Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Writing for...

As a matter of fact, the world does not revolve around you.

Also, not everyone is like you.

It blows my mind that despite the fact so much of our globe is sharing an Internet culture, so many of the students and writers I work with have no concept of the fact their "audience" isn't themselves and people identically like them.

Whether it be trying to write a thesis statement about a specific brand of Christian "salvation" or using compare/contrast to find a place for you - and only you - to eat… or discussing local laws or local "celebrities," why should your audience care? Whom are you writing for, and why are you writing?

This is an important point that far too many instructors seem to miss (or end up missing due to making sure there's time to study to whatever No Child Left Behind test the area is using). Writing is a communication tool. If you assume everyone thinks, acts, behaves, and lives like you, then you will miscommunicate at best or, at worst, offend or insult. Either way, you've got problems.

Not only do I see this problem with the students I work with, but it's something you need to consider in ALL writing. In some of the weaker blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates I've come across, that's exactly the problem. It's especially problematic in Internet advertising - even with all the crazy things websites and groups try to do to target me as their audience based on what I post on my blog and/or Facebook and/or Twitter. If you're writing a business proposal, memo, or email, you absolutely have to know your audience if - in all honesty - you want to get whatever it is you want.

A proper cynic realizes this: the audience is selfish. They are in it for themselves. If you want their support, you need to know what they want and give it to them.

Does that mean you can't write for yourself or write what's in your heart? Of course not!

If you want to just write in a journal with yourself as the audience, go for it.

If you want to write something that others will clamor to read, you need to at least be aware of what they want, what they want to read. For you fiction writers, it may very well be the same emotions and feelings you want to write about. Great! But don't forget your audience.

Look at your point (or your plot). Why do you care about it? What about this point/plot moves you? In papers and assigned articles, sometimes that's hard to find because you're writing to an assignment. You have to find something to care about for the paper/article. With fiction, look at your characters for motivation. Why do you care about them? Why do they care what will happen next? Is it something others can relate to?

If you're not sure, ask someone. Fiction writers - good ones - have trusted beta readers for just that reason. For a lot of my articles, I'll bounce my point off of a friend (and return the favor, of course, for said friend/s) until I find what clicks. Sometimes that exercise can take as long as the article writing, itself, but it's absolutely important.

Hopefully you realize that the world doesn't revolve around you. Also, hopefully, you're smart enough to realize your audience may believe it revolves around them - and write accordingly.


Harvey Chapman said...

I agree, Trisha...

I run my own writing site - Novel Writing Help - and I see it a lot in many of the novel extracts visitors send me.

These extracts often take the form of a stream of consciousness, except it's obviously more the consciousness of the writer than the character. They're simply unloading all their personal baggage!

Like you say, there's nothing wrong with that - except if you expect other people to want to read it.

I usually have 2 pieces of advice for them:

1. Writing about what you know is fine, but beware of being too autobiographical and try to get a little distance between the event and writing about it.

2. Don't forget that fiction is entertainment. And that means a plot!

Love the blog, by the way.


Trisha Wooldridge said...

Thanks for the compliment and your additional advice, Harvey! You're absolutely right on both things. I see both points all the time, too. I'm checking out your website and ezine: very cool! I look forward to seeing more.

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