1. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Writing for... everyone?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Beth, May 6, 2013.

    Hi all,

    I'm attending an editing course where we in turns we read and discuss our current works. The teacher is chief editor for a major publisher here in Italy, and while reading my stuff, she expressed the theory that a writer must write not for a target, broad or narrow, but for EVERYONE. I went: WHAAAT???

    The fact is in my novel I often refer to facts from the early 80s, like games or music. A few colleagues stated that such references bother them, as they find them "obsessive" (which is definitely my intention, since the main character is a child and her world is made of games and tv shows and songs). To that comment I said that "whoever is bothered by such references is NOT an ideal reader for my novel". The guy felt offended. He said something like: "Sorry if I'm stupid and I'm not to understand your work".

    So now I'd like to read your opinion. Is it really possible that a novel is intended for everyone? Or maybe (and this I think) we have to write for ONE ideal and coherent reader who knows and understands the world we are creating?

    Beth
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I strongly disagree with your teacher. Writers typically write for a like-minded audience (no matter how large or small that audience is). I hate the idea of trying to write for everyone and trying to please as many people as possible.
     
  3. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Love that quote. And I disagree with your professor. He might be referring to non-fiction or accessibility to the general reader (I don't know, I wish I can read minds), but if you wrote for everyone, you will have a hard time pleasing everyone. One man's meat is another man's poison.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Different people like different things. It's probably not possible to write for everyone. I don't like horror, so I don't read it, but that shouldn't stop anyone from writing it. I write science fiction (usually), and I know many people don't like it. I don't write for them.

    So your teacher is, I think, very wrong.
     
  5. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    To an extent, they are correct. If you only write to a particular audience, your story's marketability/utility can be severely limited. If your target audience is "teenagers, ages 15-18, who like cars" you are fine. But if you are writing a story that only spider experts can enjoy, you might struggle to find any readers.

    As with all critiques, take them with a grain of salt. If 1-2 out of 20 say it doesn't work for them, I'd not worry. If 18-19 of the 20 bring it up as a problem, it might be time for some revisions.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    No -- your challenge is to make the reader interested in spiders. If the MC can show why they're so fascinating, the reader will be at least a little bit more interested in them than he was before he read the story.

    If you write for everyone, you'll please no one.
     
  7. jccfuture
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    jccfuture Member

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    I also disagree with your teacher. I think if you make something you get to choose how narrow or broad your appeal will be, it is entirely up to you and the things you want to write about and the ideas you want to explore. Maybe as feedback it is useful to know that some other people find it harder to get into than something more general, but now you know that, how you respond is up to you.
     
  8. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    I respectfully disagree with you here. Sure, it would be beautiful if it was possible to craft a passage about the breeding habits of Argiope bruennichi and how they differ from Castianeira longipalpis which would appeal to academic audiences, gamers, and also to tweens, but it's not likely to happen. Knowing your target audience is important. Write to them, just be aware that, if you pick too limited of a group, your readership potential will suffer. I believe that was the instructor's (ineloquently worded) intention.
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that knowing your target audience is important. BUT, we're talking about fiction here. A scholarly treatment of the difference in the breeding habits of those two spiders would, of course, not appeal to a very broad slice of the general book-buying public. If, however, your MC is some sort of arachnophile, then your job as the writer is to convey to us why the MC likes them so much -- what he sees in them, how they are or are not like humans, how what they do can be analogized to what we do. If, for some reason, the differing breeding habits is relevant to the plot (probably, in this case, I'm guessing in some sort of sci fi story -- some particular spider is taking over the world, or a scientist is breeding a particular spider to weaponize it somehow), then the writer sure as heck better make this exciting. And if he or she does a good enough job, a lot of people -- even those with no particular interest in spiders, will become more informed and interested in our arachnid friends after reading this scintillating tale involving them.

    The target audience in this case, would be readers of sci fi, possibly mass market fiction (ala Crichton). NOT entomologists and professors of biology.
     
  10. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    No the audience might be sci-fi or mass market. It also might be entomologists or professors. It could also be a different market all together. If the author wants to convey the interesting thing contained within spider reproduction, that is exactly what they should write. The OP never stated that it was exclusively a fiction editing course. If the OP was creating a non-fiction work the instructor's advice is sound.

    Regardless, not every topic will appeal to every reader; an author should not try to achieve that impossible bar. I will never read a romance novel--it's just not my thing. The author of said novel hasn't failed at anything, I just have no interest in that topic. I also find Victorian novels to be boring, and I could not finish anything from Jane Austin (although, I enjoy structural analysis of her works). No author will make every topic interesting to every reader. The instructor was correct to suggest that the OP might want to widen their story's appeal, the OP is also correct that they are not trying to write something that appeals to every reader.
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    After I wrote my last post, I walked out to my mailbox, and found that most delightful of deliveries -- a small package with a logo that is now described as a "smile" along with the name of one of the most well-known and largest rivers in the world. My latest order -- a book called Vivid and Continuous, Essays and Exercises for Writing Fiction by John McNally arrived! I opened it to the second chapter, which is entitled, I kid you not, The Ideal Reader.

