Write To Your Intended Audience

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Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby kg » 15 Jul 2012, 17:17


If I may be so bold as to presume, I felt this topic deserved its own separate thread, since I've read so many books and novels whose authors violated this principle.

Along the same vein as my post under "General Writing Discussions," another thing an author needs to consider when writing a novel or any other type of publication is "writing to their intended audience," including using words that subset of readers is most likely to understand. Use a vocabulary set that won't require them to have a dictionary or a Professor of Literature close at hand to interpret it.

I say this because, in spite of my own "fair to middlin' " vocabulary, I've run across a few novels that required me to consult a dictionary several times a chapter, and I know how irritating that can be! I would have given up, except they were good novels (as long as I could get through the 'high falutin' words he used!).

Don't get me wrong; large and esoteric words are useful and appropriate when used in the right place...for instance in college-level textbooks, or technical writing, where understanding of the terminology may be presumed. But if your novel is geared more toward the general public, and especially if it's geared toward a younger audience, verbiage is critical concern, affecting the success of your novel.

For example, if you're writing a novel aimed toward teen readers, you not only need to make the subject interesting to them, but you can't include too many words that require a Bachelor of Literary Arts to understand. If you do, the teen will eventually tire of trying to understanding what you're saying, put the book down, and go fire up the Game Boy or the Wii. His or her mother will eventually pick the book up and tuck it away somewhere, never to be read again...and the teen certainly won't be inspired to recommend the book to his or her friends!

That's not to say the book won't be read by those who can understand those words...they will, though they will be few and far between. Writing to that small sub-set won't sell many of your books, which means that in spite of it being a great and epic tale, it still won't be much of a success. But not to worry - if your tale is truly great and epic, those rare readers will be just as impressed with it, and likely appreciative that you made it such an easy read.

I give as an example "The (First) Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - The Unbeliever." This is a fantasy trilogy that I first read many years ago (published between 1977 and 1979), before the "golden age" of computers, the Internet, and the fantastic research materials available thereon. Being a Fantasy, it was geared toward the general public, though definitely not towards younger readers (and if that was the author's intention, he failed miserably!).

At that time, I was in the upper years of my young adult phase, and could see middle age looming over the horizon. I'd attended college, technical schools, and had a fair command of the language. When I started reading the first book, I had to consult a dictionary so often that I finally just left it on a table near me, to consult when needed...and it was needed often!

I'm not saying you should never use difficult words - they're fine, as long as they can be defined by the context in which they're used - but Mr. Donaldson took it to extremes. There were many words he used in sentences so full of equally complex and esoteric words, that it was impossible to define any context at all. It was like interpreting a foreign language in which I knew very few of the words. I wonder to this day whether Mr. Donaldson authored the Unabridged Dictionary, then sold the rights to Webster!

Content is the first consideration in "writing to your audience," but verbiage and sentence structure form the other two legs of the base. If any of them collapse, then everything will come tumbling down, and while your novel might not be a failure, it won't achieve as great a level of success.
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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby threenorns » 15 Jul 2012, 18:18

um... oh dear: i read the Unbeliever books in high school - i *loved* them (but then, my vocabulary's a bit of insane so i had no trouble following along). i never got the sense they were for young adult or teen readers.

but i know exactly what you mean - even worse than going above the intended audience is when the writer patronizes the reader. i've read some stuff where the concept was fantastic but i was so put off by the author apparently thinking i had the intellectual capacity of a gibbon that i couldn't finish it (one memorable occasion saw the book go flying across the room but that was one of the babywise books and is a whole other rant).
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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby kg » 15 Jul 2012, 19:10


Indeed, every author walks a fine line between patronization and leaving his readers collectively scratching their heads in confusion. Frankly, I think your published short story found that line dead center, as evidenced by the comments it evoked.

I loved the Unbeliever trilogy, as well. I just found that he used too many complicated and esoteric words for his intended audience. Of course, I exaggerated the extent of the problem, but not by much. I'm sure he didn't write them with younger readers in mind, but he potentially limited his readership by writing them so an extended vocabulary was required. Fantasies are generally seen as general public/younger readers who have not yet developed so extensive a vocabulary.

As I also explained in the OP, there will be those (like you) who have a sufficient vocabulary to comprehend, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Very few want to read a doctorate level textbook for casual reading.

threenorns wrote:i've read some stuff where the concept was fantastic but i was so put off by the author apparently thinking i had the intellectual capacity of a gibbon that i couldn't finish it (one memorable occasion saw the book go flying across the room but that was one of the babywise books and is a whole other rant).


I understand, but I'm sure you realize that you are the exception. Some of that author's readers will have "the intellectual capacity of a gibbon." Of course, I understand that an author "dumbs down" his writing at the risk of antagonizing those who are more intelligent. I've read many a book like that, too.

An author has to write at the level that the majority of his or her intended audience is most likely to comprehend, while not being overly patronizing to the more intellectual. Among those, he or she can only hope that their intelligent readers realize this and will excuse it.
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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby Kellemora » 15 Jul 2012, 20:04

Thanks for your Great Post Glenn!

It pays to pay attention to Fletch & Kincaid's writing levels!

Dig this, hi hi.....

Promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities and amicable philosophical observations, beware of platitudinous ponderousity.
Let your conversational communications demonstrate a clarified conciseness, a compact comprehensibleness, or coalescent conglomeration or asinine affections.
Let your extemporaneous verbal vaporizations and expatiations have lucidity, intelligibility and vicious vivacity without rodomontade or thespian bombast.
Sedulously avoid all polysyllabic profundity, pompous propensity, psittaceous vacuity, ventriloquial verbosity and valiloquent vapidity.
Shun double entendre, obnoxious jocosity and pestiferous profanity, unobservable or apparent.

---

In Other Words,
Say What You Mean.

TTUL
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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby threenorns » 15 Jul 2012, 20:23

if i recall correctly, the average mass market paperback should be at a grade four reading level - that's high enough to assuage the more intellectual types but low enough to be accessible to the majority of the reading population.
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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby Kellemora » 16 Jul 2012, 14:04

Hi three

On standard publications, we try to keep the whole book between a score of 65 & 70, sometimes a single chapter may run as high as 72. They never let standard publications drop below 65; if it scores 64, simplify somewhere.

Now on the large volume publications, meaning large in size, appealing to a more intellectual crowd, here they try to hold it near 60 to 65, but usually it's closer to between 55 & 65. Getting close to 55 is rare though.

Journalistic type publications, in book form, are the only ones they ever let drop below 55 and only by a point or two.

And naturally, they do have publications that shoot way up, like to the 90's and higher, especially in novels geared to teens.

I never thought much about 'young reader' books, I'll bet they are up near 100!

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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby threenorns » 16 Jul 2012, 16:11

.... okay, i have no idea what you're talking about, lol. the tool i had in my word processor only went by average grade level based on the vocabulary used.
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Re: Write To Your Intended Audience

Postby Kellemora » 16 Jul 2012, 20:17

The only thing I had to go by was what our servers from work tell us. Every place I've done work for does things quite a bit differently in each area.
For the first time since I was moved up to the company I'm with now, same group, I've actually had to work on dialog instead of just scene building and MRU's.... Don't think I would want to do it everyday, as that's what the authors do. Us flunkies just handle all the mundane stuff, hi hi.....

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