Redux Rule #2

Audience (Photo credit: thinkmedialabs)

There has been some lively discussion going on around here. Specifically, about the last rule I posted. I don’t feel I digested that rule enough, so let’s ruminate on it (lovely imagery, no?).

To remind us all, here’s the original post on the second of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling and here’s the rule:

You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different things.

I underlined what I think is the important bit – keep in mind.

Let’s point out the big elephant in the room – Pixar is in the business of making films that appeal to a wide audience. They earn their bread and butter (pretty expensive break and butter) from their stories. For them, a paying audience is key. So, of course, one of their rules would highlight this fact. It is fine and dandy for their writers to write about their passions until their fingers bleed, but in the end, it better be a story they can sell.

Nonetheless, I don’t think Pixar staff are advocating writing specifically for and/or to an audience. I am sure they know, as with any creative process, writers follow their muse which might take them in directions that a large audience can’t or won’t follow. The results may be astounding and heart-breaking, but ultimately not a palatable product for mass consumption.

So, what? you might say.  What does that have to do with moi?

I used to think that too. When I started writing, and joined a critique group and online forums where I could share my work, I took the inevitable news that my lyrical prose was more akin to what comes out of the rear end of an ass rather badly. In a huff, I said (in a blog post even, wish I could find it), I’m just gonna write for myself! I don’t need to share my masterpieces with a stupid, uncaring world!


What an idiot.

Whether I am some sort of narcissist or not, as it was inevitable that my writing wasn’t as good as I thought, it is also undeniable that I want an audience. I makes my day when someone says they laughed at something I wrote. I jump for joy if it was actually something that I intended to be funny. A few months ago, someone said a story of mine gave them chills. Another reader said they had thought about the implications of one of my pieces long after they had read it.

During one of my writing classes, our instructor asked us to write something about our moms. I can’t remember what the assignment was, and I can’t even remember what I wrote – something about my mom’s hair and her name. The instructor then told us to share it with our moms.

I could have sent it, but I was planning on visiting and took it with me instead. Honestly, I didn’t think anything of that piece. It was a short thing, less than 200 words and though it wasn’t a poem, it was supposed to be something pithy. I almost forgot to give it to her, but I was rooting around in my purse for something and came upon the assignment. In an off-hand way, I handed it to my mom who was standing next to me.

“What’s this?” she said.

“Nothing. Just something my writing teacher made me do. It’s for you.”

I left the room, then came back. My mom was in tears and she hugged me.

My mom doesn’t do hugs.

I couldn’t believe how much my words touched her. They made her feel something. Yes, this is my mom we are talking about, but this wasn’t a 10-year-old bringing home a trophy or something. This happened a couple of years ago!

Anyway, the point is that once I got a taste of that drug, audience reaction, I knew I wanted one – an audience.

My stories are not just for me. They’re for you, too.

No, that doesn’t mean I am about to write a story filled with the latest tropes or trends (50 Shades of Bats anyone?), but it does mean I will keep you in mind.

Until later, write well.


24 thoughts on “Redux Rule #2

  1. Good follow-up 🙂 Loved the story about the note for your mom!

    I think an analogy for me, and maybe any fellow gamers out there, as a ref for the longest time, I’d develop elaborate game settings, write up pages of hand-outs for the players before we even started, and then hope my players would dive into the settings. And while, as a game I would prefer a well-built world, I eventually realized I didn’t really like to read pages about other peoples home-baked settings… so maybe I shouldn’t inflict those on my players, much as a I enjoyed creating them.

    Anyway, i think it’s that sort of thing that they are getting at, not the market chasing.

    And I agree on the audience. I don’t write for myself. I do write things I’d like to read but I write to have an audience 🙂

  2. A challenge if you don’t have an audience X_x. You can try, and the lights go out on stage before you’re up. Then it’s time to perform in the dark, and crap, you act falls into the trap door. Look up, there’s a light, and the crowd is waiting. 😉

  3. I feel I’m making more or less the same point that I made in the previous “rule”. We have to decide what it is we want from our writing. Do we want to churn out a guaranteed moneyspinner or something that will have a small and loyal audience willing to defend it to the death (almost)?

    I want to write Babylon 5, not Star Trek: TNG!

  4. Interesting rumination. Your real story about the little piece written about your mom, just because you we asked to, given to her just because you were visiting. Coincidently that is the very sort of writing I now attempt to write, and that interests me the most. Human interest stories I suppose, recalling things that made us who we are, that changed our lives or the lives of others, emotional stories, that can be set almost anyway in many different genre.

    That would be my writers desire. If writing commercially, that would have to be tempered with how to put across a story or point, to the audience in question, perhaps allowing for age being a factor in interest and understanding of the subject. Some points or subjects might be unsuitable for a commercial audience, but may touch a few people’s lives on a blog. Right now I don’t mind if that is my audience.

    Good rumination and I think the correct emphasis on “keep in mind” in the rule #2, allowing for fairly wide ranging creativity by the writer, as otherwise there wouldn’t films like Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), written by Derek Connolly. According to the article linked below he is now writing for Pixar, with emotional story arc being one of his noted skills.

    1. Oooh, my brother loves reading stuff like that (human interest stories). He refuses to read fiction. He only read non-fiction and he loves stories that move him.

      I know an author who just released a series of short essays of this sort. True-life stories that showed humanity at its best (or something like that). I haven’t read it, but it is on my to-be-read pile. I think there is a much larger audience for that sort of writing than you think.

      Thanks for the link. It is an interesting article and shows how flexible Pixar can be with their writers.

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