Friday, April 24, 2009

Audience, Purpose, and Voice

WE HAVE A WINNER!! Connie, please contact me with your full name and mailing address at Empty your calendar to read Latter-Day Cipher!

Oh my, this is the last Friday of the month! It's time to give something away. Earlier this month, Latayne gifted five of her debut novels, but she's too generous to stop there. At 4 pm MT today, I'll draw a name from today's commenters for yet another copy of Latter-Day Cipher. So, if you've been lurking, now is the time to speak up. This is an amazing book. I would love to be reading it right now, but first my blog...

We'll get ourselves into trouble (What's new about that?) if we forget how wide a spectrum of readers turn to CBA for fiction. I once followed two women into a local Christian bookstore. I don't know what their particular hangups were with fashion, but let's just say they wore sensible shoes and kerchiefs on their heads. I followed behind in shorts and sandals. They walked a bullet-line to the fiction section and filled their arms with six to eight novels each. I remember thinking, I'm in big trouble if that's my target audience. My characters shave their legs and wrestle with God. Would these women be interested? I had my doubts.

Enter the neglected Christian fiction readers, men and women who prefer their fiction to deal with questions that the author is content to leave unanswered--full of beautifully crafted stories and populated with characters straight from life, only a bit larger, in a personality way, than folks we're likely to meet.

The key is knowing your audience or who you are as an audience. I can't remember where I learned this, but I keep this simple truth in mind as I write: According to Aristotle, there are three crucial elements to writing. Audience. Purpose. Voice. I find this to be especially true in the CBA market. Depending on the audience subset of the CBA market, purpose and voice are modified.

For instance, if the audience is looking for validation, a writer would avoid story lines with uncomfortable scenarios, language, or characters. These books are the Louis L'Amour books of CBA. Sure, L'Amour tackles issues of loyalty, hard work, and the value of a quick draw, but nothing any red-blooded, wannabe cowboy would question. We're not making a value judgement here, just identifying audiences. And CBA caters to these readers, no apologies required.

Another audience in the CBA market wants to read--and the genre doesn't matter--fiction that asks questions that aren't necessarily answered. They aren't afraid to look at faith matters in fresh ways, although they're sticklers for theological rectitude. They still want to be entertained, but they're willing to follow the writer's lead through snaky cognitive hoops. This kind of fiction requires the author to trust her audience to participate in the journey. Hopefully, the story and characters stay with the reader long after the last page has been read.

These are just two CBA audiences. There are many more, like those who want fiction they can hand off to their non-believing friends, or character-building reads with strong moral lessons for young readers, or fiction that encapsulates an important faith lesson--think end times or spiritual warfare. Recognizing that we have varying subsets of readers may help us to value what each artist brings to the table, but I'm with Anonymous. Schlock is never appropriate. (I hope we talk someday soon about why schlock, beyond the fact that there's a vast audience for this "genre," is among our biggest sellers. Hear my heart deflating?)

For readers, do you fit in one of these CBA subsets? Which one and why? For writers, who is your audience? How do you write to meet their needs? Care to define a CBA subset I missed? Anyone? Anyone? Is there a subset you consider inappropriate?

Speak amongst yourselves. I'm going to read Latter-Day Cipher. I'll be dropping by.


Janet said...

Love of schlock is not restricted to the Christian market. And yes, it makes my heart sink too.

I am trying to write to that part of the Christian market who does not need every action in the book to be "stickered". My characters do some sinful things and I don't include any "don't do this at home, kids" warnings. (Much like some parts of the Bible.) I let the reader judge. I do not think that a novel for adults should read like a Sunday school lesson or that everything should be reduced to a simple moralistic lesson.

I am hoping that as a result, non-believers will find it readable and maybe even thought-provoking.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks for the aristotle quote. i've never thought about different type of audiences WITHIN CBA. but i guess that's why there's "edgy" christian fiction take on the second audience group you mentioned. thought-provoking post. thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

You're not in trouble if those women are reading your books. They may have a different fashion sense than you, but so what? So do I. I wouldn't be caught dead in shorts! :) It sounds rather snobbish, hmmmmm? Tho I know you didn't mean it to be so. Those women are just women, in our modern day age, just like the rest of us, and us fiction reading sisters in the Lord have gotta stick together--no matter how we dress! In 2009 we can all sorta do our own thing, whatever is comfortable to ourselves, and it truly doesn't reflect on how our hearts and minds work, at least not where reading fiction comes in to play! Thanks for reading my ramblings... Patti Iverson

ConnieBrz said...

At this point, the semi-anonymous writer of this comment must admit to the reading of schlock.

During times of family crisis, these feel-good, no-thought-required books provided a few hours of escape when I wasn't able to deal with one-more-thing-- like the years after my brother came home from the desert with his brain fried and I had to lock my door every night. I didn't have the emotional reserves to think, much less wrestle with anything weightier than a cardboard storyline.

These days, we're way past all that~ I can deal and no way I'm wasting valuable time reading dribble. But. . .

. . .have to admit a certain fondness for those books which, btw, I can't even remember right this moment if that tells you anything.

