Audience: some thoughts

Writing: you can't make a splash until you take the plunge. I'm getting wet but the shore's not getting closer.

Writing: you can’t make a splash until you take the plunge. I’m getting wet but the shore’s not getting closer.

Does it matter whether one knows who one is writing to? Who one’s audience is? I guess so. Knowing your audience stops your words going over their heads or into their bins. If I want my daughter to refrain from doing something I will probably not explain in the same way now that she is nearly two years old as I will when she is twenty. I am sure at that later date were I to tell to get off the coffee table and to stop viewing the television screen from three centimeter’s distance I would not follow it up with compliance time, 1… 2… 3…  Were I to do so, she would probably count along, or throw the  screen at me. All the more reason for communicating appropriately now.

But what of the written word, offered to inform? Tricky question that. It seems to me that a writer does best who accomplishes simultaneously the two not unrelated tasks. The author must make the reader feel they are being regarded as just a little more knowing than they really are and the author must also inform them with just a little more knowledge than they would be willing to admit they needed to know. For this reason many writer’s resort to strategies; of course you already knew this…  there are some (unlike you dear reader) who are not aware that… we can agree that those who are informed understand this… For a balancing act such as this, and for the choosing of a vocabulary to suit such a task the reader must know their audience.

What then of the writer who desires to entertain? Do they need to know who their audience is? Certainly. For writing assumes experience and experience takes time and opportunity to acquire. I am writing a novel and I want it to be enjoyed. However I think I have a further strategy available in addition to the two mentioned above. I can indeed treat my reader as the sort of person who has had just a little more experience than they really have. I can certainly usher into their lives a little more experience than they were prepared to acknowledge they were missing. More than this however, I can turn the reader into the kind of person who is my kind of audience. I can give them experience that whets their appetite for more. From Punch and Judy to Merchant of Venice, from Gilgamesh to The Book of Esther, from August 1914 to 1984, authors of stories have gone beyond knowing their readers to knowing what they want their readers to become. I think both the need for this third strategy and the reason for its success, apart from the need to bring in coinage, is that writing to entertain is a discourse between the story-teller and the audience. If they laugh you repeat the provocation to laugh. If they weep you build the drama so that they care even more. If they do neither of these you go back to the day job or find out more about your audience. Writing to entertain, whether it is jolly or bleak or both is a dialectic; the writer changes the audience as the audience changes them. Mmm… I wonder if I can do all of that.

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