The above illustration was created by Michael Rex.
Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here. And I wanted to share an experience that helped me realize…
Our Audience May Be Different Than We Think
Taller. Shorter. Older. Younger. More serious. More ridiculous. Just… different.
You can never fully predict who will fall in love with your story, who will never forget the messes your characters got into or why it will mean so much to them.
My brother has four boys, 16, 14, 12 and 9. Great kids. Fun. Smart. Mature little men. But throw Grampster in the mix (that’s what they call my dad, their grandfather) and all reason goes out the window.
They laugh, they play, and balls are thrown across the basement at record speeds. Basketball shots become unforgettable moments in history and a touchdown between the two windows becomes the winning point in a game that changes the world.
And eventually, two tired parents force the sweaty, amped up, T-shirt ripped group to shower and get ready for bed. “Time to settle down.”
So they read.
But they don’t settle.
Their favorite book with Grampster? Anything from the Mr. Putter series.
It’s a beginner-reader aimed at second graders. These kids are NOT beginner readers. They all read significantly above their level, this is “baby-stuff”, even for the nine-year-old.
And they LOVE it.
Does Grampster do voices? Well sure… but that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
He mixes up the words. Reads it like a sports announcer. Re-reads sentences until the words sound like mush. Anyone remember the fast-talking guy from the Micro Machines commercials? Picture that guy reading sentences over and over as fast as they can. They take turns speed reading every-other words until someone messes up.
Characters are made fun of. Storylines are picked apart and trashed. And it’s all done to the sounds of hysterical laughter and a tradition that’s replaced “settling down” when Grampster comes to visit.
Rumor has it they spent an entire hour one time on the first page alone.
Now, to be completely honest, at this point, it actually has little to do with the book itself. If you just LOOK at a Mr. Putty book they all crack up and ramble on for the next few minutes about how hysterical it is, while everyone who isn’t in on the joke just stares at them and nods.
But at some point, these books, these characters were chosen. The first time it happened (maybe a year ago now) boys were jumping on beds, stuffed animals flying, a child dive-bombing from a headboard, and that particular book just found it’s way into his hands.
A reader himself, he picked it up. Knowing it was a bit young for them, he made it silly, and the book in turn made them even sillier.
Laughter and excitement extended from the activity into the pages of the book. Knowing my nephews, stuffed animals STILL flew, and bodies still dive-bombed, but now there was another player in the mix. And it was there to stay.
I guarantee you that if you mention “Mr. Putter” to any of those kids in ten or 20 years, they’ll still laugh or smile. It will be a memory that never leaves them.
But I’m also pretty sure that it’s not the exact memories that author Cynthia Rylant had in mind.
As writers, we can’t always predict HOW readers will interact with our work. While it’s good to know your audience, it can also be important to remember that it’s a moving target, and a bit of an existential concept.
Our readers… well, they just ARE. They can’t be described in any singular way, because they’re each individuals, and they take from the story or the piece in their own incredibly unique way.
So keep writing. You never know who your work will touch or what it will mean to them.
Your manuscripts… and the memories they’ll create… are worth it.
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for contributing every other Wednesday to Writing and Illustrating this year. I know people enjoyed your articles.