This week’s prompt:
“In “How Deep This Grief: Wrestling With Writing as Therapy” in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Ian Stansel recounts not being able to write about his sister after her death, but realizing that he could write for her and try to write a book that she would love. Part of Stansel’s writing practice involves choosing someone he knows, often a family member, to stand in as the “ideal reader” that he keeps in mind while working on specific projects. Write a short story and use someone you know as an imagined ideal reader. Does having one specific person as your imagined reader inspire you to draw certain ideas, motifs, traits, or themes to the surface?”
This prompt offers an excellent means of practicing what we’ve learned about targeting an audience. Will I write for my sister who reads mysteries and women’s historical fiction, or my father who prefers works by Ernest Hemingway, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ian Fleming? Or perhaps my brother, whose favorite novels include The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Flatland, or my mother, who recently binge-read the Poldark series? Or maybe my great-aunt and her proclivity for raunchy romances.
Remember to dig beyond the generalized traits above. After asking what your “ideal reader” reads, ask yourself (or them) why they read it. For example, my sister has read every Nancy Drew novel ever written because she enjoys solving the cases, wants good to prevail, and adores the time period in which they take place—evidenced by her candlestick phone, record player, and personal sleuthing kit. My brother, on the other hand, gravitates toward books that make him laugh, as well as challenge his imagination.
Picking up on the nuanced reasons your “ideal reader” has for choosing what they read will help guide your short story and prepare you for writing for specific audiences in the future.
Let the targeting begin!