Thursday, January 21, 2010

101 Dalmatians

Okay, for our 101st post here, I thought I'd show 101 pictures of Dalmatian dogs...

Yeah, okay, I'm lying. I'm not that mean. Okay, yeah, I am that mean, but simply far too lazy to do that much work. Heck, that 100 books post almost killed me.

But after my guest post over on Nathan Bransford's blog I started thinking about something. Sort of connected, really, to what I wrote about there, but a little different. Expectations, but expectations of a different sort.

I enjoyed doing that blog post, and enjoyed the wondrously kind comments. But it got me thinking about the expectations we have for an audience. Do any of you think about audience while writing? It's sort of a complex question for me, and one I'm not sure I have an answer for. Or perhaps the problem is that I have many answers for it, or one that's always shifting...

In one sense I sort of knew the audience at Nathan's, as I'm a regualr reader and commenter there. I have a feel for the tone, for some of the people. And yet you never really know what people are going to say. And for unpublished novelists it's even more so. Who's your audience? I think that holds for the reality of a possible future publication, but also for the abstract mental frameworks we hold while putting words on the page.

I know some writers think of particular people when they work, a very particular audience. Husband or wife or friend or parent. I don't think I do... and yet sometimes I'll think "What will so and so think of this?" Mostly I write for myself, for the reader in me, trying to find the story that I want to hear, that I want to read, something I couldn't find on the shelves. And yet there's certainly an awareness of other possible readers. Writing, at its heart, is an act of communication. A sharing, a bridge of ideas formed out of words and cabled sentences. So I'm aware of that potential audience, and sometimes hypothesize their reaction. To good effect... and ill. Sometimes it moves me to a clarity and simplicity that is advantageous, and sometimes it reins me in short, holds me back, makes me more conservative than I want to be... or should be.

And yet these expectations of an audience are just that... expectations. Dreams, whimsies, hypotheses. If a book comes to fruition there will be an actual audience. Real people. And the neat thing about publishing a book is finding that audience, and perhaps finding fans. Fans! People totally into and in love with what you wrote! I think most writers have some expectation of this. It's only natural.

And yet I'm guessing that this is one of those things (like my Plan, capital P) where the reality is something different than expected. I look at published writers interacting with the public and, yes, there are fans. But there are all sorts of other reactions, too. Oh yes, many strange reactions. People who hate the writing, or find it boring, or go on racist rants, or accuse the writer of racist rants, or psychoanalyze the story to make declarations about the writer's relationship with parental figures...

It's a dizzying mix of things. So it got me thinking about what my expectations of audience were, and how divorced from reality they might be.

What about you? Do you have an audience in mind while you write? What does it do for you? And do you ever picture what the real audience might say? If you've had something widely read, what was the reaction like and how was it different (or similar) to what you imagined?

I'm thinking that while I understand in an abstract sense what a really large audience will be like, it would probably be a rude awakening in reality. A bit of a chasm, perhaps, between those expectations and the actual experience of an audience of readers.


L. T. Host said...

I do... but my audience tends to be, uh, "the public". And myself. I tell a lot of my stories for myself, too.

Congrats on that post, btw. Here's hoping an agent sees it and signs you already, dangit! Of course, that agent should be Nathan.

Patrick said...

I write for myself as a reader. Just like you said - what I'd like to read. Also my wife, my older siblings...people I respect. My kids are still young, but I keep them in mind - I want them to grow up and read my books and be proud or inspired, too.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I agree with L.T. I think Nathan should be your agent. You know, because it's up to me. :)

I definitely write with an audience in mind, because I write for children. And since I haven't been a child for some time, I have to imagine what those little wonders would think of my writing. If you think it's difficult to discern the reactions of adults, I assure you that children are at once more and less complicated. More, because they think so differently from adults, and less, because their age drives much of how they see the world.

And I have quite a bit of experience dealing with my "fans" or "audience" - both in RL and in my writing. This is not because I'm a published author (I'm not, yet). But I have posted a lot of on-line writing, garnering many (hundreds) of reviewers. The unwritten rule of "if you can't say something nice . . . " generally carried the day, but the variation in responses was astounding. People saw things in my writing I never knew was there, much less put there intentionally. Some small throw away line, that just spiced up a page or a character, had deep resonant meaning to a particular reviewer. Some were certain, because their Uncle Bobby used to be in the armed forces, that the facts in my story were rubbish.

It was fascinating.

As I try for publication, I keep those experiences in the back of my head. My work will mean many things to many people, and hopefully most of them will be positive. But ultimately, I have to write the story I intend to write, and take ownership of that. Not everyone will love it with the passion of a thousand suns, as I do. Some may like it even more! Some will wonder why I bothered, and how in the world does such rubbish get published?? At least, I hope they will. :)

K. A. Jordan said...

In the past couple of years, I've put my writing in front of a large number of people, first on Forward Motion, then on the Create Space forum, then on Authonomy.

It has been an eye opener.

Now, as I'm attempting to market my work, I find that my driving emotion is curiousity. What will the next person think?

dolorah said...

I definitely write for an audience, a very specific one, and I keep that audience in mind while writing certain types of scenes. I can picture my audience very well, because I'v worked closely with the inspirational characters - not so much now but in the past - and I'm still hearing their views every day.

I've gotten brave enough at my day job to let a few people read my first novel. Some of them simply say "I'm sorry you had such a hard life" which is sort of discouraging and encouraging at the same time. It is NOT my story, but it is apparently realistic, which I was shooting for. Those who HAVE lived that life, say "oh yes, but this part needs a little work here, or here."

