When Should You Care About Your Audience?

I attended a workshop given by actor/author Keith Strunk. At one point, when describing how an actor decides what actions to use to convey his character appropriately, someone asked him, “Do you consider how your actions impact the audience at this point in the process?” Keith replied, “Absolutely not. To think about how you are impacting the audience at this stage would be death.”

This got me thinking about the writing process, and at which points the author should consider the audience. Because Keith is right—there are some points at which we cannot think about the impact we are having on the audience.

When we are writing the story, that first draft, caught up in the creative passion, bringing it to life, we cannot consider an outside influence like the audience. The story needs to speak for itself, we need to hear what it and the characters need to come alive. If we start considering the audience, we run a grave risk of forcing the story into directions it should not go, or creating puppet-characters that only do what we think they should do. We risk taking the vitality out of the story.

After that draft, when the revision starts, that is when the audience should enter our thoughts. Are the characters relatable to the audience we are targeting? Is the language and content appropriate for that audience? This is where how we impact the audience comes into play.

I also think that we need to consider our audience in the initial idea phase. If you primarily write middle grade and you come up with an idea, you need to consider 1) would/could this idea make an appropriate MG story? and if not 2) do I want to write a story for a new audience and try and break into a new market? I do not think at this point you should try an shoehorn a non-MG idea into an MG idea, since then you end up with the problems mentioned above. But I do think you need to know before you start who your audience would be for this book. That way, if you do not want to break into a new market, you don’t waste your time on a book that you can’t sell to the market where you are already established.

To write your absolute best story, you need to listen to the story—not worry about your audience. So when you sit down to write, just write the story as it needs to be told. Listen to your characters. Be bold and explore.

Chances are, if you do that, your story will be so good that any audience will devour it.

When do you think about your audience?

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