What Does Your Audience Want?

July 30, 2012

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Last time we discussed knowing your audience based primarily on age and concentrated on interactions within relationships and complexity of story. For this installment, the focus will be on action and the various groups (in general) that will appreciate levels and types of action.

When writing an action scene, try to picture it within your own mind. How would it play out on the movie screen? Is it graphic, or suspenseful? Will your character (and audience) be exhausted or relieved at the end of the action? Is this the end of some element of your story, perhaps even the life of a character? As with relationships and complex story lines, action is extremely age and gender specific.

Teenage boys will (in general) look for the impossible situation where survival is not likely (i.e. zombies and vampires, not the sparkly ones). Survival is not required and the action has to be hard hitting and continuous. Older men will gravitate towards action that requires the protection of innocents such as war or spy themes. Here survival of the character is optional, as long as the greater good is protected. Older women seem to love the mystery, whether a detective story or complex romance where the solution brings happy endings. For young readers, the action can be fast, but usually rather tame. These stories will generally have to show that following rules (listening to parents for example) saves the day.

If we take just a singe type of scene to dissect as an example the presentation can be demonstrated relatively clearly. The setting is D-Day of World War II. The main characters are Canadian soldiers who have just landed on the continent.

For young readers, the focus must be on why they are there. Members of the crew can be shown to be hurt, but death and the destructive power of the weapons will have to be downplayed. For the teenage boys, the death and destruction is exactly what is emphasized. For older men, the higher purpose is the goal. For this, the inner thought of the men, remembering their families, fear and camaraderie are the details that must be included. For older women, the aftermath and return will be the most important part. Reuniting with the loved ones who inspired the great and heroic deeds will be the high point of the story for them.

This is only one example. If the scene is a chase, even the type of chase will have to be carefully chosen. For younger readers, the vehicle of choice would be bicycles. For teenager, it could be high speed car, airplanes or even a foot race if it involves the undead. Older readers will want more realism. There will have to be a non-superhero reason for escape.

As we get ready for our children to go back to school, we are presented with great opportunities to write. That is of course after we complete the clean up of having the kids home all summer.

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