So, I'm sure I'm on the right track for my target audience. My fear is that audience is too small, and I may need to lighten it up, romance it up maybe, to get it to appeal to a wider audience.

But I also identify with your comment Bryan: "Mostly I write for myself, for the reader in me, trying to find the story that I want to hear, that I want to read, something I couldn't find on the shelves."

Because, really, if I'd found a lot of fiction out there with my subject matter, I may not have been inspired to write this. And if I didn't write it for me, specifically, because I feel passionately about this work, I couldn't put it out there for others to have opinions - good, bad or indifferent.

This has been a very thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Audience. Because really, I do sometimes get so wrapped up in the world I've created, I forget it's intended for someone other than myself.


Terry Stonecrop said...

I have to admit when I write I'm entertaining myself.

But I'm beginning to think more about audience for the submission process, not for the writing though.

Your posts are thoughtful.

Reesha said...

I'm so glad to hear other people keep audience in mind the way I do.

For me, audience is my entire motivation. Whenever I get stuck, I simply imagine the person I want to read my story the most reading it, and imagine their reaction to it. I also imagine what they might think while they read it, and of course, it is at this point I get delusions of grandeur.

I think this is probably because some part of me lives to be praised, and another part of me lives to make people's day. When I can imagine someone else being inspired by it, or amazed by it, or even just intrigued, then I know who my audience is and what to write.

Bryan Russell said...

Thanks, everyone. A lot of great responses here. It's odd, isn't it? You sure spend a lot of time alone when writing, and yet, at its heart, it's essentially about communication. There's some sort of weird contradiction at the heart of that.

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bryan Russell said...

Hey, I think that was our first piece of spam ever. We must be getting somewhere in the world.

Rowenna said...

Well, I had to dive in on the deep questions...and with the preface that I am not published, I don't write for an audience. At least, not directly. My decisions aren't based on "what would the audience like?/who would this character appeal to?/how to make this palatable?"

At the same time, I also don't disregard a potential audience. I'm not out to alienate anybody, and I'm not so stuffed up about myself that I think I can break all the rule and deliver something that isn't on some level enjoyable simply because "I am."

I guess, simple answer to complex question--I don't let the audience tress get in the way of the writing forest, but I don't forget that the trees are there.

Lola Sharp said...

Great post. Interesting.

I am clearly in the minority here, but I seem to have little control over my first draft...I type as fast as my characters speak to me, I take the story where it takes me, and they dont seem to care about an audience (including me). I agree that makes me sound mental.
But I swear, the stories demand to be written and I am just along for the ride.

In rewrites, revision, I try and tidy the structure and plot lines up, kill a few 'darlings', so in that way I feel like I am "cleaning for guests"...but the actual story is never aimed for a specific audience. That would kill my mojo to try and sensor like that, I think.

Congrats on your post at Nathan's.

Christi Goddard said...

My purpose in life, my family oft reminds me, is to entertain people. I do it in line at the grocery store, I do it at the drive-thru window, I do it in business meetings. I'm always trying to think of ways to make people laugh, so as I write, I always have an audience in mind because I want them to enjoy the story I'm telling.

Other Lisa said...

Me? Nope.

Then after I finish a draft, I sit around and seriously angst about whether anyone will like it or not.

Nick said...

I write for me. I write for me the writer, and I edit for me the reader. I figure if/when I get published, I will take into account what fans and critics say about it, and keep those things in mind when editing future books. Really I'm going to treat writing like I treat everything else -- adaptability (aka fumble through everything without strategy and just kind of hope on-the-fly schemes don't totally result in accidental suicide). So far it works for me. Mostly.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I'm with you in that I write what I would wanna read, but who the hell am I, right? What I love most, though, is how people insinuate. If one of my characters is a racist sexist dum-dum, then I (the author) must be a racist sexist dum-dum, too. Well, that's just not entirely true!


Hamlerhead said...


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Bryan. I'm over from Nathan's. Nice to meet you!

Interestingly, when I began my latest WIP, which is a near-future medical technothriller, I read the reviews of the bestsellers that matched the science, tone, and genre of my WIP, hoping to find a common thread of what readers want so I could write a story that panders to that taste.

Some of the bestsellers I chose had hundreds of reviews, and it blew me away how much inconsistency there was amongst all the opinions of these high-concept books. There was too much scientific detail. There wasn't enough. The characters were flat. The characters were well-rounded. There was too much action, not enough thoughtful exploration of the repercussions. There was too much navel gazing, not enough action. The prose was stodgy. The prose was elegant. I finished the book in a night. I threw the book against a wall halfway through.

My conclusion: Write for a technically unsavvy audience, but don't ignore the technogeek. Write a spare, fast-paced story, but allow for lots of character introspection and development. Keep the themes hidden while exploiting them.

See, easy-peasy. Glad I did the research before starting the WIP so I know exactly what the reader wants and how to deliver.

Mira said...

How did I miss this post?

I like what you have to say, Bryan. I especially like your musings about how the real audience reactions may very much differ from our imaginary audience reactions.

That's probably why they say fame is so challenging - you don't only get praise when you're in the limelight.

I've often wondered, if I ever get to that point, if I'll even read critic reviews, for example. It seems abit dangerous to a self-doubting author....

In terms of my work, I am always aware of the audience, since I'm frequently talking directly to them in first person voice. I track their reactions in my mind, and it shapes my reactions in writing. Does that make sense?

Anyway, thoughtful, interesting post, as always, Bryan. :)