Do you ever take a step back and remember that there are two sides to this? Some day, you might want someone to read your writing. You may want to publish, whether self or traditional – and if you plan on anyone liking it or, perhaps making a little bit of money in return, target audience is something that you’ll eventually consider. Because you are selling yourself, your ideas, and your imagination in those pages.
There are a few obvious things to set aside: YA fiction sells to young adults. Science fiction sells to those interested in Sci-Fi. And so on. But then there is the tone of your work, the mood, the characterization.
I, myself, am a multi genre reader. I don’t care what section of the store the books I read come from, I just want a good story. I do, in particular, like strange fiction and survivalist-type stories. I like a lot of character development and never in the typical fashion. Thinking this way, I tend to write this way, meaning that a good portion of my target audience are people who like the same things as I do. Your readers are your friends. They are like-minded people who have come together to have an experience. They relate to you without ever having met you. Stephen King relates it to telepathy. You send, they receive.
Bare with me here, if that sounded like I was going on a tangent. Here’s the point of this post.
You can be the voice of all your readers, gaining the most important amount of critique, in this simple way. Go and write a letter. Short or long, doesn’t matter. Address it to a compilation of all of the authors of the books that have stood out in your head. (Don’t go looking them up, and don’t look at your book shelf. Memorable books are the ones I want you to think about.)
Compile those authors into one person. Then imagine that person wrote all of those books, and address them. Tell them what you liked about their books. What character in particular stood out to you, and why? What scene made you want to cry/smile/high-five a stranger? What made you laugh in public and earn strange looks? What connected to you? And also write what bothered you. Tell them what they could have done better. Don’t worry about offending. When you’re done writing everything you can think of about your favorite books, put it away.
Now we turn to your work. If it’s not done, finish it. Don’t look at the letter again until you’ve forgotten all about it. Then when you’ve had enough breathing room from your manuscript, and you’re ready to go through and start the first read through with new eyes, bring out that letter. Read it as if it was addressed to you this time. Take all of it into consideration as you read your draft. Is there anything that it’s missing, that you enjoy in all of your favorite books? A certain element or interaction or character-type? Now is when you can put it in.
Have fun with your story, and the reader will sense it. Go back and insert clues to things that might happen. Don’t be obvious, be sly and hide it, give them that “Oh!” moment when they figure it out. Make sure your character is someone they can invest in. Your character is now a real person, (or they should be to you at this point) that your reader will want to know more and more about. And most of all, make the character and story relate to the reader. The first reader is you. And you are the representation of who most of your readers will be. This is not ego, just opinion, so take it as you will.