Writing a book is daunting. Before you even settle the
finer mechanics of plot, characters, setting, and the like, you have to fill in
the big blanks. One of those big blanks is, ‘For whom am I writing?’
The question regarding audience is an important one. Many
aspiring authors try to emulate authors they admire, rather than writing what
they like to read. This is evident when they’re asked to compile a list of the
last 20-30 books they’ve voluntarily read, and the books on the list don’t
resemble what they’re trying to write. If you write the book you’d like to
read, it means you’re writing for yourself. In a sense, you are your own
This isn’t the only option, though. Kip Langello has
written an interesting article for Writer’s Digest, to explore whether one
should write for oneself or for the reader. His first nine novels, written as
novels he would’ve enjoyed reading, weren’t published. Rejection letter after
rejection letter confirmed he needed to change tack.
He shifted his focus from writing for himself to writing
for a specific type of reader. He didn’t write for a generalised intended
readership. An example of this is: ‘I’m writing for 30-45 year olds in the
middle class, who enjoy crime, typically watch the following shows, and have a
fair of knowledge of police procedurals.’
He was much more specific. He says, ‘The same way I create
my characters when I write, I created a reader – my ideal reader. The best fit
for my book, my work.’ On the Writers Write course, we encourage writers to
create complex characters. A part of this process is filling out the details of
their lives on character sheets. Even if they don’t use those details in back
story, at least the characters will be ‘living, breathing beings’ in their
minds. This helps them portray their characters as such in their writing.
Kip did something similar when he created his ideal
reader. He made her a woman. He decided her age, where she lived and worked,
and the hobbies she shared with her husband. He gave her a name – Peggy – and
then wrote for her. Peggy was his filter when crafting all his scenes. The result?
His tenth book was published, with a six-figure advance, two-book contract, and
an option from Viacom for a TV movie. He has written five novels for ‘Peggy’
since, all published.
Writing for the reader raises the question: will the
writing sound ‘canned’? Will the author’s voice still be distinct in the
writing? I think that there’s an aspect of an author’s voice that is intrinsic
and that will express itself, no matter what is being written or for whom it is
being written. In fact, having the fixed, external target of a specific reader
may actually help the author ensure consistency of voice.
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.
by Donna Radley
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