Are you writing for yourself or for your audience?

A writer is faced with an interesting division as she crafts her story. Who are you writing this for? Are you writing for yourself, or are you writing for your audience? The answer is always some mixture of both, but it can be a struggle to keep your goals clear in your mind.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of The Walking Dead and other big television fandoms. The more fans get invested in a piece of entertainment, the more they feel like they should have a say in what happens. I listen to a podcast called The X-Files Files, where host Kumail Nanjiani and guest hosts break down episodes of The X-Files. Nanjiani has brought this point up within the context of X-Files and later shows that had big fan involvement, like Lost–at a certain point, do fans become too entitled? Can and should fans ever actually have a say in what happens in the show, simply because of the volume of their voices?

For example (and I think Nanjiani used this example as well), there is a lot of speculation that Daryl might die on this season’s finale of The Walking Dead. To say that fans would freak out is an understatement. (See here) But should that be enough to affect what the writers do? If killing Daryl (or Rick, Michonne, Carol, or anyone) furthers the plot and gets the story to its next point, should the writers and showrunners be beholden to the fans?

Though most novel writers, especially first-time and/or indie writers, don’t have the same large-scale, loud audience that these shows do, it’s still a consideration we need to make while writing. Should you kill that main character, even though you’ve created someone your reader will love? Should you wrap everything up neatly at the end because you’re worried that a reader won’t like the ambiguity?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, because I don’t think there really are firm answers. Sometimes, you need to write the story that you want to write and trust that your readers will follow you and understand. That being said, I try to keep in the back of my head what I, as a reader, would think of a new development in a story. There’s an old saying that you should write the story that you want to read, and there’s definitely some truth to that. But you’re not every reader. You’re just one reader. If you want to reach tens, hundreds, or thousands of people, keep in mind that (1) what you would enjoy as a reader is not what everyone else will enjoy, but (2) you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will love your protagonist, nor will everyone support your main characters’ romance, or the twist at the end that you thought was clever. The question is: will most readers support what I do with these characters?

How do you balance the scales between writing for yourself and for the audience as you’re crafting a story?

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