Who are you really writing for?
Every writer should ask herself that question because it matters in the marketplace. You can write a terrific tale, but your audience may be smaller than you imagined because your piece doesn’t speak to a large group.
If you become seriously concerned that your target audience is limited, you may decide to retool the work, or to press on and be faithful to your story. You may, after all, be mistaken. Your audience may turn out to be a broad one. And sometimes a story simply grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck and carries him away.
But that is not often the case.
To illustrate how a commercial venture may fail in this way, I offer this from Matt Gamble’s post* on the film Cutthroat Island, a film I thoroughly enjoyed but lost $88 million dollars for the studio that backed it.
“Cutthroat Island was directly competing with were Jumanji and Heat which were both action films. Now I’m not much a fan of either film, but I think it is safe to say that Jumanji is a comparable film in quality while Heat is clearly superior to both. Jumanji is a sort of swashbuckling adventure story told at a breakneck pace to young kids and it held a great deal of appeal to them, while Heat is a gritty and realistic action film for adults. Both these films highlight Cutthroat Island’s weaknesses; that it is far too stuffy for younger kids, and it seems positively childish when aimed at older audiences.”
Cutthroat Island was a ripping yarn, but had no audience. If it had kids in the cast or fantastical elements, it might have been a children’s classic. Davis and Modine were fine in the film, but they didn’t have the sexy, romantic spark of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley or the swaggering, woozy charms of Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
The writer would do well to imagine who will read and recommend the book to others.
I got this picture of a Puli dog from my friend Lynette Chiang’s Facebook photos. She’s an amazing woman who travels the world with her bicycle and her open heart.
I was unhappy for a chunk of my life. During this period I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what was wrong with me. What could I do to be more productive? More centered? Calmer? Hours turned into days; days into weeks. The longer I struggled with my imperfections the less happy I became. I stopped writing.
I don’t remember a flash of understanding, but at some point I remembered from my days studying zoology that I am an animal. Animals have instincts, proclivities, skills and characteristics. Fish don’t fly. Birds don’t smell each other’s behinds. They just do what they do. The lucky ones seem to enjoy it, like this fabulous dog.
I’m reminded of ugly dog contests. California has several. The dogs I’m guessing have no idea that they’re the butt of jokes. They couldn’t care less. The winner gets the most attention. It’s a dog party. Everybody gets to be who they are.
The ugly dog contest became my metaphor. I’ll be the dog I am with the looks and talents and proclivities I have. How can I not be? Is it even possible? I’ll do what dogs like me do. What path could be better than that?
My life is better now. There are more ups now, though I do get down sometimes. When I do, I think of dogs at a party for dogs.
Ugly Dog Contest
And read Lynette’s book: The Handsomest Man In Cuba http://www.galfromdownunder.com/cuba/
Art is what you make when you’re not feeling cool. Not that feeling uncool is the basis for art, but that coolness – prevents the creation of real art. The reason is simple: You can’t be thinking about your image. Doing so creates a distance – a duality if you will, between you and the deeper thing you’re trying to express. There can be no such boundary. This is why art is so rare. I’ve only felt it a couple of times and even then, I’m not so sure.
Here’s the best expression I ever heard of this truth. It’s from Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous, a story about the coming of age of a critic.
Lester Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
William Miller: Well, it was fun.
Lester Bangs: They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.
William Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.
Lester Bangs: That’s because we’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.
William Miller: I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love… and let’s face it, you got a big head start.
William Miller: I’m glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I’m always home. I’m uncool.
William Miller: Me too!
Lester Bangs: The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.
William Miller: I feel better.
Lester Bangs: My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.