Don't tell :)

Patti Hill said...

Janet: I wonder if folks who complain about some content in Christian fiction read the Bible. For goodness sakes, no one, except Jesus, comes out smelling like a rose. While sin shouldn't be glamourized, and I'm sure you don't do that in your fiction, neither should we pretend it doesn't happen. We're exhorted to confess our sins to one another to be healed. Can fiction be part of that healing. I hope so. Go for it, Janet.
Jeannie: I love it that good communication hasn't changed in 4,000 years. Too many other things shift like sand.
Patti: I worried about mentioning those gals, but that's the reaction I had. Perhaps they aren't my audience, but that's why it's good to be mindful that there are varying audiences and to know your audience. I'd love to defend myself from being a snob, but that requires opening an unrelated can of worms. Please know that I only wear incredibly baggy shorts that almost touch my knees and sandals that adjust with multiple velcro straps--over the top sensible!
Connie: I have no problem with simple, entertaining stories as long as they're well-written. They have their place, and you found them. If I need an escape book, I read young adult books, like Tuck Everlasting or When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. They're simple, yet beautifully crafted. If you need a good cry, read Stone Fox. Grab the Kleenex!

Garling Ranch said...

Hello, I stumbled upon this blog while I was researching information about writer's conferences, and was shocked! I am from a tiny little town in Idaho, and I am very isolated from the world. My family are farmers, and feel like farming is the only respectable occupation, however, my heart has led me away from the farm to writing (which is way out of my comfort zone). I do not have a lot of support from my family, except my husband, who is extremely supportive, and I am young for a writer. I am also writing about christian fiction, and find that I have very similar interests as those listed on this blog. I don't know whether I was guided here by divine intervention, or if it is a coincidence, but I would love get some advice, if any of you have time. I feel like a little fish in a big pond as I research, not knowing where to swim. Is there any way that I could be contacted by one of you? I would love to have a moment of your time to get some advice and maybe some tips about what I am getting myself into. If you could email me, I would really appreciate it! My email is: Thank you so much!
-Kaylee Garling*
P.S. I have a blog, but it is private, so hopefully emailing will work.

Patti Hill said...

Kaylee: You've discovered that being a writer requires courage. You spend a lot of time with yourself, testing ideas and playing with imaginary characters. Welcome to our crazy world. We're honored that you found us.

You mentioned looking for a writers conference, and honestly, that's the best place to start. It's the best way to solidify your calling. Try on the world of writing and see if it fits. Also, take some of your work to be critiqued. Doing so will help you peg yourself as a beginning, intermediate, or advanced writer and prepare yourself accordingly. Writing is a marathon.

We've all felt that little fish feeling, especially at first, and suffered the askance looks of family and friends. You're in the toughest time. The good news is that the Internet offers tons of support to new writers. Check out American Christian Fiction Writers at They have chapters in every state, even Idaho. Consider starting a writers group in your church. You'll be surprised how many closet writers there are! Also, most of us have a page on our web sites with advice for aspiring writers.

Keep us posted on your progress!

David Murdoch said...

I think people often enjoy reading about things that don't relate to their own lives or are alien to them.

Sometimes people who would otherwise seem to have no connection with a topic, find it fascinating to read about.

The expectations that we carry can be sometimes deceiving.

Steve G said...

Is it possible to over think audience? Sometimes it may be better to focus on story and voice, and let the audience work itself out. Sometimes I try to second guess my audience that I preach to, but invariably it takes a lot less time than my focus on style/delivery and content/practical theology.

As has been noted by others, "I gotta be me!" I gotta write what interests me, and write it as well as I can. Ultimately, that will allow you to last as a writer. Louie L'Amour seems like it was a job, but for me, it's an art, its bit more than standard plot to just fill in.

word verification - dersese:
Some sailers went to se se se
To se what they could se se se
And all that they could se se se
When they fell in was undersese se

Nicole said...

JMO-I suppose it's possible to overthink audience, Steve, but you better know who you think your audience is if you plan to professionally pitch your work. It doesn't have to be narrow or overly broad, but it does have to be somewhat specific.
Many writers establish that opinion about their work after it's completed, but most of them should know to whom their book(s)will most appeal.

Patti Hill said...

Yes, it's quite possible to over think audience. A professor once told me to write what I love, and it will find an audience. That may be harder than it sounds, especially in CBA, especially if you don't write genre fiction where devoted audiences line up for yet another romance or mystery.

Having said that, I write for my book club. Some are believers; some are not, so I write believing characters as authentically (the good, the flawed, and the hopelessly clueless) as I can to give them a peek at the life of a Jesus follower. My characters read the Bible, pray, and earnestly seek to honor God. But my book club won't read schlock. They want beautiful language, a strong story, and something to think about. It's a challenging package to create, but that's my goal.

ConnieBrz said...

Yeah! Thank you so very much~

I want to thank Procrastination for surfing through google reader instead of writing on my WIP and Aunt Betty for making pie which must be eaten before getting back to work and JoJo for waiting until I posted that comment before going outside . . . :)