Story or Audience: Which Comes First?
When I was in Ireland, I was in awe at the celebrity of the author. Streets are named after them. Entire museums are dedicated to them—several for just one author—that showcase their biography and anything that the authors touched. And, because I was a study abroad student, we spent much of my trip visiting their homes and reading their literature.
It seemed like no matter what these authors wrote, people rushed to read their words or see their plays. Everyone in the country just knew that whatever they wrote would be a great story.
That’s why I took that stance when posed this question in a literary class: Does the story or audience come first?
If the story was that good, I argued, then it would attract loyal readers.
“But how would the readers discover the story?” my professor asked me.
I was getting irritated. If a book is published, it just gets read. Then people talk about. And, of course, the touted reviews and TV interviews.
“Sounds like the readers play a big part in the success of the story,” he quipped.
Ten years and a master’s degree later can change one’s perspective. Back then, all of my training centered around revering the brilliance of an author’s work. So I was flustered when I tried the writer role on for myself and found readers not flocking to my words.
What am I doing wrong? I first thought.
But I was not alone in this stance. Businesses also fall into this trap of shaping their idea before determining the customer.
But isn’t it the buyer that dictates the idea?
Just watch an episode of Shark Tank. You’ll hear these phrases said by the sharks after every shaky pitch:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- Who is your target buyer?
- Why will your target buyer choose you over your competition?
No creative person likes to think of their genius as a money generator. But this is how a content marketer like myself must approach my work so that the content is successful.
Before I write a word for my next marketing assignment, I envision my reader. I try to imagine what goals they have in reading this, the expected experience of reading this and how they want to feel when reading this.
Only then can I weave in the marketing goals of engaging the sale and nurturing the buyer/brand relationship.
Same goes with my creative writing. I envision who I want to listen to my next story. Notice that I said listen and not read. That’s because I imagine telling the story aloud to them. This approach shapes how I structure everything, from the story arc to the sentences.
Sorry for all the silly alliteration.
I imagine how they want to experience and connect with the story. Only then can I strategize how to win their time and attention to read my words.
If you’ve made it this far in the blog post, then I must’ve done something right.
And this is why stories told by Irish authors resonate so well the country’s readers. Because these authors told the stories that the Irish were craving to read: the story of Ireland, from revolutions to everyday village life.
So, what do we do when we have an idea, but aren’t sure of our target audience?
Easy. We pretend like we don’t have this story idea. We start from the beginning in the problem-solving process and then see how we can tie in our idea.
- What is the problem?
- What is the root cause of the problem?
- Who does this problem affect?
- What are the current solutions for this problem?
- What solution can you provide?
- How is your solution a better value?
- What steps will you take in delivering this solution and reaching out to your target audience?
Don’t be surprised if your story idea evolves from this exercise. And don’t hold yourself back because it’s changed. Because that’s the beauty of the story: it shifts in form until it can be the most well-received.
I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with you. When I was a teenager, I wrote and imagined stories as a way to escape from the real world. Only the stories mattered and they never end. But if you really want to be an author officially, that means you want to tell your stories to people. So I guess they have to matter and have to be taken into account when you tell your story.
[…] Story or Audience: Which Comes First? […]
I’ve read something like this before, and though I’ve never tried it you’re absolutely right because it’ll end up writing itself