Not only do I think it’s possible to write for an audience, I think it’s desirable.
There is a lot of snobbery about writing, and a lot of writers are the most awful snobs. I, for one, think that limits their output and even their appeal to their readers.
Some writers, particularly at the more literary end of fiction, seem to want to make their own rules. They seem to be prepared only to write what they want to write; only to write what pleases them.
What about the reader?
Don’t get me wrong... I’m not talking about jumping on band wagons, and I’m not talking about writing to formulas. What I’m talking about is having the good since to listen to the advice of those who know.
When I wrote “Naming Names”, I always thought that it would divide opinion. I was wrong. To a man and woman, my readers have all said how extraordinary and how powerful the novel is. The criticism that I thought it might engender never surfaced.
I was rather gratified.
One of the upsides was that I never had to defend the book against something that I didn’t agree with, which allowed me to look more kindly on the criticisms that my novel did invite.
It is always absolutely clear which readers bring what agendas with them when they offer comments on any text, and it is always worth bearing them in mind when considering their notes; in some instances it might be better to disregard them.
When readers that you trust and know to be insightful and experienced begin to say the same sorts of things and voice similar concerns, particularly if they tally with your own reservations about your work, you know you’re on to something.
My first draft of “Naming Names” was exactly what it needed to be for me, but it left a void where the reader really needed and wanted to connect with my protagonist. She was my creation, she lived in my head; I knew her and I loved her, and her story unfolded because of me, so, of course, my connection to her was very real, but I could absolutely understand that my audience, the reader, might need me to give them something more.
I am not compromising my vision of my novel or my understanding of my protagonist in taking into consideration the needs of my audience, I am breathing more life into my protagonist, making her more real for them.
I set out to tell the Truth in “Naming Names” and the readers who have criticised and commented on my early drafts of the novel have not taken something from me, they have enabled the story to grow and develop, and my work on later drafts has exposed more of that truth.
It will be a better book because of it, a better book for the audience, and, I’m willing to bet, a more successful one too.