Audience Matters

Monday, January 16, 2017

This year’s vacation will take me back to a place where my family spent several weeks when I was a child, so I pulled my father’s unpublished memoir off the shelf to look up his comments. From time to time I wonder about editing his memoir and getting it published, but it would take more work than I have time for. It isn’t that Daddy couldn’t write—he could. But some parts of the manuscript would appeal to one audience and others to another one. Unfortunately, they are often interwoven, and my opinion is that they would have to be separated before appealing to either audience.

Daddy loved to travel, and his travels are the focus of his memoir. However, he was also a Biblical historian and a theologian, and his account of his travels is both a story and a dissertation. The story is my favorite part and could be written to appeal to a wider audience, while the dissertation would appeal only to amateur or professional theologians and historians. Unfortunately, most readers would find the extended discussion dry and uninteresting, and they would either skim over it or, more likely, skip the entire memoir.

For instance, Daddy tells about an overnight walk he took during his first trip to the Middle East. He picked up a couple of unwanted “guides”—boys who were looking for adventure and possibly an excuse to skip school. The night-time hike along little-used paths and the boys’ attempts to find food along the way are interesting and even amusing. But Daddy keeps interrupting the story with Biblical references. For example:

     From this point the road became practically non-existent and the descent increasingly difficult until soon we found it almost impossible to climb down the rocks from level to level. We frightened up large numbers of partridge as we went along that rocky way—birds common even in those days when David was a fugitive from King Saul as I Samuel 26:20 bears witness: “The King of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.”

A theologian or a Bible scholar might appreciate the diversion, but most readers would not.

If you had asked Daddy, I think he would have said that the theological and historical discussions were his favorite part of his memoir and the one he was most interested in publishing. I couldn’t do it justice, though. If that part ever gets reworked for publication, one of my brothers will have to do it.

But someday I might pull out the story and prepare it for a different audience.

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