Find the balance between writing with your audience in mind, and paying too much attention to your audience.
It’s early morning, or more likely the middle of the night, and you eagerly hop out of bed to dash off witty lines of dialogue that you plucked from your mind just before fully entering dreamland. Every writer I know has those moments, and they are golden. They are great because you are being genuine and real; unfiltered. You didn’t stop to think about who might read those lines later, because let’s face it…you don’t really care at that moment. Eventually though, you know you will need to look at your writing without your rose-colored lenses, red pen in hand. That is when you need to think about your audience.
Your audience may be undefined while you create your masterpiece, but you still need to try and imagine the type of person or demographic group (ack…marketing jargon!) that will be drawn to your book. After stumbling through drifts of writing in a multitude of genres, I noticed a few issues that were repeated. You may have noticed them as well. There are books written with adults in mind, but with juvenile dialogue and vocabulary. Then there are books which are supposedly for children that make Dickens seem like a cakewalk (I may be exaggerating slightly with this comparison).
So how do we find the balance between ignoring our audience completely, and paying so much attention to it that we lose our creative flow?
Follow these six suggestions to get a better handle on how to write for your audience, without letting it consume all your thoughts.
1. Audience and Age-Appropriate Situations
One reason authors lose readers is by writing for a specific audience, such as children, but then putting in content and situations that those children won’t typically understand. Talking in detail about choosing a marriage partner in an elementary-age book, will not make much sense to a child and they will not want to read the book. Likewise, writing for an adult audience and putting characters in situations that seem unnaturally juvenile can be offputting.
2. Ask Yourself What Level of Description and Detail is Appropriate
A great example of writing appropriately for your audience is the Harry Potter series. The first few books in the series do not have lots of gory details whenever one of the characters dies, or when there are “scary” scenes. The descriptions and details change slightly in books at the end of the series for older audiences.
3. Focus on One Main Theme
Many times, when writers focus too much on an audience the result can be too preachy or redundant. No one wants to be hammered with a message while reading for fun. Focus on one main theme and, with proper character development, you can be assured that you will have plenty of engaging subthemes and interesting twists. It is okay if your theme doesn’t stomp around and scream “I’m here!”. Subtlety is usually more effective, but a little more difficult at times.
4. Use Relatable Language and Dialogue
Crafting memorable characters involves creating realistic ones. This means your banker most likely isn’t going to greet people with a high-five and a “What’s up, Dude?”. This is a general rule which can be broken as long as there is some explanation. Maybe the banker originally dreamed of being a surfer, and still harbors closet dreams of going pro. If he hangs out with a surfing crowd on the weekends, this might be an understandable slip-up on his part. If you’re writing believable characters for young people, you’ll most likely include the most current slang terms.
5. Read Tons of Books Written for Your Intended Audience
They say, “practice makes perfect” but in a writer’s world we can learn a lot by reading other materials that have been published for our intended audience. This is a great way to see what is popular, and sometimes to find out what does not work. There may be one book about dragons that is on the bestseller list, while another book on dragons falls into oblivion. Many times it is because the author didn’t consider their audience enough, or perhaps too much.
6. Be Careful with Vocabulary
I heartily disagree with people who tell writers to avoid unusual or difficult vocabulary. There is nothing wrong with encouraging learning and exposing an audience to the wonderful world of words. The trick is to realize enough about your audience to know what types of words you can use. Try to use words which a reader can understand based on the context, or when appropriate define it through dialog or even a little footnote so readers don’t become too disengaged from the story.
Remember that the more times your readers need to pick up a dictionary, the more chances they have to quit reading your book.
Nothing is Foolproof.
No matter how hard you try, it might take a while to get the hang of writing for your intended audience. If you have a good plot, I firmly believe that many readers will faithfully stick by you, even with small “audience issues”. If you keep these six steps in mind, you can at least be mindful of your audience and hopefully avoid that dreaded pile of unsold books.
Have you encountered some of these audience issues in books you have read? Did you quit reading or did you finish the book? Do you have a pet peeve related to writing with an audience in mind?