    Granted, this is one person's take on the matter. But, FWIW, he made a couple of interesting points. First, he said that the first successful story he wrote had no particular target audience in mind. He wrote it essentially for himself. He says, "I wrote that story as though I was to be its only reader, and it was a liberating experience." A second point he makes is that he wants anyone to be capable of enjoying his stories, even if they are entirely unfamiliar with the particular world where the story is set.
     
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  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    But, the OP did say she was writing a novel. Therefore, this discussion thread should be focusing on fiction.

    I agree with you 100% here.

    This is where we disagree. I don't think that trying to appeal to some additional type of reader is ever going to work. This could, however, happen as a byproduct of a writer digging deeper into himself, and expressing his feelings, passions, and thought processes about some particular subject, which can resonate with readers who have similar feelings, but about different subjects. That's where you can get readers to identify with a character.
     
  13. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    Indeed, and the OP should be sure to flush out their characters and craft the best prose possible. But a story that is very reliant upon 1980s' pop culture will probably not ever get much readership from people who were not interested in pop-culture during the '80s. The best written prose in the entire world might well be contained within a novel based upon the Battletech or Gundam Wing franchises, but their market appeal is small enough that mainstream readers will pass them by without a glance. It's not a flaw in the writing, just a matter of genre and intended readership.
     
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  14. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I think that there should be a balance if possible. Every writer would like their work to receive universal acclaim but that's unlikely. When I write, I have a market in mind, but my main target audience is me. I spent a long time writing stories I thought I should write instead of stories that truly interested me. Now that I'm appealing to myself first, I am much more successful.

    I read outside and all around my target audience, mystery/suspense. I'll read almost anything from sci-fi, to literary, to historical, to classics and anything else that I can find. By reading outside of your genre, you can find out how other authors write for their target audiences. The value in this is that as you become more aware of the likes and the dislikes of these readers, what works and what doesn't work in other areas besides your own focus, you become much more likely to write beyond your genre and to reach a more general audience. You can still focus on your ideal reader, but you'll develop the chops to attract other readers as well.

    Concerning the spider analogy, Herman Melville could not help going on and on for pages and pages about the various aspects of whaling in Moby Dick. I wouldn't have missed it had it been left out as it is pretty dry reading, but he wrote a great novel despite his obsession with these details. I'm pretty sure he didn't write that book for whalers. Which goes to show that if you know your craft and its possibilities, reading voraciously being one of the ways to learn that craft, you can attract readers of all types.
     
  15. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    But no one reads Moby Dick for the whaling scenes either. I'd say it's a great book in spite of the spider-expert detailing.

    Great advice regarding reading multiple genres, however.
     
  16. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure about this. I know this is part of the OP, although without seeing the particular writing, I can't really assess it. I think it depends on what is meant by "very reliant." Good storytelling can incorporate cultural elements of specific times and places and make us more interested in them. I know it's not a novel, but think of Mad Men -- there are plenty of fans who are not particularly enamored of the 1960s, and not especially interested in the advertising business. Nevertheless, the great storytelling keeps them involved while giving them a feeling of both of these elements.

    This, I suppose, depends on your definition of success and your goals for writing. If the goal is to become Stephen King, or Michael Crichton, or Nicholas Sparks, then that's one thing. But if your goal is to tell your story and convey your ideas and thoughts, then does it matter that the whole world doesn't see it. If your thoughts only resonate with a few other people, is that enough? There are plenty of authors who are successful and make a living, and apparently feel fulfilled who write in a particular genre, and have fans who read only that genre, but don't make the main NYT bestseller lists, and whom most people will never read. Some folks are pleased enough if one person connects with their story.

    Going off topic for a moment, Jeep -- have you ever read Nathaniel Philibrick's In the Heart of the Sea? It's a nonfiction account of the whaleship Essex disaster, which was what inspired Melville. I confess I've never read Moby Dick, but I loved Heart of the Sea. Just curious if you think this nonfiction treatment is more interesting than the portion of Moby Dick that you didn't enjoy.
     
  17. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    No, Liz, I haven't read the book although it sounds interesting. I'd have to guess that it probably would be better than Melville's take as he was very pedantic about it and not very entertaining. I'll see if my local library has Philibrick's book the next time I'm there. Thanks for the suggestion.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Try to please everyone, and you will succeed only in pleasing no one, least of all yourself.
     
  19. Baz the WarriorDreamer
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    Baz the WarriorDreamer Member

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    I think that you have to kinda compromise as a writer. I think the first and foremost thing is that you are telling a decent story. That is the first thing on the agenda. I think people should try to appeal to a broad market if that is possible. Such as, if you want to write about a very quirky topic, make it accessible to people. I mean if you're not fussed at-all how many people read it, by all means, write it to your specific audience. But if you want it to be super popular and read/ appreciated by a big audience from all over, then you have to find ways to make it attractive or enjoyable to many people. I guess.
     
