Monday, April 19, 2010

Something for Everyone: Filling Four Quadrants

Some writers are phenomenally successful writing for a narrow audience. For reasons that should be immediately obvious, ChickLit caters to a completely different demographic than True Crime or Hardboiled Mystery. Which is not to say that some people don’t enjoy reading from more than one genre. But — for the most part — what appeals to one sector of the population doesn’t do anything for another.

Some writers, however, have discovered that expanding their works to include something that appeals to a variety of different “types” can boost visibility, longevity and popularity, not to mention sales.

I’m not talking about the writer with a developed following in one genre writing something in a completely different genre. More often than not, that only serves to alienate the writer’s core audience while simultaneously failing to find a new readership. If a writer simply must stretch creatively, that is why God created pen names.

No, what I’m referring to is the writer who consciously takes into consideration demographics other than the intended reader and writes something – anything – in the work to speak directly to different segments of the population.

J.K. Rowling has done this beautifully with the Harry Potter series. There is something in each book to appeal to just about every combination of young or old, male or female. Shakespeare knew a thing or two about this as well.

Hollywood has coined a phrase for the project that appeals to everyone: the Four Quadrant film. Penning the Four Quadrant feature is the enviable elusive brass ring of screenwriting. Though the industry has paid lip service for years to the notion that “a great movie begins with a great script,” the reality is that stars and directors generally make exponentially more money than writers. So it goes without saying how much real emphasis is placed on the script.

However, satisfying the people in each of the Four Quadrants doesn’t just happen. No matter how big the star or how big the director, no single person on the planet appeals to everyone. That’s why, within every project, the writer needs to create a variety of memorable characters that will appeal to men and women, boys and girls. It’s also why the writer needs to come up with a wide range of jokes (from the sublime to the ridiculous), construct several varied story lines, and find the right balance between action and drama.

Do it right, and you get something like “Finding Nemo” or “How to Train Your Dragon” -- films that really are fun for the whole family. “Titanic,” The original Star Wars trilogy, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” also fill the bill and offer something for each quadrant. (Each had an obvious core audience, but offered something to others who were only in the theater because that’s what their dates wanted to see.)

Of course there is nothing wrong with writing within a particular genre. You must know who your audience is. You must know to whom you speak. But during your editing process, consciously creating characters and moments that speak to different audiences can take your work from good to brilliant.

Branching into other quadrants within your project may not only add depth and nuance, but it can also literally open your work up to a wider audience. And that can only help your writing career.

1 comment:

India Drummond said...

I have tried to do this with my latest project... not out of trying to broaden appeal, but because I like so many types of books myself. I read mystery, romance, chick lit, sci fi, fantasy, spy novels... I like a good sassy adventure with some smutty scenes in between, so that's what I've been doing in my own stories as well.

Great post!