Planning Your Writing: 2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose

Planning Your Writing: 2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose
By Norma J Hill (aka Pen and Paper Mama) © 2021

In our previous series for writers, we discussed and provided worksheets for “Self Exploration For Writers,” “Your Writing Life,” and “Author Considerations Beyond Just Writing.” In this new series, “Planning Your Writing,” we will explore:

  1. Research
  2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose
  3. Seeking Help
  4. Useful Planning Documents
  5. Style Guides & Manuals
  6. Developing Creativity and Story Skills
  7. Personal Style Sheet

At the end of each post in the series, there is a link to a downloadable and printable PDF copy on which you can write your responses. Put them in a binder or Duotang-type report folder (you can continue to add to your binder from the previous series). Then, periodically along your writing journey, return to your answers, read what you noted previously, and add new thoughts and experiences. Through this process, you’ll end up with a wonderful record of your writer’s journey.

2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose

Before you start to write, list clear, detailed descriptions of your target audience, your genre, and your purpose—and refer to these regularly as you write in order to stay on track.

If you didn’t do this before you wrote your first draft, do it now before you carry on with your self-editing. Read through your draft and determine what audience, genre, and purpose your writing has focused on. If you can’t figure those out, you may need to rethink your project.

Also, if you have planned for your audience, genre, and purpose, and then discover as you write that your story (or nonfiction topic) is taking you in a different direction, stop and decide whether you’ve simply drifted off-track. In that case, remove the “rabbit trail” details and carry on with your original focus. On the other hand, you may actually be writing a different project than you originally intended—or be writing multiple stories. In these cases, you may need to reassess your direction and start over with a new target audience, genre, and purpose.

Before you start to write, even if you’re a “pantser” who prefers to write the story from your imagination before you do any planning or revision, knowing who you are writing for and what  and why they want to read is really important.

Target audience: Remember, there is no “general reader.” A reader’s understanding is coloured by background, education, personal experience, language, age, gender, culture, and more. You are better off to aim for a narrow, niche market who are looking for your specific kind of storytelling or non-fiction information; those are the people who are most likely to search out, purchase, and read your work in today’s competitive writing market. Who is your target audience? (If you’re stuck, see the “Putting Your Notes into Practice” section below).      
Genre: Do you have a particular topic or genre you want to write in? Why have you chosen that format and focus? Read, watch, and listen widely from successfully written books or other kinds of publications in your genre or format.  Analyze what has made these writings so well accepted, then integrate those skills into your own work. Fictional genres can include adventure, drama, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, horror, tragedy, historical, western, political, medical, comedy, literary, gothic, thriller, urban, supernatural, military/war, stream of consciousness, crime, detective, paranormal, fairy tales, and more—as well as combinations of these specific genres. Nonfiction genres or formats include (among others): Narrative non-fiction (memoir, auto/biography, journaling); How-to books (to achieve goals or solve problems); Informational (focus on a particular subject); Persuasive writing (essays, political speeches, editorials, op-eds); Reference (dictionaries, encyclopedias, guidebooks, travel guides, almanacs, textbooks); Illustrated (coffee-table books, photography, art, travel, home design); Academic papers (term papers, theses); Others such as business manuals, self-help, journalism, religious, or inspirational; and Non-prose (poetry, dramatic scripts/screenplays, video games, podcasts, etc.)
So: what genre/format(s) will you use for your project? Why?      
Purpose: The purpose of your writing project is the reason, point, insight, or awareness you want to make—and what your target audience wants. What will you accomplish with this piece of writing? Keep your purpose in mind throughout the writing and editing process. It should be clear enough that your readers can easily summarize your storyline or the argument or other point you are making, as well as your main theme(s) or thesis. Purposes include to entertain, to persuade, to explain or describe, or to narrate a story. Choose a genre and/or format that will best feature your purpose—and learn and follow the specific requirements and expectations for that genre or format. What is the purpose for your project? You should be able to write your purpose and your main theme/thesis in one or two sentences. Try it now:        

Putting your notes into practice: Here’s a good idea if you’re feeling stuck: Think of about three or four people you know who you think would enjoy the story or topic you have in mind. Describe each person—physically, emotionally, educational level, personality, interests, beliefs and values, careers, gender, nationality, etc.—and then write down why you think each person would enjoy your story or want to read and learn from your topic. From your notes about these specific readers, figure out what your target audience wants/needs, along with your own purpose for writing. Then figure out what genre/format will best suit your audience and your purpose.

PDF LINK: Planning Your Writing: 2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose