Writing in General – Get Smart For Your Audience

A friend of mine recently introduced me to Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead”; I read the first volume, and I was immediately taken with it. Yes, it has zombies, but in the introduction, Mister Kirkman says outright that his intention was to go beyond the trappings of a “zombies and guns” series. “Walking Dead”, he argues, is about people surviving in an extreme situation, and their relationships within that context. This isn’t just lip service. The relationships are at the core of the book, and it’s fitting that the most dangerous people in such a world are those who are still alive.

He could’ve done anything with that concept – it could’ve been a comic book cross between Dawn of the Dead and The Stand, with the worst parts of both (read : droll scares, pointless side-plots, and a random appearance by the Hand of God). But it stands apart, and it’s been going for seven years now.  It’s one of the few series out that sells trade paperbacks on the same level with Sandman, Preacher, and – dare I say it – Alan Moore’s lesser works. And deservedly so.

I did indeed put Kirkman in the same category as Alan Moore – yes, Watchman, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Swamp Thing, and Promethea Alan Moore. That Alan Moore. Why?

Neither writer will dumb down their content for the audience. Instead, the audience is invited to rise to the occasion, and the writers are loved for it. There is such a thing as accessibility, yes – you can go too far over the heads of your audience – but in no way should you underestimate them. Instead, be brilliant. Do research. Give your work density, even if it’s a comic book. But above all, challenge your audience; mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. They deserve no less.



3 responses to “Writing in General – Get Smart For Your Audience

  1. Great stuff! I believe you are onto something in “challenging the audience to rise to the occasion.” I think that we all are very capable human beings and there shouldn’t be a need to ‘dumb’ down writing.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  2. Hey Sage – I agree.

    But, also consider the alternate point of view; having “dumber” writing creates wider accessibility. Check out this great analysis of James Patterson’s readability using the Fog Index : http://rayannecarr.wordpress.com/2008/06/07/james-patterson-womens-murder-club-series/

    Having read graduate-level academic works for the past two years, I’ll say this; I’d much rather read something just a little bit dumber.

    (But not TOO much!)

  3. Hear hear! I used to find this when I was making work for performance – you need to make it accessible at some point to let your audience have an in but if you do that you can challenge them as much as you want. I find that most audiences like to be taken places (intellectually, emotionally, spiritually) that they haven’t been to before. The average man on the street is smarter and bolder than most producers of mass media think.

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