is easy for me to take the female character's mental and emotional hops. Not so much with men. They're not even good enough to show a man and ask if I'm on the right track!

Oh, and I so totally agree with you on King. But I don't think that's his forte. It's pretty comical. Susie Bright could teach him a few things. Well, Susie Bright could teach almost everyone something.


message 14: by Matt (last edited Apr 16, 2009 03:01PM) (new)

Matt Comito | 23 comments I think it's a mistake to focus on targeting an audience during the period of composition - write about what interests you and do it as well as you can and let the chips fall where they may

otherwise dont you run the risk of being something of a hack?


message 15: by Esther (new)

Esther | 26 comments Mod
Bonita wrote: "Journalism is very choppy (to me) and precise, like tailored clothing with limited movement. My daughter is a journalist and it has changed her style of essay writing in a major way. I'm worried about her writing (but don't say anything) because it's informative and clear cut and really quite excellent, but (this is coming from a creative writer) sometimes very boring. "

I'm seriously worried about this right now. I'm terribly afraid that my job will creep into my passion. If I start to sound dull, will someone please let me know? Right now it's new and I'm still at the point where my "job" makes me yearn for the freedom...I want for adjectives and commentary and descriptors. When I write my stories I still want my characters to scream, implore, and question instead of just "said"ing things.



message 16: by Bonita, scribbler (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
A creative writer should write what they are passionate about and experience tells me that writing for yourself is always more satisfying.

A journalist, however, should never voice his own opinion in a news story - as it should be; it's a completely different animal. I'm extremely proud of my daughter's accomplishments and she honestly prefers structure and format... I guess I'll have to live with that. I could never be as happy as she is as a newspaper reporter. But... when I need a proofreader, she's the person I turn to first.

Isabel Allende started out as a journalist and has published several successful books. Lots of journalists do, I suppose.

Actually, now that I think about it, you have the best of both worlds. A creative hat and an editor's hat. As long as you're able to separate the two, I think you'll do just fine.


message 17: by Bonita, scribbler (last edited Apr 17, 2009 08:21AM) (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
Shel wrote: "I have written a couple of passages from the male characters' perspective and they are not completely bad but I don't think they ring true. It is easy for me to take the female character's mental and emotional hops. Not so much with men."

I haven't run into a lot of problems with this... yet. But most of my friends have always been guys and I'm a lot closer to my brothers than my sister. I don't know... maybe you should watch a lot more action movies?!? Ha (just kidding). I'm sure that someone somewhere has composed a generalized list of things to remember when writing about male characters.

...

I think my problem is with not putting in enough friction and conflict... I just hate/don't understand competitive people.


message 18: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 2 comments Trudy Lewis, my advisor in my master's program at Missouri, and a fiction writer of no mean talent, once asked our workshop "Who do you all write for? What community do you feel beholden to?" She wanted to know if we felt obligated to a specific community, if we had an audience we wrote for. After some long, awkward moments of silence, I gestured around the room and said, "This one." My classmates agreed, to Trudy's surprise.

Years later, I realize how cavalier this sounded. I think Trudy was trying to see if we had some sort of "village" we were writing for--our family, our hometown--but for most of us, we were writing for "the intelligent reader," whoever that was, if not for the teacher and/or our classmates.

The more I think about audience, the more I think it's pretty important if you are writing non-fiction, especially essays or articles. For writing fiction, at least for me, the audience is, like others have said in this thread, not a primary focus, but something we think about when revising. Sometimes I imagine other writers I admire reading a passage of mine, and I immediately start deleting and changing things that are weak. Sometimes I just try to imagine that elusive "intelligent reader," someone like me who hates finding misspellings and flat description and cliched plot twists and weak characters in a book he or she picks up from a store shelf.

One thing I try hard NOT to envision: my family reading my fiction. I let them read it, of course, and my wife Kathy is a great editor. (Once after reading a chapter of my novel, she said, "Um, Chris, women don't talk that way to men. Especially if they've slept with them." Maybe I've been reading too much Stephen King.) But I get all hung-up on my writing if I wonder "What will Mom think of this?"

Audience is a general consideration at first, I suppose, if you want to consider your market. (What kind of person would read my article on turkey hunting?) But for fiction, at least for me, audience is something I try to put off as a consideration until much later. In the end, as Bonita and others have said, we're all doing this--engaging in this solitary, difficult, and often frustrating art--for ourselves.


message 19: by Shel (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 54 comments I will second the family thing.

Everyone in my family seems to be worried I'm writing about them.

And in a way, I suppose I am - their manners of speech and my cultural background will emerge no matter what I do... my "historicity" and all that...

But what I'm currently writing about includes elements of BDSM. If I were worried about what they thought I wouldn't be writing anything at all... And let's not even go into my kids... it'll be just like The Position in my house.


message 20: by Bonita, scribbler (last edited Apr 20, 2009 08:46AM) (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 73 comments Mod
Chris wrote: But I get all hung-up on my writing if I wonder "What will Mom think of this?"

Same here. I have to erase that thought or I'll never get any writing done.

And why are some people worried that you'll write about them and expose all of their deep, dark secrets? In the past, my significant other has leaned over and asked, "Do you write about me?" his eyes widening and fearful. I only borrow from what I know, I'll think to myself and say in a calm, reassuring voice: "Well that's just silly."

I'd better not be writing about real people. Fiction demands better storytelling than real life. And, to quote my favorite author: "Are fictional characters drawn from life? Obviously not, at least on a one-to-one basis - you'd better not unless you want to get sued or shot on your way to the mail box some fine morning."


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