An audience is the target of your communication. Written communication is an odd duck because the transmission is not immediate. When you speak to someone in person, the communication is rooted at that particular moment. The written word typically exists without a direct interface.
This is important because for a connection to be made, the author must imagine the audience.
That audience is an aggregate of the author’s best guess.
Are they tired? Interested? Bored? The immediate assessment of the audience, as in theater, rarely happens. Does your novel have a strong social theme? The context is not always readily established. Do I have their attention? The feedback loop is missing.
Your sense of audience is probably as much fiction as the novels you write.
But the audience, fictional or not, is considered critical.
If you have ever pitched or queried, you’ve heard the dreaded question: Who is your audience?
Expectations play an essential part in the author/reader partnership. Suspension of disbelief is a contract between writer and reader. Readers have to buy into the arrangement. Consider genre fiction. If you write a thriller, readers expect tension. If you write horror, readers look to be scared. If you don’t deliver, you’ve broken the compact.
Your imagined audience informs questions of style. Suppose you have a lifestyle blog aimed at college students. Your structure might be brief and information-dense. Bullet points would be appropriate. The same blog aimed at Baby Boomers might be more extended and more in-depth.
Consider marketing. Finding readers who will appreciate your writing is an art that eludes many of us. Knowing who your readers are, offers insight into how to relate to them. For example, Edelman’s study found that 40 percent of people said they bought a product solely because they appreciated a political or social position. Understanding who your readers are and what they value seems critical.
So, what do we know about the audience?
Audience has a mood. They can be friendly, apathetic, uninformed, or hostile. Let’s assume (incorrectly) that your audience has a monolithic mindset. You have a purpose (entertaining, informing, or persuading).
How does your purpose align with the reader’s mood? For example, suppose you intend to influence, and your audience is hostile. One possible strategy is to acknowledge your reader’s antagonistic point-of-view. You might present new information so that you don’t alienate. “Here is something that, as a reasoned reader, you may not have had a chance to consider.” Above all, you must be respectful.
The application of a mood analysis is critical when querying non-fiction. What about fiction?
For the writer of novels, providing context is imperative. Whether you’re inventing a fantasy world or zeroing in on a specific relationship, the reader needs to know how they’re supposed to frame what they’re reading. Context is the narrator’s job, whether a third-person narrator who remains invisible or a first-person narrator addressing the audience directly. In both cases, the narrator will reveal themselves as reliable or unreliable.
The first-person narrator may speak in contradictions, giving the reader a reason to be suspicious. But even an invisible narrator can be called into question if your text is sloppy, with obvious grammar mistakes, or the subject matter is presented with errors. (Crime fiction, for example, often suffers from a lack of knowledge about firearms.)
So far, I’ve suggested that an audience is a necessary, though problematic, consideration for the author. I’m going to revisit this next time around. The post will begin by saying, Let’s assume that everything I said about the audience is entirely wrong.
See you then.