Here is a question: for whom do you write?
If you’re like Sonya Hartnett – “…I write only for me, and for the few people I hope to please, and I write for the story.” (read article here) – your initial answer might be ‘for me’, and if you’re writing a journal entry, or a missive designed for catharsis (which will be ceremonially burnt on completion), or a piece of story that you have no intention of sharing with another living soul, ever, or if you are Sonya Hartnett, then that may be true. If, on the other hand, you are writing to have your words – whether fiction and non-fiction – read at some point, then you’re writing for an audience.
Understanding who your intended audience is can be advantageous when writing. More importantly, keeping in mind that you are writing for a reader can help you to be a more generous writer.
Writing for an Intended Audience:
Considering who we are writing for is an important guide point for our fiction (or non-fiction). At times, an audience may be general in nature (gender/age non-defined), or we might find ourselves writing for a specific group: children, young adults, women, men, or any of the dozens of sub-groups that fall within these categories. Writing for each of these audiences requires thought on our behalf to ensure that our target reader receives a story that they will find satisfying (e.g. one that scares the bejeezus out of them, or makes them laugh like loons, or feel giddy with the romance of it all). If we’re writing for children or YA audiences, there is a range of criterion that our work will need to meet in order to, firstly, get past the gatekeepers (that is, publishers) and, secondly, impress our young readers. Here are a few websites that discuss what would-be writers of children’s fiction should consider:
Dangerous Myths and Terrible Truths: A Quick Intro toWriting Children’s Books and Publishing Them by Aaron Shepard
– they won’t publish it, and we’ve wasted our time and theirs. Likewise, when we’re writing for competitions; we must think about the potential audience.
I learnt this lesson the hard way when I wrote a story for a competition in a magazine that had a rural-inclined audience. My story explored intergenerational relationships and notions of love across times, and was woven with literary allusions related to the specified theme of ‘South.’ I really liked this story, and still do, but it didn’t even get a look in. The story that won was about a farmer’s wife giving birth on her kitchen floor while her husband built a fence down in yonder paddock. What was my mistake? Not reading previous winners, and not considering the readership of the magazine. A little bit of research and knowing our purpose can go a long way to helping us succeed as writers.
http://literary-devices.com/ or http://literarydevices.net/ for an extensive list of literary techniques and their use in fiction. Four of my favourite literary devices are: foreshadowing, irony, repetition and literary allusion.
Most literary devices are a win-win game that generous writers play with their readers. In foreshadowing, we weave clues to a future event or revelation into our plot, thus driving suspense, and lending veracity and naturalness to the moment when it arrives. Astute readers will have an ‘aha!’ experience as they connect the dots. Here is an example of foreshadowing from the brilliant Shirley Jackson story, The Lottery:
The morning of June twenty-seven was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square…The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones…
The beauty of the day, the innocence of the children, and their simple act of gathering stones are clues about the events to come and serve to deepen the horror the reader feels as the intention of the Lottery is revealed.
One of the lessons I took from my university lecturers was to never underestimate the intelligence of my reader. Irony is a device that allows a writer to excite a reader’s intelligence with the clever, comical or searing use of word play. Irony can be verbal, situational, or dramatic (or a combination of all three), and develops in the space between the implied meaning and the literal meaning, or what is expected and what actually occurs. A classic example of irony is evident in the climatic final sentence of Richard Matheson’s, Button Button (and as a special treat watch The Button for an overdose of comical irony).
When editing creative work, one of the most frequent comments I make is to avoid repetition – of words, actions, gestures, dialogue tags, ideas, settings, punctuation etc. This kind of repetition is unplanned, and is particularly obvious in short stories. Intentional repetition, however, is clever, integrated, and always adds to the work at a thematic level. There are numerous types of repetition (visit http://www.literarydevices.com/repetition/
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little – a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it – you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily – until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye…
This is one of my favourite generous writing devices, which I often employ in my stories, and look for in the fiction and films in which I immerse myself. Literary allusion occurs when a writer makes a brief reference to another thing of cultural significance. This could be anything from literature, art, music, historic events or people, mythology, philosophy, or architecture. The point of allusion is to deepen the meaning of the principle work through association with relevant secondary texts. That sounds complicated but, in reality, we use literary allusion every day:
Beautiful women were her Achilles’ heel (Greek mythology).
He thinks he’s Romeo but she’ll never be his Juliet (Shakespeare).
They’ve sent another Trojan into the system (Greek mythology).
I wouldn’t waste my time asking for a loan. He’s as tight as Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).
Everybody wants fifteen minutes of fame, even if it means looking like an idiot on YouTube (Andy Warhol).
They also appear in commercials, and in many of our favourite films. Good examples of literary allusions are in the Madagascar franchise, Small Soldiers (1998), and in a recent example, Pacific Rim, which gives nods to the old Godzilla films, Frankenstein, and the work of Ray Bradbury, and includes this allusion to Star Wars IV:
by Zennie Abraham [on Flickr]
|by Insomnia Cured Here [Flickr]|