Any Audience?

rows of empty chairs

empty new museum auditorium by ol slambert CC 3.0

My business trip down memory lane and my wondering about only listening to audience-like critiquers have been percolating together.

When I wrote Sunday ads, I never thought about audience; that people reading what I wrote might be of a certain age group or mind-set never occurred to me. We’re selling Tylenol. You want it? Come and buy it.

I think that take it or leave it attitude followed me from high school.

During my senior year, we had to read The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot. My teacher LOVED Eliot and would go on and on about him. Me? I could go on and on, but it’d be far less flattering. The Wasteland took an incredible amount of time for us to finish. We would read a stanza at the beginning of class and the teacher would spend the remaining hour explaining, line-for-line or word-for-word, what had just been said. Eliot wrote in Latin and Greek. He referenced books that were mandatory reading in certain circles of the time. Everything about the poem was inaccessible…and Eliot wanted it that way. As my teacher explained it, he thought Literature was high brow and not for the masses.

I didn’t agree.

Eliot’s audience had gone to certain schools and learned certain things. I was clearly not the intended audience.

I felt (and feel) that writing should be accessible. You should be able to read it and understand the story. If I include an allusion, it should enhance the story, not be an impediment.

This is how I approached my college writing classes and my first job.

While I never thought too deeply about the Sunday circular audience, I did have a slow awakening to the idea that audience might be important at that same first job.

One of the women I worked with, a graphic artist, was originally from Russia. She saw one of my everybunny holiday headlines on a page that was left on the printer. She was so offended that she complained to my boss, not that it was hokey or overused (I could hardly have argued with her), but because it compared people to animals. I think I laughed, after all, it was just a bunny. What’s so bad about a bunny?

She said that, in Russia, it was highly offensive to be compared to a bunny, or any animal for that matter. At that point my boss cut her off. It was all about audience. I worked for a national chain in the US, so while there would be a few people who echoed my co-worker’s distaste, by and large, people would be fine with everybunny.

When did you first consider who your audience is? Or have you?


4 thoughts on “Any Audience?

  1. Great post!
    While I don’t write for the sake of an audience, I do take it into consideration. We’re back to that whole writing/critique group thing. It’s important for me to be able to sort out people’s opinions – to know what I should really listen to and what may not be so important. If I’m writing a book for adults, a child may tell me there are far to long and hard words, but it’s really not relevant. If I’m writing a fantasy novel, a reader who doesn’t like that genre may comment that (s)he doesn’t like the idea of magic. I’d like to be able to have a broad audience, but it’s not the reason I write. Unless I’m writing something speciifically for a purpose, of course. No point in submitting a historical short story to a sci fi magazine.
    Oh, and to the Eliot thing … I don’t mind if a text is hard to read, but there has to be a reason. If a writer wants to say something that can’t be done in a simple manner or if a character in a book thinks/speaks in a certain way, then it’s fine. But if it’s just to be fancy or showoffy (is that a word?), then no.

  2. bethfinke

    I guess when I’m thinking about what the subject matter of my next writing should be, I think about my audience. What might people be intersted in reading? After that, when i sit down to write, the audience is out of my mind.

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