1. LTC
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    LTC Member

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    Is the audience a priority?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by LTC, Mar 12, 2012.

    I skimmed over a few pages of the topics here, so my apologies if there was a similar topic I may have missed.

    I've been lurking a few sections of the forum here, and I have to say I find the advice given quite strange on occasion! More like, people are suggesting to prioritize the comfort of the readership before the expression of the story. Frankly, this is not something that ever would have occurred to me. Although I am one of those writers that likes to cross lines and damage psyche--I take comfort in my audience's discomfort. I make avid use of dark humour, abstract concepts, common fears, gender-neutral pronouns, second person perspectives, and all lowercase. And yet... I've heard I should avoid this! Why?

    I don't aim to appeal to a specific demographic. I write something that I'd want to read, and if anyone else would like to read it, well, good for them! I hope they enjoy it. But I would never, ever sacrifice creativity for a socially acceptable story. I'd rather have three people read and thoroughly enjoy my "uncut" story than three million thoroughly enjoy one I had to revise in order to form a general appeal. I was under the impression this mindset was common!

    So, my questions to you... What do you put first: the expression of the story, or the appeal to readers? Which is more important? When? How do you know? Do you truly write for yourself or for others?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do both - I tell dark stories, fantastical stories, stories that sometimes challenge societal norms, sometimes the stories are whimsical, sometimes scary etc However I try to tell them in an easy to read fashion. My readers are important to me and I get a kick out of their feedback, sometimes the latter suggest an idea I hadn't considered for example one of my characters became black in my mind because some of the readers thought she was and I realised in the context of the story it made sense.

    When I write it is in order to be read by others. If I wasn't going to be read I may as well leave the stories in my head.

    Personally, I love my own stories and get a kick out of being a reader of them.
     
  3. lorilee
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    lorilee Member

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    I think it depends on why you write. If it's your career or you're looking to get published, your stories do need a wide appeal to the masses to be successful. If you're under a contract, you write the type of story the publisher wants. In that case, three million readers means success, three is failure.

    On the other hand, someone like myself who writes solely for my own enjoyment, the expression of the story is what's important. Then those three people who get what you're writing is more important than the three million.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd agree that it depends on what your purpose in writing is.

    If you want other people to read your stuff - and on a continuing basis - then you have to consider the audience. I don't think you need to compromise your story to do that, but you do have to know what 'fights' to pick. For example, I would have no problem with most of the things you listed except the all lowercase. To me, that's just being artsy, and causes communication problems. But again - if it's poetry, I wouldn't mind it. In a novel - I wouldn't read past page one. So if I am your targeted audience, you'll fail.

    If, on the other hand, you're writing for yourself or for a small group of like-minded people, who cares? Write what you want, however you want.
     
  5. LTC
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    I do realize opinions will vary based upon one's purpose for writing-- that is, of course, why I also asked what your purpose was, and how your priorities shifted accordingly. I'm not aiming to be a novelist or published author as a career, so I suppose it's difficult for me to fathom why I would make compromised to be successful. But then again, that depends on how you define success.
     
  6. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do want people to enjoy my stories and I also want to enjoy writing them, but my stories are not extreme in any way so hopefully i can combine the two pretty well. For the rest I agree with what has been said above. There is no need to compromise with creativity because you want to get published, some writers automatically likes to write the kind of stories that appeal to a wide audience, probably because that is the kind of novels that inspire them and that they have enjoyed reading themselves.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't need success in terms of publication. For me writing is about communicating a great story so other people don't have to live inside my head to be entertained by it.

    For me I have been successful when a teen tells me my first two lines rang so true they spat their drink out, when someone else has laughed out loud, when an old hardened combat soldier tells me I made him cry, when a middle aged Mum tells me not to be so hard on one of my characters when I referred to him as ugly, wimpy and a real pain in the backside, when I get a complaint about killing off a character who isn't in a story set 120 years in the future from his story ;) , when on one site I belong to and post my writing in segments I get complaints when I stop writing a certain story for a bit, when someone reads my 100,000 word novel overnight because they couldn't put it down. Even when someone hates my story, decides to have a go at me because of an element of a character they object to etc

    These things are a huge buzz, and when I really feel my stories are starting to live and breathe.

