“Miss the audience's heart as a filmmaker, and the only wallet that gets hit will be your own. That's because the heart is always the first target in storytelling.” — Peter Guber, owner of Mandalay Entertainment and best-selling author of Sell To Win.
One of the most overlooked parts of fictional storytelling is the target audience. Many think that picking a genre for their story is enough, but is it really? Is picking a general audience like romantics or thrill-seekers going to cut it?
The problem with picking such a broad audience is that your story isn't going to cut to the heart of the reader/viewer. You might think that if you choose a broad audience, you can't miss the target! This would be true if everyone was somewhere on the target, but the reality is that if you aim too broadly, there's a good chance you'll miss.
Choosing an audience is like throwing a dart. If you just aim in the general direction, there’s a good chance your dart will hit the wall, completely missing the target. If you aim for the bullseye, there’s a better chance you’ll land somewhere on the board.
Here are three tips on choosing a target audience for your fictional story to help sell it to the write readers.
Your Summary Is The Hook
A logline, similar to a summary or synopsis, is a 1-2 sentence statement that tells someone what happens in a story. You've probably seen these before on the backs of books, in movie descriptions on a streaming platform, or even somewhere online. Some are more detailed or longer than others, but generally, shorter is better (especially if you're sending a manuscript to a movie producer).
In the process of writing/outlining a book, the logline should be at the forefront of your mind. Unless you are writing blindly, you will most likely have an end goal for the story in mind. This means that you can begin thinking about the logline before the book is even produced.
It's also great to have the logline well-prepared before the book is completed because it's a great tool to use for marketing! Unlike a summary or synopsis, a logline is like a one-liner, making it perfect for marketable pictures to share in social media posts when promoting the book that is to come. This way, you are already building anticipation in your future readers that will be coming to read your book.
By the way, a logline is not the same as a tagline. A Tagline is also used for marketing, but it is usually a witty way of describing a story leaving out the premise of what the story is about.
If you have a target audience in mind, your logline will be enticing to the reader. You don't want them to read the logline wondering if it's a good story. You want them to read the logline and realize they NEED to read your story!
As I said above, a logline summarizes what a story is about. You may have a synopsis or a summary of your story prepared, but I would recommend writing a logline, summarizing the story in only 1-2 sentences. The more specific, the better, as this will help with targeting your audience.
In this 1980s sci-fi classic, small-town California teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is thrown back into the '50s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry. Traveling through time in a modified DeLorean car, Marty encounters young versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he'll cease to exist. Even more dauntingly, Marty has to return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.
That's quite a chunky summary. Even if you take out the parenthesis, this wouldn't be useful in a marketable picture. It gives too much detail for the reader to focus on the main point of the story.
Let's compare this to the logline for the movie. I found multiple variations, but I like the one I found on Masterclass.
A young man is transported to the past, where he must reunite his parents before he and his future cease to exist.
The purpose of a logline is to give the protagonist, the conflict, and the stakes. Here we see the protagonist is a young man. We then see that the conflict is that he's been transported to the past. Lastly, we know the stakes are his existence (life or death).
This is a masterfully constructed logline that not only can be used for marketing but can also tell us who the target audience is.
Since our protagonist is a young man, the target audience should be young adults. Since the conflict is being transported to the past, our audience will be interested in science fiction, and more specifically, time travel. Since the stakes are life or death, we know our audience is looking for a rewarding story with life on the line.
I hope you can see the benefit of having a logline for your story. This can help narrow down your audience. It's a good place to start to help prevent missing the target audience as a whole.
Your Conflict Needs To Be Relatable
Going beyond just a logline, our target audience can be further defined with the conflict of a story. A story can have multiple conflicts happening at once, but the specific conflict that should engage the reader is the emotional conflict, also known as the inner conflict.
Let's use Back To The Future again as an example. In this movie, we see Marty's inner conflict right at the very beginning of the story. He struggles to appreciate the life he has. He's a punk, not caring enough to be on time for school, hanging out with a "nutcase" as the principal puts it, and wishing he lived the rich life.
He wants to be a rockstar but doesn't believe in himself. He wants a nice truck but can't afford it. He thinks his dad's a loser since he's bossed around by Biff. Overall, we are under the assumption that Marty wishes he had more than what life has offered him thus far.
When the physical conflict begins, we can see how it's tied into Marty's personality. At first, he's interested in hanging out for a few days when he finds himself in the past, only to realize that his life is on the line. It brings Marty to the conclusion that he actually cares about the life he lived, even if it wasn't the glamorous life he wishes he had.
This pushes Marty to go to his father (who could be considered as the main cause of his inner conflict) and turn him into a brave and charming hero, versus the loser that we see bullied early on in the film. We also see that Marty doesn't only care about his own life, but the life of his friend when he writes the letter that leads to the salvation of Doc Brown.
Marty is rewarded in the end with not only the appreciation of the life he has but the people around him. The reward is extended further in a physical manner when Marty finds that his father is no longer a loser and that he owns his dream truck in the altered future.
