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Do you think about your audience when you write?
Christina Winters
Posted: Saturday, June 16, 2012 9:11 PM
So I've been working on a project, and I realize that much of my writing is written for me.  Do other people write for an audience?  Or do you write for yourself, and edit for others later?  Just curious.
Nicki Hill
Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 1:14 AM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175

I think I definitely start out writing for me - I'll have a particular sort of story in mind that I'd like to read, but that I haven't come across, so I'll start writing it because I want to read it. 

But my goal now is to someday see my (most likely, pen) name in print, so when I reread, I try to do so critically from an "intended audience" perspective to see if I'm still on the right track.  And I compare the arc of my story and the graphic-ness of the content to books that I've read and enjoyed in the same genre to help keep on target, as well.  I don't know how helpful that will prove when it comes time to start sending out queries and manuscripts, but that's what makes sense to me for right now, at least until I've gotten the book finished and am seriously starting to clean it up.

Oh, and of course I've also found it helpful to throw out copies of what I have done so far to beta readers to see if what I'm writing is appealing to more people than just myself. 

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 1:42 PM

Telling yourself the story is the worst kind of trap because from your POV it works. All you need do is mention that such-and-such happens and the image rises in your mind, complete with ambience, history, protagonist’s motivation and mood, and all the things that make life, and your story, real. But does it do that for a reader?

Take a single line, stolen from your story: “The curtain to the act closed and the conversations began.” You read those words and you’re there, viewing the scene from some personal viewpoint. You know, before you begin to read, if it’s opera or theater, highbrow or low. And that matters to ambience. You know if we’re in London or Dogpatch, and if the women in the audience are wearing wigs or cool-aid red hair. You know if the single person we’ll focus on is sitting in a box, in the nose-bleed section, or on a blanket in front of the town’s summer theater venue. How can a reader “see” what you see without knowing what you know?

One single line of prose and you’re already diverging, sharply, from your reader’s perception of what’s happening. And because you’re not aware that you are, you’ll make no effort to correct the situation, but will proceed as if there’s a 1:1 connection between your personal visualization and a reader’s perception, gained from the prose. So when you say, “The conversations began,” you, knowing the society, the venue, and the performance, have context. But do I?

The problem with intent is that it never makes it to the page. Only our words do, along with the emotion inherent to those words. So, we know why a character fees as they do, and how it shades their viewpoint and behavior. But to a reader, people we don’t know are talking about things that have no context from our own POV, and doing things for unknown reasons.

So in answer to your question, I don’t think it’s necessary to think about the audience. I think it’s necessary to place that reader in the character’s mind so deeply that they know his/her world as intimately as you and they do, and know nothing but what that character is focused on in any given moment. The character lives in a tiny slice of time they call “now.” As we all do. And as a reader I’m not seeking to learn a fictional history, or read a chronicle of events. That’s nonfiction. I don’t want things explained, either. That’s boring.

I want to fall in love, not hear that your protagonist did. I want to worry and I want to have someone to cheer for. I want to know what’s happening, not what happened. I don’t want to be told, “she heard.” I want to hear what she does, as she does. I want to know the character’s world as that character knows it, so I can analyze the situation myself and decide what I would do in their place. Then, if you’ve done your job well, that’s exactly what the character does, and I can say, “See? I told you so.” Or better yet, have the character do something I didn’t think of that makes me say, “Brilliant. I wish I had thought of that.”

But read a transcription of someone telling themself a bit of fiction? Living the character’s life sounds like more fun ;–)

Nicki Hill
Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 2:26 PM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175

Ooh, my characters definitely aren't living my life.  I write them because I want to deviate from the norm - and, like I said, because I want to read a particular story that doesn't seem to exist yet.  I'm the reader at the same time that I'm the writer, so I have to make sure that what's going on makes sense to me as the reader.  I really learn about my characters as I'm writing, and so motivations, environments, situations, dialogue, actions, reactions are all working themselves out on the page right in front of me. 

