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Know Your Audience or Die!

By Michael Schilf · June 22, 2010

Speechwriters, reporters, essayists… for them, audience is essential. In fact, all writing should be crafted with the audience in mind. Even Shakespeare wrote to an audience – from the groundlings to the gentlemen – and he used an array of devices to connect and involve that wide audience with his plays.

Rarely does a writer ignore the audience and find sellable success, and this is especially true in screenwriting. It is a business after all, the audience your customer. And you must write for that customer – Always!

It’s helpful to think of screenwriting as a triangle: the writer, the subject, and the audience. No one goes to see a rom-com to be surprised. The audience has an firm expectation that everything works out in the end. The fun is in the journey to that end.

Imagine Shrek or Toy Story without the writers considering both kids and their parents – not the same films. Depending on the genre, sometimes the audience is universal or quite specific, and it’s the screenwriter’s job to make that audience hope, fear, anticipate, and reach conclusions.

When you write with the audience in mind, you’ll find it easier to determine how and when to reveal things, when to cut scenes, how to start late and get out early. But never force-feed. Let the audience add up two plus two. Trust me. They’ll love you for it.