Audience Appreciation Day
Today, I want to talk about audience, trust, and respect. When we write, a part of us is at least peripherally mindful of our audience. Whether we imagine legions clamoring for our prose, pushing us up the bestseller lists, or focus on a more limited public of our devoted blog and website followers, audience is important. After all, we are in the business of sharing our work, of shouting it to the proverbial rafters and communicating our ideas to best effect. Real or ideal, awareness of audience leads us to choose fitting storylines and characters, as well as structures and language that are both age and genre appropriate.
Sadly, this too often leads people to believe they need to oversimplify or – Goddess forbid – be repetitious. Though apt for a luncheon speech at the Rotary, Dale Carnegie has ruined many a writer with his infamous advice, “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.” Sooner than rubber chicken rots sinks to your stomach, this will bore a reader silly when applied to fiction. Far better, I think, the words of Lily Tomlin: “What I appreciate is acknowledging to the audience that I think they have brains.”
Readers do have brains. I like to believe this is evident by the fact they are poring over pages of type rather than wasting hours to TV or the latest video game. (Gamers, please do not come for me with pitchforks at the ready. I am being (a tad) hyperbolic and know many of you are bloody brilliant.)
The point is, we have to treat our readers with respect. Regardless of age or other salient demographic, value and trust your audience. Ultimately this comes down to trusting yourself. If you have written a good tale with evocative prose, engaging characters, and an intriguing plot, trust that your audience will follow you, page after page. It will happen. And when it does, they will allow you to be subtle and complex, to challenge them at every turn, as long as you’re not just doing it to show off. In short, assume your audience is at least as smart as you are (they’re often smarter), and then write up, never down. Craft your prose for mirrors of your best possible self. Unless you have short-term memory loss, assume telling once is enough. And shape your narrative with a lapidary stick, not a sledgehammer and believe that your audience will appreciate the difference.
Finally, as Madeleine L’Engle said, “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grownups, you write it for children.”
The best audience is intelligent, well-educated and a little drunk.