Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.
Have you read William Shakespeare's Hamlet? Or seen it? If you can catch it live, do it. Definitely. But if you can't, there are oodles of great film adaptations out there. While it's missing chunks of the script, Mel Gibson's performance as Hamlet is probably my favorite. Give that one a go.
Anyway, Act III is all sorts of fun. By this time, Hamlet is almost certain his uncle killed his father so he could steal the throne and marry the queen. While the young prince is stewing on the idea (an idea given to him by the ghost of his father), some players show up at the castle hoping to perform. Hamlet pulls the leader of the players aside and asks him to do a very particular play. The Murder of Gonzago. When the player agrees, Hamlet asks one more thing: that he be allowed to change "some dozen or sixteen lines" of the show.
See, the ghost told Hamlet just how he was murdered: poison in the ear. Hamlet figures if he can slip a similar murder into the play, his uncle's reaction to seeing his own sin acted out before him will confirm the ghost's story.
Genius, right? Hamlet certainly thinks so, and it works. His uncle freaks out and Hamlet is convinced the ghost's words were true.
See, the play was performed in front of a crowd. The king and queen are there. And Hamlet, of course. And Ophelia and Polonius and Horatio and dozens of royals. The room is full of people, but the play--and more specifically "some dozen or sixteen lines"--were written for one person. Hamlet's uncle, the king.
Oh, he threw in a couple doozies to make his mother uncomfortable, but mostly Hamlet wanted to stir something in his uncle. Guilt, maybe. Remorse. He wanted a reaction. He wanted the king to feel something. That is why the play was written the way it was.
It's such a colorful example of advice John Steinbeck once gave to writers. In a 1975 interview that ran in The Paris Review, he said this:
This is the kind of advice that can help you out of a dark hole when you're wondering just what you're doing and why you're doing it. Decide. Make a choice. Who are you writing for?
I know writers who write for family members or friends. Some even keep a picture of their one-person-audience next to their computer. It helps them stay focused. Reminds them to write clearly, decidedly, and specifically. Keeps them writing in a way that their very small, very particular audience would appreciate.
"But I want a lot of people to read my stuff!" you say.
They likely will, but that's not the point. Writing to move a crowd can be overwhelming. But writing words to move one reader is monumentally easier. And that kind of targeted writing will touch everyone it needs to touch.
So, tell me, have you considered who your one-person-audience might be?
Who are you writing for?