    My idea of ultimate success would be writing a script for Dr Who/Torchwood or having my book banned or burned lol The latter is a huge ambition of mine.
     
  8. BlizzardHarlequin
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    BlizzardHarlequin Senior Member

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    In my opinion, the audience plays a large part but not in the sense of how many I could get to read my ONE book.

    The audience plays a part in how I write or design stories because to put a smile on a face, to hear a laugh or to see a tear holds a special place for me.

    My mum was the one to usually read my stories and to see her smile or laugh it really does help my confidence. Some of my favourite books aren't well known but are beautifully written.

    If you can connect to an audience and bring your own creative flair to your books, that's the real magic of writing.
     
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  9. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Audience is and should be a priority, but not the ONLY one. At the end of the day, writing something JUST because an audience would like it is probably a bad idea. If your heart isn't in it, a good portion of the audience will probably sense that and end up not liking it. Then nobody's happy. IMO, if you write the stories you WANT to write and that YOU would like to read, the odds that others would like to read it are probably much stronger. Remember that NO story will please more than a small percentage of readers and few to no stories that are well-written will have absolutely NO audience. (Unless your tastes are SO obscure but even then, if you enjoy it enough to write it, I am sure there are likely many others who'd read it and like it) So yes, audience should be a priority, but it's a factor among many and giving it too much weight will kill your story. There's no ONE genre that everyone reads. Yes, there are ones more popular than others but so what? Write the stuff you want to write. I think the last thing most readers want to read is something that is so clearly churned out solely for a paycheck.
     
  10. LTC
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    Niall, I completely agree with you! I love the feeling of knowing that a creation of mine has touched a life, if only for a moment. But I feel deceitful if I try to form that connection purposefully. If I aim to attract an audience, I don't feel like I've done anything, because I'm aware that I could increase popularity intentionally if I so desired. If it happens spontaneously, I feel accomplished! The ability to unintentionally attract energy through creativity is what I consider to be the mark of a truly talented and valuable soul. If I try to appeal to people, it just feels like cheating.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then you are writing for a particular demographic -- people who like to read the same stuff as you. I reckon that's a pretty good demographic to aim for. The challenge is, though, to judge whether you would really enjoy it if you hadn't written it yourself. The choice of themes is probably easiest, along with the use of dark humour; there you are likely to be a good judge. Gender neutral pronouns and second person perspectives are more of a challenge: do you really enjoy stuff written like that, unless there is a specific reason for it? As for all lower case -- well (unless there's a clear and specific reason for it) that's not creative (is there anybody here who doesn't know where the "convert to lower case" button is on their word processor?) it's cheap gimmickry that seems calculated to annoy.
     
  12. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    LTC, allow me to offer another perspective on this. I think it applies to more than just writing. My viewpoint on life as that as you grow in a certain field (politics, science, writing, sports, whatever) you start by following. I hope I'm not wrong to assume that most writers read books before they started writing seriously. As you progress toward mastery, you begin to lead. This means that you impose your viewpoints, abilities,etc, and they become accepted by others. You're not altering your style for other people because you know better than them whats good for them.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, as Blizzard stated: "If you can connect to an audience and bring your own creative flair to your books, that's the real magic of writing." You seem to see this as an either/or issue, when it really isn't.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, rather what I was thinking. But LTC seems to require that the "attraction of energy" somehow be unintentional. Why? What difference could that possibly make?

    Besides, the moment you sit down at a keyboard or take pen in hand, you are committing an intentional act. Writing is, when all else is stripped away, a form of communication. You would not, presumably, talk to someone in a language you knew they could not understand (leaving aside, for the moment, possible fringe uses such as intentionally discomfiting someone by the act). Yet, if we write in a way we know the reader will not pursue, aren't we doing the same thing? When we write fiction or poetry, we are perhaps not engaging in as direct a means of communication as other forms, but it is communication nonetheless. And if we did not intend it to be communicated elsewhere, we would just leave our stories or poems or lyrics tucked in our minds.

