As with most writing “rules,” there are probably about as many opinions about whether you should write for an audience as there are members of that audience. When you’re writing college essays or work assignments or a letter to the editor, it’s pretty clear who your audience is. Is it as clear when you write fiction?
A different way to look at this issue is … do you write something that entertains you or do you write something for the market? Do you write something that satisfies your own desires for your art or do you write something to sell? Those questions come back to … who are you writing for?
I think about it this way. When I write, there is a you out there who will be reading the story. I don’t think of the masses. Instead, I think of somebody who’s opinion I respect and I want to maintain their respect with each new piece I produce. Zoe is one of those people. Just as I am helping her achieve her publishing goals, her constant support and constructive advice helps me to stay motivated with my own writing and publishing goals. Every time I write something, if I think I’ll share it with Zoe, I want to be confident that her first word when she reads it to be “Wow!” It’s a pretty high threshold to meet and let’s just say she doesn’t get to see everything I write.
Which brings me to a group of people who are in my audience. You, the readers of this blog and my other blog. I’m not going to try to list all of you who fill the seats in my mind, sitting there waiting for another piece of fiction to show up here. I’ll forget somebody and the last thing I want to do is leave any of you feeling slighted. You are all there, however, my regular readers and I think as I write something that I want to keep you satisfied. I want to write something that will make you step back, to stop, and say nothing more than “that wasn’t bad.” And every once in awhile I want to produce a “Wow!” from somebody in my audience. I don’t expect a unanimous “Wow!” with everything, but I hope for a bit of excitement from somebody with each piece.
Which brings me to today’s “Wow!” If you didn’t see it yet, here is Trent Lewin’s comment on Spaces After the Period:
Ah lord, my friend. I saved this, and as it turned out, saved it for a restaurant in the middle of a snowstorm. This is unbelievably excellent. Excellent in the way that you fear a story is going to end in a bad way, with sadness and terribleness, as though life is never really fair or leads to anything uplifting, but you slagged through that and brought it home in such a way that I honestly have a lump in my throat. I think this is beautiful. Just beautiful. And if anyone else who reads this isn’t effusive about it, I’m going to knock their teeth out.
This is pure writing. And in the interest of writing, I do have one suggestion. The love scene after the mother dies – I would redo that one paragraph and give it the uniqueness of the rest of the story. That is my only complaint. The rest is pure storytelling. I thank you for this. It seems that I go so long between reading people’s fictional stories in the blog world – there are so few, and so few truly excellent ones, so this is a welcome blam. Even if the snow’s falling.
Before I go on, I want to make sure I get this in before you go on to your next blog post — I don’t want just comments like this. I want anything that is real that comes from your reading of my stories — even if it is the opposite of “Wow!” or, put another way “Wow! What crap!” I really don’t care what the response is as long as I get your honest feelings and feedback.
So, back to Mr. Lewin. Here’s why his opinion and those words mean so much to me. If you haven’t already, you really need to check his blog out. He writes these beautiful stories that are written so well. I have told him that he is one of the best natural writers I have found in the WordPress blogosphere. I’m not even sure what a “natural writer” is but it seems like an apt description for him because the words and lines of his stories just seem to always have this natural rhythm and flow to them. They seem so effortlessly put together. So, he’s a natural writer as far as I can tell. Because of that, he is most definitely in my audience. He’s one of those people I want a “Wow!” from every now and then.
That comment above more than fits the bill. That’s the kind of comment, I think you will all agree, can keep a writer going for a good long time. And, the best part of it is that Trent offered a constructive piece of advice to improve the story. So, it’s all there. Great words of support and encouragement and a piece to improve the thing.
I may be completely wrong about how I define my audience. Maybe I should be thinking more broadly about the thing, but I don’t think that’s possible. It seems to me, when it comes to fiction, the best way to approach it is to imagine that you are in a small gathering of some of your closest friends, your most respected readers — the ones who know you well enough to tell you the truth even when it’s bad. You share a story with them and it is their reaction that defines whether you got it done or not. If you can make it with them, you can make it anywhere.
One more thing before I go. I want to respond to a couple of things in Trent’s comment and go back to where this story came from because it truly baffles me some times where these things came from.
First off, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a series of random questions on Facebook to invite discussion. One of those questions was “How many spaces after a period? One or Two?” The ensuing conversation was interesting. Towards the end, a woman I have known since 1982 when I started working for her in an office at the college I went to, asked me why I was asking all of these questions. She asked whether I was doing research for a story. I told her that I wasn’t, because honestly, I wasn’t. But then I said that Spaces After the Period sounded like a great title for a story.
And you writers can guess what happened next … that title started burning a hole in my head. A very large hole. There was something there in that title that I thought could produce something incredible. But what?
February 9 rolled around and the first day of the Seven Day Story Challenge I host over at We Drink Because We’re Poets. Every day, I post a word that has to be used in that day’s writing, with the writer trying to write a certain number of words each day and then waiting for the next day’s word to drive the story telling. The first day’s word was “initial.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with that word. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to participate in the challenge, but I felt I had to. And then that hole opened even wider and I went with it. A story titled Spaces After the Period and the word “initial” somewhere in the first piece of the thing.
Everything about this story was a surprise to me. All I could think of was writing a story from the woman’s perspective of a relationship that was so odd, but eventually became so good and so right. And, yes, in my original thinking, the story was going to have an unhappy ending. Mitch was going to die and the whole thing was going to be about how she couldn’t possibly go on without him after the incredible thing they had become.
But, I shared that ending with another member of my audience — a friend who is also a co-worker. Her response? “Why? Why do you always have to make it sad?” So, I kicked it around some more and kept writing about 300 words a day, filling the story with surprises as I went.
I didn’t realize Mitch was Jewish … until he was.
I didn’t realize what Mitch would look like … until I had to describe him.
I didn’t realize he was going to hold her hand that first night or kiss her on the cheek … until he did.
I didn’t realize there would be a whole bunch of Zachs and Codys and that one named Joe … until they showed up, crowded around the table.
I didn’t realize she was an artist … until she was. And I most definitely did not know he was an anchor and she a kite … until they were.
Anyway, enough of that. I think you get my point. Oh wait, one more … I didn’t realize that I would so blatantly insert the concept of spaces after the period into the story. My original idea was that I wasn’t going to make the meaning of the title so obvious … that it was something the reader would have to figure out. But then, it became a much more significant piece of the story that had be included.
And, finally, I decided to make my audience happy. I tossed away the sad ending and gave Mitch and his un-named friend, bride, and lover a happy ending. Hope you liked it, but, you know, if you didn’t, you should let me know. I expect nothing less from my audience.
Thank you, Mr. Lewin, for giving me a bit of a lift today.