August 12, 2007
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Via Nancy Nall, an excerpt from an interview with David Simon (payment required), creator of “The Wire” (apparently the best TV show I’ve never seen), in response to a question from Nick Hornby (!) about how he gets all his slang right:
DAVID SIMON: My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.
We go back to science fiction here, with the question of how much you have to explain your world. As always, a single success outshines a mountain of failures, so who knows how many writers are currently muttering “fuck the average reader” as they rummage through dumpsters or look out their parents’ basement window over their pile of uncompromising, unsold manuscripts. But he makes a good point: your writing has a core audience. Don’t worry about making everyone else happy. Make sure your core audience is excited and engaged with your story. If you do that, the people who don’t know what your world is about will make the effort to learn.
Seth Godin puts it another way, to look at it from a marketing perspective: “In actuality, though, most markets aren’t big enough for two blockbusters. The first one dominates the little market, which allows it to break through and capture the attention of the big market. The bestseller creates the problem (I haven’t read that/tasted that/been there) and then solves that problem.” Get your core audience excited enough, and chances are your work will start to reach outside it. Write to satisfy everyone and you’ll never get enough people interested to reach all those people you wanted to satisfy.