Thursday, May 12, 2022

Who is the Intended Audience?

 Last week The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched Mel Brooks’s classic Young Frankenstein. We own a boxed set of his movies and dip into it when we’re stuck for something to watch, or have been in a slump picking films we like.


The point of this post is that Young Frankenstein was not our first choice that night. The plan was to watch The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a 1994 Australian flick about two gay drag performers (Guy Pearce, Hugo Wearing) and a transgender woman (Terrence Stamp) traveling across Australia with their cabaret act. The film had generally good reviews, it struck us as quirky enough to be fun, and we both wanted to see Guy Pearce in the role, as our primary experience with him is as Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential.


We lasted twenty minutes. It’s not that we’re homophobic (as several friends and a member of the extended family can attest) or transphobic (we also have trans friends and an MTF member of the family we don’t have much to do with, but that extends to well before her transition). It was fun to watch Pearce prance around, but almost all of the humor left us flat. Reviews tell me many people found the film hilarious, and we have active and broad-based senses of humor. What did we miss?


We were not the intended audience.


Priscilla’s creative team didn’t give a fuck how late-60s cisgendered white people viewed their movie. Nor should they. (Being Americans might not have helped us much, either.) They made Priscilla for people already immersed in that culture, or had keen interest in it. In our brief viewing time, I spotted what I imagined were three inside jokes I didn’t get, probably because I lacked the background.


That’s not a bad thing. No one is tuned in to everything, and anyone who claims to be is either


So superficial they don’t know much about anything


I doubt writer-director Stephen Elliott would have a problem with us turning off his movie. I can imagine him smiling wryly and saying, “Well, you know, mate, you weren’t exactly the blokes we had in mind when we made this.” I suspect there would be no hard feelings, either way.


Why am I writing about this in my blog? Because the same holds true for writers. Even within the crime genre, I don’t read cozies. (Though Colin Conway is wearing me down.) Psychological thrillers set in suburbia don’t appeal to me. Why not?


Cozies are too unbelievable for my police-procedure, process-oriented mind. The motivations of the suburban psychological thriller villains are too internal and perverse for me. I like criminals who commit crimes for reasons other than it gets themselves off.


Does that make these kinds of books any less worthy than what I do read? Absolutely not. Does that make me wrong? No again. Everyone has their happy places. While it’s never a bad idea to expand one’s horizons, life is also too short to read books you don’t like.


This is among the reasons I so rarely read bestsellers. The books too often make accommodations to attract a sufficiently wide range of readers, thus losing whatever focus that might have made me enjoy them.


Last week I noted that Edith Wharton quotes sit near my writing desk. Two come to mind here:

Know your scope (which means you need to have one)

Have a point (ditto)


No matter what kind of book you write, your point will not appeal to everyone; the same applies to the scope. How often have you said, “Oh, I wish she’d have…? Be honest. We all do it. Once a month I’ll turn to TBS after watching something and say, “There was a good movie here. This  just wasn’t it.”


What’s my point? I don’t mind that cozy aficionados and subpsych thriller readers might not read my books. You’re not my intended audience, just as I am not the intended audience for Louise Penny and Laura Lippman. A writer who tries to write for everybody writes for nobody. You’ll do your best work when you, and those with similar tastes, are your intended audience.


I hear you asking now: “What if that audience isn’t large enough to support me as a writer?” Which leads us back to the most important piece of advice any young writer (and most older writers) ever receives:


Don’t quit your day job.


The core question is, “Do you want to write, or do you want to get rich?” True, some do both, but if that’s your hope, save yourself a lot of pain and money and play the lottery. Your odds are better.




pf said...

Largely unrelated to your post, but if you can find them, Guy Pearce's Jack Irish movies and follow-up tv series are really terrific. (IMO, obviously.)

Dana King said...

Thanks. We saw the first movie but didnt keep up with them; I don't remember why. I think maybe the eloved Spouse didn't like it as much as I did. Now that I'm retired and have free time during the day, I may have to rectify that. Thanks for the reminder.