One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing from a spiritual perspective (or any perspective, really) is who you expect to read your book. Deep Bible-based lessons might go right over the head of unbelievers and new Christians. On the other hand, mature Christians will easily be bored by yet another interpretation of the Salvation story. To strike the right balance and keep them engaged, you have to keep your reader in mind.
Examine Your Story
Once you have the basic premise for your story, take some time to examine the themes and morals that stand out most. Who will gain the most from your story?
A story of the main character’s personal redemption will speak more to an audience of new believers or non-believers than it will to those more mature in their faith. If you want to write about a character whose faith is transformed by witnessing a miraculous healing, you’ll find a broader audience in Christian circles, but maybe not one outside that group.
Writing about certain life stages will also shape your audience. Planning a story around a couple who rekindles their marriage through God? This is a perfect story for those who are or have been married, but you’ll have limited reach among young singles, who will find it harder to identify with your characters’ struggles. Conversely, if you write about very young characters – say, fifteen or younger – you can expect your audience to be around that age as well, since they’ll identify more with the characters than a middle-aged reader might.
Genre writing (my personal favorite) has limitations of its own. With a fantasy novel, I can expect to attract the attention of fantasy enthusiasts, but it would take something special to grab someone whose favorite genre is crime thrillers.
Narrowing Your Focus
Once you’ve determined who you’re writing for, sit down and make a list of the scenes, moments or themes you expect them to latch onto most. Your job is now to make sure those elements are as strong as possible – that there is sufficient buildup, that the character growth feels natural, and that you show the audience what you want them to learn or consider instead of just telling them.
Tightening your focus will also help your writing, as you’ll learn to expand on scenes that serve your focus and cut ones that don’t. It will also help you to determine which details you’ll have to spend more time on than others. If you’re writing a story for young adults in a historic setting, you’ll want to consider which contemporary elements you need to elaborate on so that they can follow the story (does everyone know what a doublet is?). On the other hand, if you’re writing a space opera for sci-fi fans, you can reasonably assume that you won’t have to explain that space is empty – they’ll likely have at least a basic understanding of it already.
Why Limit Your Audience?
I remember as a younger writer feeling frustrated by the idea of writing to a specific audience. ‘My story will appeal to anyone,’ I thought. Oh, the hubris.
Nevertheless, it can seem unappealing to think of narrowing your concept down for a specific type of person. Isn’t our job as authors to give our story as broad a reach as possible, so the message we’re trying to convey can be shared by everyone?
The truth, however, is not what you’d expect. By writing to a particular audience – if you do it right and do it well – you aren’t actually limiting your reach. You’re expanding it.
How does that work, exactly? Well, you’ll remember what I just said about tightening your focus for your audience. Chances are we’ve all read books or seen movies where the story didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. Good ideas were left unused, storylines were unfulfilled or rushed through, and characters either made nonsensical decisions or just felt flat. Having a tight focus won’t fix all of these problems, but it can help you to notice them. When your objective is clear, you can more effectively remove all the clutter that bogs your story down and distracts from what you’re trying to say.
How do you feel about writing for a target audience? Do you find it liberating, or frustrating? Do you know who you’re writing to before you start? Share your thoughts in the comments!