Know Your Audience

Over the weekend, I had planned to go on a day trip to one of my favorite natural areas with my camera and the dog. Unfortunately, those plans were derailed but forces beyond my control, and so I spent my time catching up on some TV series that had been recommended to me. While watching pilot episodes through streaming websites, I became quite aware of differences in writing and presentation and the nuances of what I find to be enjoyable storytelling. A great deal of credit goes to actors and directors when it comes to film-based production, but I find that when it comes to my own preferences, it’s the writers’ work that either makes or breaks a show or movie.

Being a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, I find myself able to forgive a great deal of hokey CGI or other visual effects if the writing still creates a quality story. Character and relations development can still grow organically even in the backdrop of impossible, action-based drama. But too often I see series where bonds between protagonists appear stronger than what the storyline actually supports. One character will cry dramatically over the supposed danger or death of another that up until this point in the plot they barely interacted with in a manner that goes beyond casual colleagues at best. Other series will present an antagonist whose grievances against the protagonist or the world go far beyond the minimal explanations given; they blow out of proportion problems that any normal person would accept and move on from after a bit of grief or anger.

Now, this sort of simplification of human bonds and emotions does have its place – in morality stories for youth who are at the age where they question the status quo and are developing a sense of ownership of their perceptions of right and wrong. But to throw this sort of simplified character development into stories for adults strikes me as lazy and demeaning. Adults are complicated even when we want a simple story to help us relax and unwind.

A second type of writing I can’t stand when it comes to TV series drags out a plot with mystery and suspense and leaves cliffhangers at the end of an episode without any form of reward. The basic formula of this writing does lend itself to movies, because everything must wrap up by the end of the movie itself. But all of the twists and turns and lingering questions leaves me dissatisfied when there are no answers at the end of an episode upon which the protagonist can act. Leaving a protagonist in limbo like this makes the storyline appear to be solely about torturing this person we’re supposed to relate to without purpose. If we as the audience seek out stories as a means of escape and relaxation, this sort of storytelling often does the opposite by frustrating the viewer.

In writing, we should all seek to create stories we enjoy, but we must consider our target audience. While no one can please everyone with their storytelling, we can at least make an effort to treat our audience fairly. Don’t treat them like children if they are not children. If they are seeking out your story as a means to relax, don’t leave them frustrated and annoyed. Craft a story that suits their purpose. This is not to say that adults cannot enjoy children’s/youth’s stories or that a story should never challenge the audience, but if what you write does not meet your audience’s expectations, you may need to find a new audience.

We write for ourselves first and foremost, but when it comes to sharing what we write, we need to seek out like-minded people.


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