Writing for Whom?

Some authors would say that you have to write to please yourself, at least to some degree, because it’s almost impossible to put in the effort and skill that’s necessary to write a novel if you dislike what you’re writing. While that’s accurate, as far as it goes, if you want to be a successfully published writer, your work has to appeal to an audience larger than yourself, and most likely larger than just people like you.

One best-selling writer has created a person in his mind, for whom he writes. He has crafted that person lovingly and in depth, from where she works and what she does precisely at that job, what kind of food she enjoys, what jokes she finds amusing, down to what NFL team her husband roots for. That obviously works that writer, given his sales.

Another published writer tends to tailor each book to a specific person, or occasionally to a type of person. Another might write for a circle of friends… or for his or her writing group.

Some writers obviously “write for the market,” consciously or unconsciously adapting or mimicking wildly popular books, as is obvious from the flood of vampire novels and the number of Tolkien knockoffs. The problem with that approach is that more often than not the imitation is usually not as good as the original. There are exceptions, but they’re rare.

For whatever reason, I never really asked myself who I was writing for. I just wanted to write, although initially my creative efforts were in poetry. When I started writing science fiction, I concentrated on telling a good story with at least some measure of uniqueness. And, as I’ve related elsewhere, when I turned to fantasy, I wanted to write it with economic, technical, and human “realism.”

Along the way, I was asked what my “target” audience was, something I’d never considered defining. When I actually thought about the matter, I realized exactly who I was writing for – and that was for readers who could think and who wanted more “depth” in their fiction.

Some of that depth, I admit, was for me as much as for my readers, as when, in The Elysium Commission, I buried snippets of John Donne’s poetry in the book – since the main character is a consultant/problem-solver-for-hire named Blaine Donne. But there’s far more than meets the eye or the casual read in most of my work, although much of what I write can be enjoyed without having to know or recognize the depth. Not always, however, as in Quantum Shadows, The One-Eyed Man, or Haze.

8 thoughts on “Writing for Whom?”

  1. KevinJ says:

    Exactly. If you don’t try to put some depth in your writing, then you’re settling on shallowness. And that may pay off for a while, but it won’t last.

    I don’t remember how many Wikipedia articles I’ve happened upon about authors with a phrase like “while popular in their day…” Who sets out to be forgotten?

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    For all one might find Tolkien’s plotting unrealistic, his huge advantage over most of his imitators was that there was even more material behind what was published in his lifetime, and it showed; esp. contrary to one I can think of where every book in one of his series was, although with references to previous books, had no foreshadowing in them, and new protagonists and chief villains, as if he was making it up as he went along. Indeed, although there was no hint of it in the early books, it turns out much later to be set in the future, not the past or some alternate world. Not saying who that is (individually the books are entertaining enough), but it should be obvious.

  3. Tom says:

    Googling “depth in literature” one gets a lot of either examples depth or advice on critical analysis.

    “Depth” is where paying attention to the story gives the reader information about and a better understanding of the story. Managing “depth” can be a difficult adjustment to get right. At one extreme you can demand perfect attention to and deep analysis of every detail for a story to make sense.
    But …
    You may have heard someone in class say, “Well, that’s my interpretation” or “It’s a poem, so I can read into it whatever I want.” Such comments indicate that the speaker does not understand the goal of a literary analysis, which is to persuade other readers to accept a complex interpretation.

    On yet another hand, at my age, I read for entertainment and for me depth is the choice of adjective/color or phrasing the writer adds to the ordinary every day line of words which changes the literary work from the equivalent of a drawing into an oil painting. The “feeling” or “impression” a written work leaves is still unique to me. My reading the words and their meaning is different from how someone else reads the same words. Although there may be many people in the world like me, yet there is no-one else who is me. (Yes, thank heavens)

    So an author who aims to write for a specific audience will expand that audience by doing exactly what you imply; expanding the shades of the words but also telling a tale with their shadows.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Communication has two parties.

      If the sender wishes to convey the intent of their communication (within some freedom of the receiver to use their own imagination to fill in details), that’s on them.

      I think it’s on the receiver not to reinterpret significantly beyond what the sent content more or less straightforwardly conveys, unless they’re a criminal psychologist or profiler.

      1. RRCRea says:

        The author is dead (Sarte). Anyone can interpolate whatever they want into what they read and absolutely 100% do, whether they admit it or not. Writing and reading are both dialogues and like all dialogues the two parties are experiencing the conversation differently than their partner. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous, indulging in willful self-deceit, or operationa ignorance. In other words, you don’t get to gatekeep what I take away from what I read based on your conceptions of what you think is “straightforwardly conveyed”.

        1. R. Hamilton says:

          You’re absolutely free to think or imagine anything whatsoever, I’m not saying otherwise and not gatekeeping anyone.

          But you’re deceiving yourself (or missing out) if you don’t try to understand an author’s or speaker’s intent. And although Tolkien (and now his son) are quite dead, he left a number of comments on what his intentions were (and some indications how they changed over time), not too hard to find. Research is not painful anymore.

          (if someone ever infers something from what I write or say that was definitely NOT what I meant and then repeated it to others, I would certainly not be pleased; not that they don’t have all manner of freedom, but that at least repeating it was tantamount to misrepresentation, or at best, low-quality gossip)

          Maybe with your personal interpretation you’ll find something helpful or entertaining you wouldn’t have found otherwise. That’s fine. Good luck trying to find common ground with other people’s interpretations, if that matters to you.

  4. I think it is the depth that you put into your fiction that makes it so immersive for me. I love that! I also appreciate how hard your protagonists work and how ethical they typically are.

  5. Grey says:

    I’ve said it before: you really missed the boat on a great opportunity. The black mage / chaos mage / Druid interplay of the Recluce series was an airtight fit for the ‘paranormal teen romance’ genre. You would be up to your armpits in indestructible holiday lawn ornaments!

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