by Steve Hockensmith
As part of my day job, I edit an employee newsletter for a large-ish university. Every day, people across campus -- professors and administrators and office managers -- send me news items for it. Usually, the writing just requires a little rubbing and buffing. Changing "9AM" to "9 a.m." Capitalizing job titles when they appear before a name ("University Style Examples Coordinator Jan McUnreal") but not when they appear after ("Dan O'Fakeman, style examples assistant"). Etc.
Occasionally, however, things get a bit tricky, usually because the item looks like this: "You are cordially invited to a public meeting of the Obscurity Subcommittee to discuss the Rhetorical Devices Initiative as it relates to paradigm classifications P-7, P-8 and T-26. Visiting analogy expert Qwomo Makebelievo will share insights and offer examples of NCG-approved VRD proposals for TPN BLTs. 8 in the RQI room. RSVP. Food will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own condiments."
When I get a submission like this, the first question that pops into my head is "Do I really need health insurance?" The answer comes quickly ("YES!!!"), so I strap myself to my chair and move on to my next questions.
But the biggest question of all is the one that the person submitting the item should've asked. It can be found in the very first sentence. The very first word, in fact.
Who is "you"? Who does the writer imagine is going to read this, and what do they already know or not know about NCGs, VRDs, TPNs and BLTs?
I've been in the communication business a lot of years, so I can't tell you how many times I've glanced at something I've been asked to edit and immediately raised that question: Who is this for?
In other words, who's your audience? Once that's answered, you'll know a lot more that you need to keep in mind as you're writing. What they know. What they don't know. What they give a crap about. Whether or not they'll bring condiments to a meeting.
Fiction writers – especially the ones who want to sell fiction – need to ask themselves that question, too. Not about condiments. About who they're writing for. The readers, the editors, the agents, whoever they're trying to reach -- what will their experience be when they look at the words that have been placed in front of them?
And you know who else needs to think about that? Writers for mystery community blogs. Like me. I've been contributing to SleuthSayers for months, but only now, when I sat down to pound out a new post, did I ask myself "Who is this for?"
So – who are you? Why are you here? What are you looking for when you come to this site? Anyone who posts a reply will be eligible to win a free copy of one of my books.
Which raises another question: Is that even something anybody here would want?
Let's find out…