Know Thy Audience, and Write To Them.
In my experience, that’s the first law of writing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing creative fiction or technical manuals. If you don’t know your audience, you’re going to quickly lose that audience. It’s that simple.
I believe that long before I ever set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to start writing anything, I need to have a solid grasp of who I want to read my writing. If I don’t, I’m not going to communicate with my intended reader, and that counts as a major FAIL.
So I’ve been asking myself the question: Who do I want to read Shadow and Light?
Whether I’m thinking in terms of potential dollars earned or lives touched, the single most popular age category for fiction is Young Adult (typically between 13-18). That’s the age range with the most disposable income and time, so it’s got the most readers. In addition, that’s an age range where the readers mind is more open to new ideas and different ways of seeing things. Of course, for those same reasons, it’s also the most saturated market.
There’s something else about that market that I like: it’s got broader appeal. While the target audience is predominantly teenagers, the Young Adult market is popular for older readers as well. Young Adult fiction is relatively safe; it typically avoids the more “mature” elements that many readers don’t actually want in their books.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to dance around and avoid some mature topics. The story of Shadow and Light is going to be, in part, a romance. It will explore ideas about love, lust, friendship, and romance. It will have themes that include abuse and war. Characters will die. It will consider the meaning of right and wrong, good and bad. I want to encourage my readers to think, to see deeper than the superficial veneer we so often confuse for reality.
Something else I’d love to try to do is actually write a book that will be read and enjoyed by both male and female readers. Too often, I’ve seen books that are clearly targeted at only one gender, and it’s painfully obvious. More recently, I’ve noticed several female authors writing to a mixed-gender audience (and doing quite well), but male authors don’t really seem to be stepping up.
Many male-targeted books by male authors — even the relatively good ones — have a distinct lack of major female characters, and the female characters that exist are often unappealing two-dimensional sex-objects, not real characters. I suspect that offends female readers even more than it offends me. It also reinforces some seriously unhealthy attitudes in the readers.
Cross-gender targeted fiction by female authors often focuses on a female MC who has (gasp!) feelings, emotions, and thoughts of her own. It also typically features a predominant male love interest who is equally complex and interesting. J K Rowling managed to write a male MC who didn’t even have a romantic interest in the main female protagonist.
If a female writer can write a male protagonist that will appeal to male readers, then I’m willing to at least try writing a female protagonist that will appeal to female readers. Does that mean she can’t appeal to male readers as well? Of course not. Women have the incredible capacity to be attractive, intelligent, and strong — all at the same time!
There are other topics that I need to consider as well. Our society is being torn apart by some very poisonous ideas about culture, race, and gender. We’re being told constantly that people who are different from us hate us. Implicit in that message is the lie that we must hate everyone different from ourselves. We’re being taught that the only equality is sameness; that the only safety is to eliminate the differences.
I want to use Shadow and Light to suggest a different way of thinking. I want to show the beauty of contrast. I hope to illustrate the strength of complexity, the unity of balance. I want to show that good is universal and dependable. If I can do that, and get people to read it, then I will consider Shadow and Light a success.