The Reader, Listener, Viewer in Literature
Specific and Inferred?
What Purposes?

The birth of literature is an image of humans, presumably also children, gathered around a fire listening to stories - told as communal oral narrations with direct interactions between a teller and listeners. A listener could request a story with, Tell us a story ..., Tell us that story ..., Or a story could begin with, This is what I know ..., I am going to tell you a tale ... , or other. Both of these examples reference listeners. The first not specified, but inferred. The second, specified with you. Similarly a written story may start with and inference of a reader or the inclusion of you in the beginning to reference a reader.

What are different ways to reference the audience in literature? It would seem that most include a narrator that can be thought of as the ideal story teller with - a reader, viewer, or listener as the audience. The use of "you" signals the reader the author is speaking to him or her. However, what other ways might an author refer to the - reader, listener, viewer?

What are possible desired relationships of authors with respect to - readers, listeners, and viewers? Would it be a goal of all authors to create the closest possible relationship? Or would it be beneficial to create a more distant relationship?

Are there different relationships children's authors have as options that adult writers do not? Literature for smaller children is often written to be read aloud to children and includes narrative strategies and literary devices for that unique situation - unique narrative style to create a certain tone for a unique reader's, viewer's, or listener's transaction.

In the early 1800 there was a belief that children's literature is only good literature if it is also good for adults. Is this true? Many books, movies, TV programs, and computer games are written in this manner. Children can have many experiences with these complex narrative forms. Is this a problem for children? Does this change the experience for children? Is this idea best for children? Are there times when literature just for children is good for them?

Elaine Moss in 1973 called this ”adulteration”. Swedish illustrator Ulf Löfgren in 1985 claimed ”these books are for art lovers and collectors which go over the heads of children”.

Could some literature have multiple tracks of narration that effectively communicate to multiple readers, listeners, and viewers? When there is an audience with children and adults in a movie theater laughing at different times, how are the transactions similar and different for different ages of people in the audience?

To start there seems to be two basic ways a reader can be included in a piece of work. Using the word you. This relationship of reader, listener, viewer to the author can be noted as specific. When the viewer, listener, reader isn't directly referenced in a piece with you or the reader, but the style seems to be communicating to one, then the term inferred will be used.

Is there always a specified or implied listener, viewer, reader in a text? Does that mean the implied viewer, listener, reader is always in the author's thoughts during the creation of the piece? Or is there a time when a writer does not acknowledge one? Interesting thought. I suppose a diary might be an example where a reader may not be assumed, but then again why is the diary kept? If the only purpose of the diary writer is to record information for themselves, without thoughts that anyone else would ever read it, then the real reader is the writer. Whoa! That's circular.

Therefore, what are the ways an author, director, speaker, artist, ... reference an audience? How do the different ways affect the quality of the literature?

Usually when something is created, or written, it is assumed there will be a transaction with an audience. This transaction will connect the story to the reader, viewer, or listener and subsequently back to the author. The author usually tries to create a story that is motivational enough to maintain a transaction long enough for the reader, listener, or viewer, to complete the story. The more emotional the transaction the greater the possibility of involvement till completion and it having a lasting impact.

What are different ways and different degrees of assistance or motivation provided for the reader, viewer, or listener by an author or artist?

In children's literature there are often attempts to instruct the reader during the reading, viewing, or listening of a particular piece.  This can be good or the assistance can cross a line and become didactic, preachy, or even condescending. How does this kind of specific or inferred reader, listener, viewer effect the quality of the story?

Picture books for smaller children, often have a reader between the text and the child. The adult reader, can shape the text and illustrations in the reading process and explain the piece to answer children's questions, provide explanation, motivate, or moralize. This kind of transaction is closer to the oral narrative. Are these pieces created with an oral child reader in mind?

Some texts read by readers themselves can contain oral features with narrative strategies. Other texts read by readers themselves may not have these oral features. Do texts that have a written form, that is often more complex, contain more complex reader relationships and if so, how are they planned by the author?

The plan to continue this investigation.

Identify top ten textual literary pieces, select some picture books with a specific interaction with the reader, and a couple of movies. Review each and identify different ways the author or director interacts with the readers, viewers, or listeners through the use of narration and other interactions.

An extension to consider might be to note how in some pieces the interaction with the audience is created to speak to both a child and an adult reader, viewer, or listener through a complex narration or with different characters in the same piece speaking to different people in the audience.



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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