Friday, June 5, 2015

The Audience Within the 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.

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?


  1. An excellent question...and one I don't have an answer for. I'm writing the book I want to read and not really thinking about audience...mostly I just feel like at this point, I owe it to myself and my characters to finish the story. I was originally writing with my brothers in mind, but that's no longer the case. If I don't think about people reading my work, I'm more comfortable writing the way I do. Used to be, I kind of censored myself and never talked much about my characters' emotions and tragic backstories, and rarely, if ever, brought out the metaphors and similes. Now those things are old friends, and I suspect that getting over my embarrassment at writing that way was a key factor. I'm less worried about what people will think these days, but still...I'm not really writing for anyone.

  2. Does myself count? I used to right for only me I never shared my stuff, but when I felt it was getting better i shared it on my a place called and started a blog. So, maybe now I write for a few close friends?? But it seems I mostly write what I want to read...

    Love your post!!!!!!!!!

  3. Oh, wow. Tough question, really-I'd never thought about this before.

    I started writing out for my school's audience (is that weird?) since I was part of the school paper, but that was mostly just essays and feature articles. Now, though, on the creative writing side, I guess you can say I write for myself, but I have limitations. For example, I don't have strong romance in my books because I feel my family might think I'm too young to write romance scenes or mature adult content. So in a way, I keep my family in mind whenever I write. I always think about my scenes in advance to see if they're appropriate and something that wouldn't cause an uprising in the household, since my family reads my work.

    This is getting long so I better go... but thank you for this question! It really got me thinking.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I struggle with the romance aspect because I'm also young and I'm always worried about what my family will think if I write that. I think I'm old enough to be able to write romance scenes, but I don't know what they will think so I always go back and forth on that.

    3. I'm so psyched to know I'm not the only one who feels that way!

      I know-I really need to be cautious when it comes to the tiniest bit of romance. My main character (who is a good three years older than me) has crush, like all teens her age have, and that was a big risk already!

      Well, we just have to wait when we're older. Maybe a few years?

  4. I don't have anyone I'm writing for... any suggestions on a good type of person to pick?

    1. I'm just going to suggest, you don't need to actually follow/use them, but:

      You can write for yourself, for your family (it could be from your parents to cousins to siblings), for your friends.

      Sorry these answers may seem vague or informative, but that's the best I could do.

    2. I missed this question before, Megan. Apologies. I think you should consider the type of stuff you're writing. Or the stuff you WANT desperately to write. Who would be interested in what you have to say? Do you know a person like that? If not, it's perfectly acceptable to have an imaginary audience member. I actually think it's pretty common. I also think this will develop for you as your writing continues to unfold.

  5. Cool post! I've heard this question before, but I was never able to settle on a single person other than myself. I write for me; I write the kind of stories I would enjoy. I don't know if that counts, though. Should I pick someone else?


  6. I'm probably doing this all wrong, but right now, I'm writing just for me. I have a lot of readers--for an unpublished writer, anyway--but even though I love them to death, they're not the reason I write. I write because I have a story I want to tell myself, and a lesson that I need to relearn. Several of my characters resemble be me in multiple ways--mental, emotional, and situational--and while maybe that's not the best way to write a novel, that's how I write. For now, I'm just writing to get through the tough spots of my life. Maybe someday I'll see about getting these stories published, but I'm content to keep writing for myself in the meantime. ;)

  7. In Illusion, I'm writing to girls who feel alone and afraid and who want to face their fears. That's really the audience I'm aiming for. :) Thanks for the post, Mrs. Dittemore!

    (P.S. I'm off to camp for the next week, so I'll see y'all on the 15th!) :)

  8. You guys are all so smart! First and foremost, YES! Writing should always be something you do FOR yourself. Always. If you don't do it for yourself, I doubt it will get done. Honestly. I think Steinbeck is comparing and contrasting two concepts in his piece of advice. When you sit down in front of the computer to write, if you hear the crowd noise and start to worry about expectations and what the masses want out of your words, remind yourself that the illusion of a crowd is a false one. You're not ever performing for the masses when you write. You're communicating one-on-one with a single reader. And it helps--at least Steinbeck thought so--to pick out a single person and keep them in mind as you write. It helps keep the writing personal and intimate and targeted. It keeps you from trying to please everyone. And yes! Absolutely. If it helps to write for yourself alone, by all means. I think your one-person-audience changes as well. Mine does. Depending on what I'm writing, the single chair in the auditorium of my mind is filled with a different person. For Angel Eyes, it was a teen girl I knew named Jacy. I was writing with her in mind, and oddly enough, Brielle looks an awful lot like her. Strange how that happens, right?

  9. I love that you mention the players in Hamlet! I was one of them in a production a while ago. : D

    Like others, I write for only one person: myself. Writing is taking a little slice out of my soul and holding it up to the light. If I try to change it to please other people, or if I doubt its value, then it isn't my soul anymore.

    Interesting thoughts.

  10. I definitely know what *type* of person I write for, but I don't have someone I personally know in mind (other than myself). For example, the book I'm working on now is for a girl who feels invisible. Is it okay to have a type of person like that in mind rather than a specific person you know?

    1. ABSOLUTELY! And actually, I think this is more common than having a specific person in mind.