“Writing For An Audience” By Composition Theorist and Professor, Linda Flower, is a seminal essay that talks about how writers should approach writing for an audience whose perspective is different than their own. Having your reader not only empathize with your words but view things from your perspective — even for a short while — can be an impactful move toward expanding your worldview. In the long run, if we are all, ultimately, writing for a stranger, then it is a long term hope that strangers stop being strangers and instead become community members of your words and perhaps your worldview.
In her essay, Flower talks about “closing the gap” or gauging the distance between the writer and the reader. The most important part in closing the gap is understanding how much knowledge about any particular topic your reader is knowledgable of.
The critical differences for writers usually fall into three areas: the reader’s knowledge about the topic; [their] attitude toward it, and [their] personal or professional needs.
As writers, we are word artists, “wordsmiths”, pencil nerds — and we have always written things. Often, when attempting to address a topic that is familiar to us but perhaps unfamiliar to another, we shape how we choose to present what we want to say. This is a rhetorical move that happens as we outline and choose what is important first and how we want to present it. Flower’s “three areas” (knowledge, attitude, and needs) are ultimately about how writers choose to address the unfamiliar in a memorable and familiar way — they are about designing our writing to create familiarity and understanding.
Q: What does your reader know? What are the main ideas you hope to convey? These are a few questions that Flower asks writers when thinking about writing. Often, pre-writing can answer these questions. Even a simple meditation on what it is that you want to say can reveal much about the approach and path you want to take for your writing. These questions can work on all types of writing projects — from academic, to creative, to experimental. Ideally, a form of meta-writing (thinking about writing) is a strong way to think about your audience (real or imaginary).
Much of what Flower suggests relies on what I would say is a semi-conscious approach towards an awareness of “explicit facts and defined concepts.” Attitudes and images (think Semiotics) are often engrained within our cultural upbringings, our community, and even our geography.
A reader’s image of a subject is often the source of attitudes and feelings that are unexpected and, at times, impervious to mere facts
FACTS, in this day and age, are apparently “worthless” (to a large number of folks *climate change deniers*) — so how do writers even approach that type of attitude? Flower’s only advice is this: when we hold different perspectives, we have to work harder at making our reader “see” what we need them to see (But how, Professor Flower?). This, at times, can be said is the biggest dilemma occurring with those who hold polarizing political opinions. From a semiotic perspective, it can almost be impossible to modify an image or a sign that has already taken hold within a person’s imagination. However, I do not think successful writers need to “change” anyone’s choice of image.
As writers, we must invite familiarity when introducing unfamiliar things. Think about all that high fantasy fiction must do in order to bring us into their world — think about tropes — think (yes) about clichés — think about maxims. Successful writers understand how to conjure up an image while at the same time have their readers feel welcomed and understood. Flower suggests that writers must think about the attitudes of their audience because writers must know how to tap into well-perceived images in order to “close the gap” and to reach understanding.
When you analyze a reader’s needs, it is so that you, the writer, can adapt to [her]
Writing is unique in its adaptability to different mediums and scenarios. Just think about the different ways you see words appear in everyday life. They are found as part of your favorite book; they are instructions for how to operate a new phone; they are found on street signs that tell a specific direction — someone had to think about this. Someone had to think about how to adapt words in a way that would fit the needs of its audience. To do so, Flower emphasizes a writer’s expression: writers use language to reimagine ideas; to meet demands of assignments; to fill the needs of expectant, and jubilant, YA readers. Successful writers adapt their knowledge for their audience.
So the next time you run into writer’s block, consider a bit of meditation, a bit of thinking. And perhaps think about who is your potential audience and what that audience may need in order to understand what it is you want to say to them.