Being a Better Writer: Age and Audience

Welcome once again, writers! It’s another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer, but … something’s different?

Oh, that’s right. It’s that I’m not here. This post was written in advance of my trip to Alaska. So right now I’m off of the grid and disconnected from civilization, so this post has been prepared in advance and uploaded for you to enjoy.

So, that means the new category is a little light, and we’re going to dive right into today’s topic. Which from the title, might seem a little surprising or odd to some of you, but I think you’ll find that it makes sense.

But first, really quick, just a reminder that this Being a Better Writer post, and all others like it, are free, both to read and of advertisements, but the effort that goes into writing them isn’t. If you’d like to support Being a Better Writer, please consider either becoming a Patreon Supporter or purchasing a book from the Books tab. Unusual Thing’s archive of Being a Better Writer articles, ten years’ deep, is a writing resource almost unmatched across the web—and almost anything that does match it is either supported by advertising or requires payment to access.

Spiel over, but I hope you consider either method of support. Being a Better Writer is a valuable resource, offered openly. Speaking of which, let’s get on with it and talk about today’s topic. Hit that jump!

Okay, I’m going to start with today’s topic by sharing the story of where it came from. The post topic, I mean. It was this year at LTUE, while I was on one of the panels. A fellow panelist, Gallowglass, made a note that instantly caught my mind as a subject for a future Being a Better Writer post. The topic of conversation on the panel had shifted to immediacy of information and audience, and Gallowglass made a comment that when it came to audience, how he disseminated and framed information was based on the age of the audience. The young, he noted, wanted information immediately, and that information was concerned with the “right now,” their immediate circumstances. Those of intermediate age weren’t quite so concerned about the now, but were concerned with matters of the inner self. And those of advanced age, their focus was reflective, viewed through the lens of looking back.

Okay, now obviously this isn’t always true, but it can be a good framework to look at when considering our characters, and it does teach a valid point: The mental age of the audience will be interested in different things depending on what that mental age is.

Yes, I chose to say “mental age” because life has shown that actual age is largely a number, and some people in their sixties and older still see the world as children, and not in a good way.

But Gallowglass’ point still stands: Depending on the age of your audience, how you present information, and what sort of information you may present, may change.

Now, I want to make something clear right from the get-go: This extends heavily into narrative. Whether the narrative of your story is character-driven or an outside narration, who the story is written for will affect how you write it. Or should, anyway. For example, if you’re writing a children’s book, the tone, approach, and manner of speaking should be different than if you’re writing a text meant to impress a literal professor of literature.

Those are two audience’s very far removed from one another, but I chose that example exactly to illustrate the point. Furthermore, everything between those two points would be a spectrum of advancing and shifting interests and complexity.

But Gallowglass wasn’t just talking about the complexity of language. He was also noting that different ages of audience are concerned with different things and may focus their lens differently. Now, personally, I don’t think that Gallowglass meant the terms he used to be rock-solid indicators. After all, there are children that are reflective, and there are children that are only focused on the immediate now, and there are children’s books written for both. Oh, and then there are those rare children’s books that layer both into the same text and are enjoyed by all ages and types.

But I digress. I don’t believe Gallowglass’ point was to pigeonhole all audience based on age, but as with the example above of the two extremes of audience, offer a measurable spectrum of different types of introspection and expectation just to jar the audience’s mind to think “Oh wait, that’s a thing?”

Because it is a thing, but as a new writer you may have no idea. You’re making your first steps into a world, and at the moment all you want to do is get the story out.

Now that’s not flawed in any way. What you’ll write will likely be what you’d want to read, and that’s fine, because what you want to read is highly likely to be what someone else wants to read. Immediacy, audience age, and all that will sort of take care of themselves.

But what about later. When perhaps you’re starting to look at writing something a little … different? Something outside of what you’ve written before? With different characters, or different views.

Once you do, something like Gallowglass’ comment and the understanding that digging into it brings, can be very helpful in setting you on that new path.

Okay, so let’s actually dive in here, and talk about what this all means, and how it can (and should) impact your writing.

What Gallowglass is getting at—or, at least, how I interpret it—is that different audiences view things and frame things differently, and your narration can do the same.

For example, your narration may be interested only in the now. In the elements of the story that are right there on the surface, immediately pressing, and apparent to the eye. This can be emotional, tangible, or just whatever is pressing on your character for the moment.

Or you can have narration that looks inward, past the surface, to wonder how it is going to be affected by such things. The surface tangible is there, but outside of the immediacy, there is the question of impact. Of what it’s going to do.

Finally, there’s the question of what has come before and how this compares. Of reflecting back on similar experiences to bring out the differences and similarities and frame the world through those prior experiences.

Now, if any of you are thinking “Won’t any normal person experience all three of these?” you’re right. Recall what I said about spectrum above. Even a six-year old child is capable of thinking back on a prior experience and using it to contextualize what’s going on before them. Any story with realistic characters and narration is going to have a blend of these elements, just … in different portions. And the primary portion that you choose to utilize, well … that’s going to be based on your characters, yes. But it’s also going to be a narrative choice, and that in turn will collide with what audience you’ve chosen.

For example, if you’re writing a grade-school book, IE ages seven to ten or eleven, you’re probably not going to make the text itself that verbose or overly complex. You’re going to want simpler language, and simpler approaches of narrative. You likely will have reflective moments, but they’re probably going to be fewer than the more immediate concerns and observations.

Again, this isn’t something that’s set in stone. Perhaps you’re writing a book about young characters, but for an older audience. Your narration then might show an immediacy of thought, but then reflect on it in another manner, or look at how that can impact the inner self. Mix it up! Look at your characters, and who the book is directed at.

That last bit is pretty key. Narration is aimed at an audience. What sort of audience are you trying to have read your story? Write for them.

Okay, let’s tackle one last question that some of you might be asking, which is “How?” How do you write something that’s immediate? Or concerned with inner application? Or reflective?

If this has puzzled you, think of it as a presentation element. It’s not whether you write in past or present tense, but how you approach the information given to the audience by the narration and what you do with it. If you’re immediately moving with it, that’s immediate usage. If it’s being compared to something internal, that can be looking at how it impacts, or even reflecting on it.

And look, here’s the thing: If this sounds bonkers, and you’ve gotten this far while reading the post and thought “I can’t make heads or tails of this” then … well, don’t. Don’t get caught up in wondering which you’re doing, or what that might do, and just write. In time, you’ll find your own sense for what this post discussed, and the bits and bobs will make sense to you.

Don’t worry for now. Just write.

Ultimately, this post has been about the age of your audience, and how that might affect your narration and presentation. And if that’s what it accomplished, and got you thinking on that, then great! It did its job!

Because our audience is important … once we know what that means. Early writers tend to have the one audience: What story they want to read. Later, you can branch out.

But once you do branch out, do think about who you’re trying to appeal to. Or, if you felt that your story crashed and burned with its intended audience, perhaps examine how you’ve approached the narration and presentation of information, and see if what you delivered was what that audience wanted.

Good luck. Now get writing!

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