Friday, October 2, 2015

Suspension of Disbelief: Intended Audience

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.

Confession: When I was in ninth grade, I walked out of the movie theater during Ace Ventura because Jim Carrey was talking with his butt. So totally not my thing.

There isn't a single person on the planet who would enjoy watching slap stick comedy with me. I am not a fan. In fact, I hate it. I grumble and complain about the implausibility of it all and the sheer stupidity of the plot. At the theater, people throw popcorn at me because I'm not great at quiet and I'm perfectly okay admitting that slap stick is just not my genre.

Now, my husband? He's a huge fan. He could watch and believe in the magical powers of Jim Carrey for days on end. Our marriage has survived, in part, because he doesn't insist I accompany him to such movies and I don't demand he watch Jane Austen with me. We're all about compromise over here.

And that brings me to today's chat. When writing fiction, we must keep our intended audience in mind when we sit down to write. What would the historical fiction reader think, for example, if Elizabeth Bennett suddenly bent over and started talking to Mr. Darcy with her behind? For the most part, historical fiction audiences aren't looking for that kind of humor. They're looking for something a little more appropriate to the time period.

Obviously, this example is an extreme one, but within each genre there are certain boundaries you are welcome to nudge and certain boundaries that just might cause the audience to push back. Remember, readers want to believe you. They want to get lost in your fictional world. You, as the storyteller, have a lot of latitude, but ignoring the desires of your audience is a good way to ruin the magic.

Science fiction and fantasy readers will often give the author tons of room to play with, whereas readers of military science novels (like the Tom Clancy stuff) prefer things to be accurate and factually sound. It's why speculative fiction authors are usually praised for things like world building and creativity while the Tom Clancy guys are praised for their research and precision. The preferences of the intended audience directly relate to how an author and his books are viewed. It benefits the writer to remember that.

Like all writing rules, there are the exceptions. The stories that somehow make smashups work. I think of the book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or the film, Cowboys and Aliens. You'll have to be the judge of how well these worked, but it's important to keep in mind that the writers made very intentional decisions when drafting these stories. They didn't stumble into another genre accidentally. Up front, audiences knew what they were getting.

There's nothing quite like opening a book you think will be a sweet romance and finding out the author expects you to believe worms have taken over the earth. So, while I'll never, ever tell you that there's one way to write a book, I do think you should always, always keep your intended audience in mind when you sit down to write it.

Tell me, have you ever picked up a book you thought was one thing but turned out to be something else entirely? Was it a good surprise or a bad surprise? And do you make it a practice to think about your intended audience when you settle into your writing cave?

18 comments:

  1. Hm...nothing comes to mind right now, but I'm sure there's *something* which surprised me in a way I didn't like. As for my intended audience? Well, right now I'm really only writing for fun, so it's me and my little brother. Since our tastes are nearly identical, it's pretty easy to catch things which just don't make any sense. At least, he is. I'm usually too caught up in whatever plot I'm wrestling. :)
    Great post!

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  2. The most recent book I can think of that surprised me in a way that I didn't like, was The Maze Runner. I actually LOVED most of the book. It was also what I thought I was signing up for when I picked it up. Then the ending came. I'm not a fan of apocalyptic stories (don't get me started on zombies. *shiver*) I still enjoyed the first book, but I soured away from the rest of the series simply because of this.
    I guess it's a good example of someone willing to take a risk like that. I'm sure there are those who were thrilled by that twist. (Just not me :P)

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    1. Oh, how interesting! I enjoyed the Maze Runner, but I do remember being utterly surprised by the ending. Good memory!

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  3. This is actually pretty common in books, now that I think about it. I think there are some genres that can be easily blended, but some just turn out ridiculously. Obviously, we should write for ourselves and what makes us happy...but also, we should be developing our gifts to the best of our ability. At least, that's how I look at it. It's good to keep in mind that some things just don't work (such as extreme genre blending), especially if other people are going to be reading whatever the piece is. Fabulous post!

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  4. Cowboys and Aliens is one of the most pleasant surprises I've ever had as a movie goer. Ben talked me into seeing it because it got such good reviews, and I was shocked by how creative and well-done the plot was.

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  5. One example of a surprise for me would be The Name of This Book is Secret...sort of. It wasn't exactly what I expected, but I commend Pseudonymous Bosch for how much belief he was able to suspend in me. Also, awesome pen name.

    I personally do not think about audience, but i think I should from now on.

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  6. (This: "He could watch and believe in the magical powers of Jim Carrey for days on end." So made me laugh.)

    I don't like when a favorite author totally switches genres on me. I usually know it going in, like when John Grisham wrote Skipping Christmas. And then I'm okay. It's when I'm surprised or taken off guard that I am one angry/disappointed reader.

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    1. Agreed. I think the publisher has a responsibility to package in a way that makes it very clear to the audience that the author has made a little jump. It's helpful.

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  7. Well the biggest book disappointment I've had is when I pick up chick-lit that has no romance.... kinda a downer.

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    1. Well yes! Certainly! False advertising, I'd say.

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    2. I hate false advertising. I had to happen recently when a book about a serial killer turned out to really be about neopaganistic magic in New Zealand. I dropped the book after thirteen or so pages, but I flipped through to see if it may have improved. The genre swap took place in like the last 30 pages based off an obscure hobby one of the side characters had.

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  8. The biggest one for me is when you pick up a supposedly clean Christian book and it has inappropriate stuff in it.

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