7 Writing Rules: #7 Know Your Audience

The original article said the following about this rule: “Maybe that is good advice, but I have no idea how to follow it.” I couldn’t agree more. Since I do always like to go to the extreme, I will think of examples.

If you’re writing smut for Penthouse Forums for straight guys, you aren’t going to write a chaste love story about a young hero who grows up to marry his beefy farmhand, Sven.

You aren’t going to write a lengthy, graphic sex scene in a preteen novel about a safari with talking animals.

I wouldn’t recommend writing a bloody murder scene starring John Wayne Gacy for a children’s pop-up book.

(What’s wrong with me that these were the first things that came to mind?)

So, let’s be sane, however boring that is. You’re writing a fantasy or science fiction novel. Knowing that your audience is predominantly straight males ranging in age from 14 to 50 who are more than likely to read other stuff in the genre means that you should appeal to that audience. Write about someone they can relate to, want to be, want to be with, or can admire.

That is limiting, though. In the 1980s and before there were very few strong women in writing, particularly in fantasy and science fiction, and that’s how the Bechdel Test was born — asking whether a work of fiction features at least two women or girls who talk to each other about something other than a man or boy. Of course, we can all think of a bunch of exceptions to it, but writing before that time was very male-centric, and the women were there to be rescued and desired.

Then the world was lucky to have novels  like Joan Vinge’s science fiction novel, The Snow Queen, appear on the scene in 1980. The main characters are Moon, Arienrhod, and Jerusha, and secondary characters include Elsevier, Tor, and Fate Ravenglass, all women, and with the exception of Elsevier, they all talk to each other at one point or another. The main males are Sparks and BZ. This novel won the Hugo and Lotus awards, was nominated for the Nebula award, is considered a masterpiece, has frequently been said to have the depth of Dune, and spawned three sequels, one of which was also nominated for a Hugo. Had she “known her audience” and spoke only to them, we wouldn’t have this story.

I think there is wisdom in knowing who your audience is, but in speaking only to them, you doom your book to niche appeal, you cut out others, and you alienate the experience. Nobody knows when a trend or fad will start. By not trying, by not reaching, by not stretching, you limit yourself, your creativity, and your potential audience, based on a preconceived notion.

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~ by Darren Endymion on February 14, 2017.

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