Workshop 101: Your Audience Matters
In case you can’t tell, these little blurbs come to you when something happens in my workshop I don’t agree with.
Last night a classmate brought in a piece of YA Christian Fiction. This particular piece was slightly heavy-handed, but nothing a little clipping here and there couldn’t fix. It’s still a rough draft.
As soon as the out loud reading was finished, one of my classmates immediately shot up and said it was over the top, sentimental, flowery, and wasn’t something he would ever read. This prompted my professor to go on a 30 minute tangent that all fiction should be written to be of the best literary caliber it could be, no matter what genre it is.
Now, I could agree with that statement, if I thought he meant mainstream literary fiction. I don’t think genres should be sloppy just because bestsellers in that genre get away with it and sell millions of copies. I think you should be trying to write well and concisely, without extraneous words. However, my professor didn’t mean to write like mainstream literature; he probably also considers that a genre. I think he meant to write everything in the experimental, sparse, avant-garde side of literature.
This is another example of how important it is to keep perspective when critiquing and helping people with works that aren’t in your typical genre. Ask yourself: what is their goal in writing this? What does the author want to accomplish?
• Is their goal to create a totally original work of art that is meant purely as a self-expression, that will hopefully find a publisher?
• Or do you have a story to tell, that you know will appeal to a specific audience, and you want to write it in a fashion that those you want to reach will have the desire to read it?
Neither of these approaches are wrong, although I honestly can’t ever see myself writing like that first one. It’s not why I write. Currently, I’m writing to girls around my age or a bit younger who like to read fantasy and science fiction but want a more mainstream read than their usual fare. I think most genre fiction writers also have that kind of idea in the back of their mind. Knowing who you’re aiming for is a huge hunk of the battle, I’d say. My pieces start to look like something when I finally lock down my audience…and also the reason I usually give up on a project; if I can’t find my target, I can’t find my direction or voice.
So, to all my fellow aspiring writers out there, what do you think? Can you write without an audience in mind, purely for the sake of the art form? Or do you need to have that audience target?