Posted by: Phil Anderson | October 27, 2013

Audience Participation

One of the most important aspects of writing—and any other form of artistic expression or communication—is knowing your audience. Who is going to be reading or hearing your message, and what do they need in order to properly understand it?

I’m not necessarily talking about writing just what your audience wants to hear. Commercialization, pandering to the mass market, or writing just to sell to the lowest common denominator rarely results in a quality presentation. Instead, I think that when you have a message to impart or story to tell, it must be conveyed so that the meaning is clear. You have to think beyond what you want to say and consider what you want your audience to hear.

There are two angles from which to approach this notion. The most obvious is craft, the technical side of communication. At its most basic, this would be word choice and grammar for writers, or enunciation and projection for actors. If you are using a different language than your audience, they will not understand you. This should be simple.

A more involved level of communication is the artistic. This goes beyond imparting facts and information to conveying (or even implying) the sense of an idea or feeling. In a minimalist theatrical performance a simple prop can be intended to represent something more elaborate, but not everyone may recognize it. An allegorical novel can have myriad meanings beyond what is expressly stated, but only to those who look deep enough to see it.

This degree of communication involves a certain amount of objectivity for a writer or communicator. I obviously know what I mean when I write, but I have to detach myself from that and consider how a reader may interpret my words. Do they require more detail or context to make them clear? Could they mean something other than what I intend? Do I want it to mean something specific, or am I allowing my reader to take from it what he will? I was always curious in high school English classes, when the teacher explained the meaning or symbolism of a story we had read in class, whether the author really intended all those obscure interpretations.

The more abstract a work is, the smaller its audience will be. I believe this is most evident in modern art. Anyone can enjoy a Rockwell painting on some level, though some may get more out of it than others.


Picasso can be a little more difficult to interpret and find meaning in.



And I personally don’t find any meaning in the work of artists like Piet Mondrian.


The same is true in writing, though it’s harder to define. I try to write clearly enough that anyone can enjoy my stories on some level, but I hint at and imply things that will reward readers willing to go deeper, and sometimes throw in references that I’m confident only I will ever notice just for my own amusement.

How involved are you when you read? Do you want everything spelled out for you? Or do you like to interpret things for yourself?


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