This beautiful transformation we see in Marty cuts to the heart of the audience, especially the people who take life for granted. It connects best with the wishful thinkers and those who grew up unappreciative of the things they have, promising a reward in the end for those who cherish the life they have versus the life they wish to have.
Tying this into our target audience, this story shows us that it was written for people with a similar inner conflict to Marty. The people that would appreciate it most are those that don't have a rich life in the beginning, those who don't believe in their talents, those who might need the reminder to appreciate their life more than they do.
Use your inner conflict to help define who your audience is. This will help with the way you write your scenes and speak to the readers. It will also help with knowing who to target when talking about your story and who will resonate with the story.
Expectations Must Be Met
Anytime a story is written, there is a sense of satisfaction found in the ending. Even a tragedy can have a sense of satisfaction in it. A reader/viewer is seeking entertainment in some form, whether it be a heroic victory, tragedy, or even a cliffhanger.
However you decide to end your story, this in fact can also help identify your target audience. Not only should you be asking yourself, "How would my reader want this to end?" but, "Who would want my story to end this way?"
No matter the number of twists or exciting mysteries you add to your tale, every story should have some type of expectation that should be met. With our example of Back To The Future, there are two expectations we see in the story.
The first is from the emotional circumstances at the beginning of the story. The viewer expects something to change in Marty's life. You can clearly see this when the car is totaled and he's disappointed because he was going to use it. The viewer sympathizes with the situation, and hopes for things to look up for Marty soon.
The second is from the physical circumstance when Marty flashes back to the past. The viewer expects that Marty is going to get back to the present, even if they don't know exactly how.
If either of these expectations were not met at the end of the story, it'd leave the viewer with questions. What if the story ended with Marty getting into the DeLorean and flashing back to the present. End scene; roll the credits. We'd all be left wondering what happened when he got back! "Did Doc read the letter and survive? Is George still owning up to Biff?
This would be the same if the emotional conflict wasn't resolved. Think about if the movie ended with Doc surviving, and that's it. There'd be similar questions as before. "What about Marty's date? Is Marty happy to be back and see his family? Did his life change?"
For this movie, we can obviously see the viewer cares about a happy ending. They want Marty to succeed! They want to see his life get better because he learned to appreciate it. Remember all the things I listed above about Marty's wishful thinking? They all happen in the end. He's a rockstar at the dance, he gets his dream truck, and his dad is no longer a loser!
Ask yourself questions about your ending to really dial in on who cares about your story. This can help with finding that ideal audience you're looking to target. These questions will take the broad analysis of the information we have on our audience, and narrow it down to more than just a broad genre, but a specifically defined person.
"What kind of person cares about my ending?" That's the person you want to be reading your story!
Who Are You Writing For?
In conclusion, using a logline, the conflict, and the ending of your story can greatly help with knowing who your target audience is.
One last time, I will use Back To The Future to explain my point. From the logline, the conflict, and the ending, here is all the information we gathered about our audience.
Interested In Time Travel
Likes Rewarding Stories With Life On The Line
Didn't Receive The Luxuries Of Life
Wishful Thinker / "I Wish I Had..."
Unappreciative Of Their Life Where It Stands
Wants To See Marty Learn A Lesson
Wants To See Marty Save His Friend
Wants To See Marty's Dreams Come True
Look at how much information there is that helps define the target audience of this movie! Here are nine points (three from each section) that help lock down who the audience of this story is. Compare this list to the genre this story falls under according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Sci-Fi, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
Do you think this list of four words really targets a good audience compared to the three steps we did? Think about it.
A sci-fi fanatic probably wouldn't choose to watch Back To The Future over something like Star Wars. The movie isn't heavy in science fiction like other movies. If it was marketed strictly to those who love sci-fi, the movie wouldn't do as well.
The word adventure is so vague. Yeah, the movie definitely has adventure, but is someone going to be sold on that word alone to watch this movie?
It's the same with comedy. This movie isn't the funniest movie out there! I can think of three Adam Sandler movies at the top of my head that would trump this movie in the comedy section.
I'm not sure why this movie falls under fantasy. If someone was looking for a fantasy movie to watch right after seeing Lord Of The Rings, they'd likely be disappointed with choosing a movie like Back To The Future, which is so light in any type of lore compared to LOTR.
My point is that you can't just simply use a genre to target your audience. This will likely lead to failure and destroy any type of marketing plan you have for your story to be released to the world.
It's not that your target audience is the only audience that can enjoy your story. I'm sure there are adults that don't fall in the category of young that still enjoy Back To The Future. I'm sure there are people that don't specifically relate to Marty's situation that still like it. I'm sure there are people that are not interested in time travel that still enjoy it.
That's not the point. The point is to be strict about your audience to ensure happy viewers/readers. Doing this will attract attention to the right people to enjoy your story, who will then share with the world how great it truly is. This will naturally cause the story to go to a larger/broader crowd and find more people that enjoy the story.
Remember, aiming your dart precisely will get you on the board. Even if you miss the perfect ideal audience, you're going to still target interested people, which will spark the interest of others.