Target Audience

I’m probably in the minority, because one of the first things that teachers will tell you in any writing class is that you should think about your target audience: Who are you writing for?

I understand why this question needs to be asked. Because if you want to write for young children, then obviously you shouldn’t be putting any profanities in the dialogue of your characters, or if you’re writing for an adult audience, then there’s no need to explain every reference you make, e.g. it’s safe to assume that anyone over 25 years old would know who The Beatles are. So yes, I know that there are certainly merits to this and that it is necessary to know your audience whenever you’re writing, but… doesn’t it seem a bit like discrimination?

This is always my problem when I want to write something. I can never bring myself to start because this question, which you should ask before you start anything, always stumps me. Who am I writing for?

There is this quote that says that you should “write what you know”. I guess that’s pretty good advice, but here’s the thing: what I know is already what most people my age know, and so there’s no point of writing it with my same age group audience in mind. But if I write it for a different age group, then it might not be as interesting to them as it is to me, because they’re a different age, and so it would also be a waste of writing.

Also, when you say “target audience”, to some people (I’m assuming publishers), this automatically means “target market”. And I know this is necessary for business or whatever, but I just can’t help but think that when you have a specific “market” in mind, then all you’re doing is exploiting that group of people, taking advantage of their interests and just feeding them what they want so that you can earn some money. Plus, I think it makes your work less original, because you’ll inevitably end up incorporating concepts, deliberately, because you think (or you know) that they would appeal to your audience, and thus, make what you wrote instantly popular. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be popular because I wrote about something that I’m sure the audiences would like, but that I wouldn’t really have thought of, had I not been thinking of a particular target market.

Take the genre Young Adult Dark Fantasy for example. I’m sure you’ve all noticed that ever since Twilight became “the next Harry Potter” (only phenomenon-wise, I don’t mean that Twilight is just as good as Harry Potter because it obviously isn’t), a plethora of fiction about vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night suddenly popped up in the Young Adult section of the bookstores. Because vampires are what’s “in”, suddenly, there are hardly any books like Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew. Or maybe there are, but they’re all still infused with fantasy elements, like ghosts or witchcraft, because dark fantasy books are what’s more “marketable” nowadays.

This really bothers me because somehow I feel that some writers, no matter how good, aren’t published because they don’t write about vampires. Or the other way around, that there are some writers, despite being especially bad, but just because they wrote about the undead, suddenly have all their other (crappy) books published and they become famous. *ahemStephenieMeyerahem*

Doesn’t having a target audience mean that you’re taking advantage of what a certain group of people like, instead of just writing something from your heart (or brain, if you don’t want to be all sentimental/dramatic) with the hope that people will understand and like what you’ve written?

I’ve recently been reading some comparisons about The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, and one of the blogs said that they’re different because Battle Royale was written with an adult audience in mind, whereas The Hunger Games are for teenagers, hence, they shouldn’t be compared in terms of the level of violence or the words used. I guess this is one interpretation, but I find it somewhat inexact, because from what I understand, Battle Royale was not written with an international audience in mind. And anyone who’s watched an anime can tell you that what appeals to Japanese teenagers is way different than what appeals to American teenagers. And, unless you read Battle Royale in its original Japanese, you can’t accurately compare the language or other elements that they use in the book, if it’s too violent for teenagers or not.* There is one other blog I read that “reminds” people that Battle Royale was written for a young audience and so you shouldn’t mind how “middle school” the sentences sound. Maybe I’m just being too nitpicky, but I think this would’ve also been more accurate if the blog had said that when Battle Royale was translated into English, by an English publisher, it had a young adult audience in mind, and that’s the reason for the “middle school grammar” type sentences.

But again, why be so discriminatory with your audience? Why say something like “this book was written to appeal to teenagers so adults shouldn’t expect to be blown away”? Who are you to say what kind of stories a certain group of people should and shouldn’t read or like? Of course, I’m not saying that kindergarten kids should be reading books about gruesome murders, just that when you’re writing or reading or critiquing a story (but mostly if you’re writing), shouldn’t you be more concerned about what the story actually is about, and not who it would appeal to, or if you have a market for it?

* I bring this up only because I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies/drama/anime wherein some words, although the English translation is correct, when you encounter them used in a different context in Japanese, can give an entirely different meaning to a scene. Example:

In The Seven Samurai, after a recon mission, a samurai tells his friends, “I killed two.” Or at least, the subtitle says “I killed two.” But what he actually says in Japanese is “Futari.” which literally translated means “two people”, and not “I killed two.”

It may be a small thing, but isn’t it character building for that particular samurai, that he only has to say “two people”, and his friends will already understand, without any further explanation, that he killed those two people?

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3 thoughts on “Target Audience

  1. I remember the impromptu story writing contest nung highschool where they told us to write a fantasy story. I absolutely had no effing clue what my target audience was, so i decided to make it: myself.

    After i won the contest, I realized i didn’t like my ending at all. Ahahaha.

    Re: BR and THG.

    Im starting to like THG. And I havent even gotten into the Main Games yet. It gives me sort of an anime-ish feel, to tell u the truth. Like, it would make a great anime. (Is that weird?)

    BR…. I think i’d like to read it too. Of course, I can’t read Japanese. But you do have a point regarding translations.

    Didn’t someone say Noli & Fili were far more beautiful to read in Spanish?

    1. Hehe, congratulations on winning that contest! Even though my greeting is about 10 years late aheheh. 😛 I think isa pang reason bakit nabilib ako ka J.K. Rowling is because she wrote HP without thinking too much of a target audience or whatever either. In one interview, she said, “I thought only 3 people would like it. And that includes me, my sister and my dad.” 🙂

      Re THG, after getting over the initial turn off of what people say that it’s a BR rip off, medyo na-appreciate ko naman siya (pero Chapter 1 lang ang alam ko) and found that it’s a lot different from BR, but I still got turned off by the writing, kasi nga masyadong pang-Young Adult ang dating. Bakit ‘yung HP, although classified as a “children’s book”, I never really felt like I was reading a children’s book. Ewan ko, ‘yung mga books ngayon masyadong halata na written by older people who shift their vocabularies to appeal to a younger audience.

      Pinaka-ayaw ko ‘yung part where todo describe si Katniss kung gaano kagwapo si Gale sabay ‘yung next statement niya ‘eh sinasabi niyang she doesn’t like him romantically. Gusto ko sabihin, “Dude, kung ‘di mo siya type, don’t use the word ‘smoldering’ to describe his eyes.” 🙄

      1. Haahaha!

        Re: Katniss. First thing I thought was that she was probably an idiot. By the end of the book, I still thought she was an idiot. And then I realized that we girls are indeed like idiots. We all tend to analyze, to overthink. And perhaps one of the reasons I didn’t like her was because some of her “irrationalities” can be seen in me.

        Re: BR rip off. Not quite. The storyline (at least in the movie) was both rich and brutal so, perhaps not. And besides, there are already several movies especially n the 70’s/60’s where it’s about people watching people die for entertainment. But i think they’re the only two i know that involved kids.

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