I also have a habit of constantly asking myself, "Is this really what [character] would do?  Could this happen in real life given appropriate props, or are you trying to defy gravity/three-dimensional space/logic/emotion/established character patterns?"  And then I have to think it through and think it through until I have what feels like a logical scene progression according to situation, real-life parameters, and character activity.  Sometimes it feels like doing a sudoku puzzle or some similar activity!  But in the end I usually feel reasonably sure that what I've written makes sense from a reader's perspective - otherwise I scrap it and rewrite until it does.

Of course, if I am having an issue with not showing things clearly enough or with skipping over things because they made sense to my writer-self and the reader-self let it slide, that's why I have beta readers.  They can catch a lot of those assumption slip-ups where perhaps my characters are acting abnormally for no apparent reason, or where the way I've positioned them in their environment doesn't actually make physical sense.  I love these people because they won't let me get away with short cuts. 

Christina Winters
Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 7:44 PM
Wow!  Jay, you nailed it with the opening line!  "The curtain to the act closed and the conversations began."  I think I need to go back and rewrite.  The image in my mind never made it onto the page.  There are red velvet lined chairs, walls of slightly faded scarlet paper trimmed with mahogany, dim light from the chandeliers...

I wrote the story one scene at a time to seduce an investment banker I met online.  I think my friend enjoyed the read almost as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Although, he didn't like the version where I used "the other man" to drive the plot.  He said it made him feel like the bodyguard in the musical "bullets over Broadway".  

I've been working on revisions to the first few sections and will post more soon.  Thanks for the helpful responses!  More later...

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Monday, June 18, 2012 1:18 AM

 The image in my mind never made it onto the page.

But it really shouldn’t, for two reasons. First, is that if you use 1000 words all you do is give the reader a static picture, and a fraction of what the character sees in an eyeblink. You cannot, cannot, cannot give pictures on the page, and trying to do so is a rock on which many stories founder.

But the second reason is the more important one: she isn’t paying attention. It’s her story, not yours. So why would I, as someone reading her story care that there are velvet chairs if she takes them for granted?

Narrow the focus to what matters to her, specifically, what has her attention, what it means to her, and what she plans to do about it. Think emotion and reaction, not facts and plot points.

So, you might say, “The curtain came down on act one and Lady Ashley leaned back in her chair.” That would tell me she’s relaxing. You could say, “The first act curtain dropped, and without the distraction of the singers/actors/etc., Lady Ashley’s thoughts turned back to xxxx.”

Take a look at these two articles. They may help:


The first article is one way of giving the reader the feeling that there’s a scene-clock steadily ticking, to give the impression that time is passing in the story. For an illustration of how that works, I have a new short romance piece posted here: http://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/508/

It makes use of the motivation/response unit technique outlined in the first article, though if you’re not familiar with the technique that’s not obvious. What is, is that the scene clock doesn’t stop, and the action isn’t stopped for editorial comments or digressions, so as to keep the reader as an active participant, rather than simply a member of the audience, drowsing in the third row.

• I wrote the story one scene at a time to seduce an investment banker I met online.

With success I hope. But that aside, it sounds like an interesting basis for a story, especially if you add in that the banker is actually… Hmmm…

Annah Johnson
Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 1:16 PM
Joined: 6/29/2012
Posts: 9

I read on article today on writersdigest.com that covers the topic of bringing imagery into a scene. It might be helpful.
Audrey McKenzie
Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 8:38 PM
Joined: 11/14/2011
Posts: 6

I used to write for myself but I've discovered that I need to keep my audience more in mind. Of course, I've always kept in mind my target audience when it comes to subject matter, language, sexuality. Now though, I find myself more aware of who I'm writing for especially since I have moved toward writing for a romance audience, even when writing horror and suspense. Sometimes I catch myself veering away from that focus and have to reign myself in.

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