    Even the OP's intial comment about "taking comfort in my audience's discomfort" is a declaration of intent. The conundrum for the would-be artist is two-fold: one, in order to have the desired impact on the audience, the audience must want to share in the experience, and that is less likely to happen the more they are put off; two, creating the kind of "pure art" that some seem to desire to create is a little like becoming famous or successful - it can't happen by being directly pursued; it must come as the byproduct of some other useful effort. This is why so many experienced writers here and elsewhere caution novices not to worry about being published or anything else, just focus on making your work the best you can make it.
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Obviously, you have every right to decide what you'll write, who you'll write for etc. However, I very much doubt that it is a "common" attitude amongst writers. But, it bothers me that you seem to imply that editing is somehow "compromising" the story Editing is simlpy perfecting the narrative, making it the best it can be. It has absolutely nothing with "selling out" or what not.

    I can't speak for others, just for myself, but the way I see it is, the reader feedback is extremely important to me for several reasons:
    1. No matter how successful or experienced I am, I can never claim to know everything. Also, I tend to get overtly attached to every word I say, which makes me effectively "blind" to many issues with the story. To disregard opinions of anyone who dislikes something I've written, or to pretend that everything I churn out (no matter how hard I worked on it) is somehow a "creative process that must not be disturbed" would simply be my ego talking.

    2. I write with a purpose, there's always a message in my stories, no matter how hidden in the content, and my stories are important to me. I believe that I can contribute to making the world a better place with my stories. So to me, the more people read them, the better. This doesn't mean that I will sell out my ideas just to sell a copy, but readability of the book is mostly in its structure, in how it is written rather than what it's about. This is the feedback I am looking for, and if lots of people read my book, it means that I wrote it well enough.

    The genre audiences are there because everything we write falls into a "genre", but whether a book appeals to genre audience or audiences at large is irrelevant, if it is written well it will be happily read by many. If only 3 people liked my unedited book, I would not consider it a success or failure, just a work in progress.

    But as I said, every writer sets the standard for themselves.
     
  16. LTC
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    Allow me to correct myself: I had no intention of turning this into a personal issue, I was rather just using myself as an example. I sincerely apologize if it came across differently!

    I suppose you are right in that I am aiming for a particular demographic, even if I don't have it clearly defined. As far as gender-neutral pronouns, that most likely stems from my tendency to write creatures and personified abstractions as opposed to humans, as well as the fact that I personally identify with neither gender. The inclusion of second-person was actually rather misleading--I think I more meant to say that I thoroughly enjoyed second-person works regardless of the POV, which is typically thought of as off-putting. But like I said, these aren't things I make religious use of in writing, merely elements I like to experiment with.

    I would have preferred to avoid veering off-topic, but since the all lowercase seems to be attracting attention(as I expected) allow me to explain myself. To paraphrase myself from the "pen names" topic, I use different pseudonyms based upon the genre and form of media I create, and I have matching sets of personalities and goals for each. One such goal for one particular pseudonym was to illustrate that syntax and proper grammar could not be used as tools to accurately reflect the intelligence or ability of the user. The persona under this pseudonym engages itself frequently in philosophical and religious debates and scientific discussion without ever making use of a single capital letter, in order to demonstrate that writing conventions do not need to be followed. And that is essentially where that came from! I do not make use of this persona on this forum because I do not believe I can effectively illustrate this philosophy with that method.

    Do I? How am I portraying this as such an issue?

    I've got no qualms with the rest of your well-thought-out post and fail to see the contradiction, so I'll address this part in its stead. I'm not saying the connection isn't genuine if I strive for it; I'm just saying it's worth more to me if it wasn't pursued in the first place. Does that make sense? I'm not claiming it to be a logical or rational way of thinking, but I am claimimg it to be my own, and I will firmly stand by that. Like you said, true, pure art is often the byproduct of other efforts and intentions, and that is the art I wish to create.

