Nathanael is a designer within the corporate world, an artist in the real world, and a sometime writer in other worlds. It’s great to have him join us here at
As in all fields of communication, many writers fail to know the audience that they are writing for. It’s not a question of these writers being bad at understanding the people reading their work, because in most cases you do not need an understanding beyond the capabilities of the average person. Rather it’s more often than not a failure to think about it long and hard enough. Or in fact, at all.
- Does the sort of person who is interested in this subject generally have a vocabulary that includes these terms?
- Does the technical level of the piece mean that the reader is likely to feel overwhelmed by jargon or will they feel patronised by the simplistic explanations?
- Does the fan of the genre you are writing in expect the twist you are putting in here?
- Will they accept the twist, or will it anger them for breaking some sort of rule such as the internal consistency of your world?
- Will the people I am writing the article for appreciate the tone and subject matter, or will it antagonise them?
- Am I insulting the very people I am hoping to win over in the misguided notion that someone will come over to my way of thinking because I ridiculed their way of thinking enough for them to realise the foolishness of it?
These are not difficult questions, but they are questions that are often forgotten about in the rush to capture the words we wish to communicate, thus hampering our ability to convey their actual meaning.
Most authors will make assumptions about their audience; it’s a given since most authors are not really in a position to run what is essentially a market research study on their readers. I’m not going to tell you that as a writer you shouldn’t make assumptions about your readership, because not only would that be impractical but it would be illogical; if you have any readers you do not or have not spent a lot of face time with, you are going to make assumptions about them. The larger your audience, the more general your assumption have to become. By all means gather market research data on them if you find it useful, but unless you’re actually selling something such as advertising, subscriptions or a book, it’s not essential.
If you’re writing a piece of fiction with a young female protagonist investigating crime whilst trying to juggle the responsibilities of school and her cheerleading squad, you have to understand that your natural readership is going to consist of a certain type of person. Largely teenage girls who probably have some sort of interest – be it practical or aspirational, in cheerleading. This will also be a group who will be able to relate to the trials and tribulations of also going to school.
If your fiction work is another young female protagonist investigating crime whilst juggling school, but rather than her cheerleading squad, it’s her science club, all of a sudden your natural readership is completely different. Sure the main part of it will be teenage girls as before, but most of your readers will be more inclined to scientific interests, and many of them will feel in some way socially excluded from the popular school culture that surrounds American high school cheerleaders.
Unless you do something specific within the writing to change it, those are your readerships. Don’t sell them short by writing something that they won’t comprehend, won’t empathise with, or just plain old won’t be interested in. Don’t make your cheerleader crime fighter solve a puzzle by discovering and exploiting a flaw in the calculations of the corrupt construction firm owner, who is covering up the existence of a Native American burial ground where he is building a new skyscraper. Make her sneak around, take photos, and do some good old fashioned detective work before bringing in the authorities with proof of the crime. Unless you’ve established early on (and sold it as such) that this is a kick ass cheerleader who will take on the criminals in hand to hand combat – in which case you’re probably looking at the audience for the alternative example once they’ve grown up and left high school, then don’t kick it into that gear. Your audience will probably feel a little cheated, and their parents will probably complain because they’re committing acts of violence on human beings.
If you’ve established that there are vampires and werewolves early on, and your antagonists turn out to be supernatural enemies, then by all means do so. You may however find that your natural readership is different, and already familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sorry.
Understand who you are writing for, and write accordingly. Furthermore, market it to that group. That solves a lot of problems.
About the author
Nathanael is a professional artist, working in a visual communications field. Amongst his many jobs are interface design and marketing materials where he has to evaluate who the end user is, and who the target audience is.