Monday, March 9, 2015

When You Don’t Know Your Audience

By Matt Sinclair

You can’t see me, but I’m shaking. No, it’s not due to the five or six inches of snow that were dumped on my suburban segment of New Jersey last week. (I haven’t looked forward so much to mowing my lawn since… last winter.) Nor is it because I tend to write these missives on the train. No, the problem is I’ve got homework that’s due tomorrow and I’m woefully unprepared.

Tomorrow, I’ll be the special guest at my six-year-old daughter’s kindergarten classroom, where I’ll be speaking about Ireland. She’s been after me since last fall to do this. And to be honest, I shouldn’t be so nervous. I went to school in Ireland for a semester back in college. I loved it. I should have loads of stories to tell them. But most of the time I was there, I was reading and writing and playing my guitar. Attending school too, of course, but as any college student knows, attending classes is not nearly as time-consuming as everything else involved at that time in one’s life. It’s the preparation that’ll kill you.

The problem for me is that I must boil down my travels (and as little as possible of the travails) for an audience of six-year-olds. As much as I love my kids, there’s a reason I’m not a children’s author. The characters I write tend to have insecurity issues, problems with relationships, and perhaps a wee problem with the drink, as they sometimes say in the auld sod. (Write what you used to know, right?)

Things I would not, could not tell a child. Not in a class, not in a car. Naught ‘bout the fun. Naught ‘bout the bar.

Simply put, this isn’t my audience. And while I have a sense of what this audience likes, it still makes me a little nervous.

To prepare myself, I asked my daughter what she wants to see and hear from her daddy in class. So I need to show Ireland’s flag. Check. Beyond that, she had no clue what she wanted. Still, she’s my target audience. So perhaps that means my audience doesn’t know what it wants either.

With writing, I look at such situations as an opportunity to simply tell the story I hoped to tell. In this particular situation, my goal is to not embarrass my daughter. Somewhere in the middle, lies the answer.

What does this have to do with a writing blog? I’m not 100 percent sure. But I think it’s about being honest about story while still respecting your reader. You can tell the story you need to tell. It will take some work and some preparation, but in the end, your audience will be happy if you’re honest. And always have a flag.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. EBP is currently looking for horror stories for an anthology that will be published in the fall. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.


Liza said...

An audience of six-year-olds could include some pretty tough critics! But your daughter will love having you there! What fun.

JeffO said...

For a confidence boost, I'd recommend watching the episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" where Hal went to talk to Dewey's class about his job. Surely you'll do better than that!

Lexsa said...

thx for this information

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I survived and even had a lot of fun. I may have caused a slight problem for the teacher, however, when I mentioned an ancient tomb. "What's a tomb?" came the next question and several questions later I had to reel them back in.