  20. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why? What would be the point of writing, then?

    I agree that this is important.

    I disagree.

    This is extremely difficult to attain. There is a lot of luck involved. In the meantime, you really should concentrate on writing the best stuff you possibly can. Good writing will attract at least somewhat of a following. If you're true to yourself, at least you've written something satisfying and of which you can be proud. Sometimes good writing combined with a good story gets a blockbuster following, but that's not the typical or expected path. You can't write with the expectation of riches and fame. You may as well buy lottery tickets.
     
  21. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Hey, thanks for your comments.


    But I’m already doing that.

    Many of my references to the pop culture are intended for “insiders”, but for key points I’ll make sure to use widely known facts or objects. For example, at some point the MC thinks she can turn into any animal, just like Maya from Space 1999. You may not know the series but you will know there was a series where a character called Maya could transform into any animal. If I didn’t care about a wider audience, I’d just take for granted that the reader knows who Maya is, and I wouldn’t feel the need to explain more. But that’s just a short passage and it is not really important if you know Maya or not. In another and much more important chapter, the MC will spend hours playing with her Mattel Magic Knit machine. She will at some point try to kill her sister with red yarn from the Magic Knit so I’ll take time to make sure the reader knows how the machine worked and what it looked like. Again, if I wrote for an audience of nostalgia nerds I wouldn’t waste my time in describing.

    If you have seen The Big Bang Theory, they use the same approach. Given that the series is destined to a specific target (age 25-40 I suppose, with an interest in science, comics, retro culture, videogames, computers in general), often they make reference to characters from comics I’ve never heard of, but it doesn’t bother me at all, because such references are not used in key moments. I have no idea about the Strings theory but that doesn’t affect my understanding, since the story itself develops around trivial matters.

    English is not my mother tongue, I hope you get my point.

    Beth
     
  22. TrueMiszou
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    TrueMiszou New Member

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    Yes! Big Bang Theory is a perfect example. Half of the time they make totally obscure references that I laugh at anyway because it's written well. You understand what they are talking about without necessarily understanding the reference. Beth I feel I would actually rather enjoy the references. Already I'm wanting to find out more about Space 1999.

    My theory for writing is simply: write something you want to read.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    On the one hand, no, everything doesn't need to be written for everyone.

    On the other hand, I do think that when a work of fiction depends on the culture of a specific time, it is worthwhile to try to communicate some of the flavor of that culture even to those who are not already familiar with it. Doing so increases the possible audience for your novel and, perhaps more importantly, reduces the chance that the novel will become increasingly irrelevant over time and eventually fade away.

    For example, very few people are personally familiar with the culture of the World War II era, but I think that most of us have at least a notion of what it was like, because of the many fictional works that are based in that era. Of course, that is to some extent self-sustaining--there are so many fictional works from that era that we gather a little information from each one, and each one supports the others. That's less true of many other periods.

    So is it possible to offer at least small hints about the significance and context of the cultural references in your novel? For example:

    "Joe finally got Jane to go to the movies with him. He let her pick. Guess the movie."
    "Gotta be some girly brat pack movie. Sixteen Candles."
    "Nope."
    "Breakfast Club? Pretty in Pink?"
    "Nope. Hey, is there something I should know about you and Molly Ringwald?"
    "Shut up. Just tell me."
    "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers."
    "Wow. They really are made for each other."

    You don't really have to know anything about any of these movies (and I know nothing about the last one; I got it from a list of eighties horror movies) to get the flavor of what the characters are talking about.

    And now that we know what Joe and Jane like in terms of popular culture, we can use that knowledge to suggest facts about elements of culture with less-informative titles or names. We also got "brat pack" and Molly Ringwald in there, for possible use later.

    (Disclaimer: I realize that the four movies mentioned were probably released years apart. It's just an example.)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't. Your brain will liquify and leak out through your lachrymal ducts.
     
  25. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    This is how I write and I agree wholeheartedly with this. I focused so much of my writing on pleasing others in the past and I wound up with boxed in stories that were trying to pander to people and were in conflict with themselves.

    Absolutely.

    As for your original question I don't find it obsessive. I think people like what they like. I'm not seeing why it's so odd for your character to be really into the 80's. What person in my generation doesn't go around shouting about how the 90's were the best and how awesome 90's kids are? The time you grow up in makes a big impact on you or even the time period your parents grew up in. I had a friend who's parents were super into 80's music and she developed a taste for it since that was what was always playing when she was a kid. There are different aspects of pop culture and cult movies I watch and reference constantly due to my exposure to it when I was younger and my general enjoyment of those things. I think most people are that way.

    As for the guy who got all offended that he wasn't the target audience he was being over sensitive. Not understanding a reference does not make someone stupid. It means it was before or after their time. Nothing more.
     

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