    I'm hesitant to touch upon the subject of writing as a form of communication because I don't fully trust myself not to bring up irrelevant outside points! But I'll give it a shot. Writing is a form of communication, but I utilize it willingly as a form of expression. I am communicating, but communication is not what I am trying to achieve. It is simply... a byproduct of other efforts and goals! While I do find it satisfying to know that there are humans that enjoy my work, it is not a necessary step to reaching my goals, which consist simply of expressing a story through any creative outlet in its full glory and entirety to the best of my ability. If I am seeking to communicate it to others, I am not consciously aware of such a desire.
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Well, okay, if that is how you see it. For me, it seems like needless hairsplitting, but ultimately we all go by whatever works best for each of us. Good luck with your writing.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I'm totally confused. Any art form is an attempt to communicate something, if only to oneself. And if you put it out for even a handful of other people to see, that's saying you want to communicate with them. Neglecting to adjust the art to make that form of communication at least minimally understandable seems to me to defeat the whole purpose of creating it. And deliberately doing things which makes the communication more difficult simply to make a point - how can one make a point if no one sticks around long enough to figure it out? It just seems self-defeating.
     
  19. lorilee
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    lorilee Member

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    I think the beauty of these discussions is that everyone has a personal view on this sort of thing since we all write for different personal reasons. I for one find it refreshing that everyone can be so passionate; it makes me think and re-evaluate, even if my views ultimately remain the same.
     
  20. joanna
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    Probably here:

    That's the first thing I thought when I saw that: false dichotomy.

    To write something meaningful and entertaining, you need the talent to make the writing appealing. You need the experience and knowledge to communicate your story in the most effective and artistic way possible.

    Your writing isn't great because lots of people like it; lots of people like it because it's great.

    Therefore, the question of prioritizing creativity over appeal is moot. Because they go together.

    Editing to make your work appealing does not mean taking socially unacceptable things out of your work. Also, writing is creative if it gives us insights or tells a story that allows us to see people or the world in a new way, not if gimmicks that generally are off-putting to publishers are used.
     
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  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is just beer. Anheuser-Busch sells tons of Bud Light by making it bland, flavorless, but inoffensive. Nobody really loves it, but millions tolerate it, so they sell lots of it. On the other hand, microbreweries make beers with very distinctive flavors that don't necessarily appeal to everybody, but each one appeals to a small group of people. Someone who's a fan of a specific beer from a microbrewery is likely to turn up his nose at Bud Light - he wants the distinctive flavor he's looking for. The Bud Light drinker turns his nose up at the microbrewery because the beer is too distinctive, too strongly flavored in one way or another, deliberately designed to not appeal to the masses, but to the connoisseurs.

    Bestseller lists are full of the literary equivalent of Bud Light. Discerning readers, looking for something distinctive and special, have to sample many authors to find what they're looking for, knowing that the audiences for these distinctive authors may be very small.

    Do you want to be Anheuser-Busch and sell millions of gallons of relatively flavorless water, or do you want to be a microbrewery, handcrafting something very specific for a small fandom?

    My position is that I'm going to write what I want, whatever satisfies me creatively, because my assumption is that there are other people out there who like what I like. I assume, if I ever get published, that my work will find an audience, even if it's a small one. I want to be published, but I don't care if I'm on the bestseller list. I won't write stuff I think is bland, boring, and formulaic just to sell a lot of books. I assume there's a readership out there that likes what I like, wants what I want, and will appreciate what I offer.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think we should all write what we like. However, I don't think it needs to be a 'take it or leave it' thing either. As I mentioned earlier, it's quite possible to make compromises without compromising the work. There's absolutely nothing wrong with tweaking to gain a wider audience, and no reason doing so has to equate with prostituting oneself.
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shakespeare and Agatha Christie come to mind. Combining great stories, with great language. They take the best from both worlds.

    Personally, i like Bud Light and a variety of speciality beers from local breweries. The former makes a great shandy with lime juice on a summer's day, not something I'd do with a more expensive, more heavily flavoured beer.

    I'm the same way with my literature, I'll read anything from cookie cutter romance through to heavy duty classics. I'm not overly keen on the type of literary fiction that forgets about the plot but enjoy the likes of Cloud Atlas.

    My aim is to have stories that include the best of both.
     
  24. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    You’re always writing for a target audience even if you don’t realize it. It’s the same audience you’re a member of. That doesn’t mean you're tailoring the story to a specific group or theme. Your goal is to make the story readable and enjoyable for your audience even if it's just you. A biggest portion of that is the quality of the story and the characters.
     
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  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I am my target audience. I hope there are enough other who share my interests, but if the story didn't fascinate me in the first place, why the hell would I ever put in all the work to write it?
     

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