Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Addressing your audience

As writer we need to know who we are writing for. Personally I write for children. Many people think children's writing is a watered down version of adult writing, but this is not the case. It's probably more difficult to write for children than to write for adults. Why? Because you not only have to write something that appeals to children, but to their parents. It doesn't matter how much a child wants to read your book, it's going to go nowhere unless the one who holds the cash is willing to part with it. Adults have completely different ideas about what children should read than children do, they look for educational aspects, they censor and they may refuse to buy a book if they feel it encourages bad behaviour in their child. There are also those adults who buy gifts for children who want them to read something they would like to have read when they were little, which may be very different to what a child nowadays wants to read. Plus there are libraries to consider, they can be very selective with what they feel children should be reading. With picture books adults will look for something that they can tolerate when they have it requested for the 23rd time that day.  

Children on the other hand run a mile if they even sniff a tiny bit of educational material in there. They want to rebel, and to be entertained. They want to escape in the fictional bad behaviour of their protagonists to escape the rigid adult controlled world they live in. Learn stuff? Ha, nope. They have some kind of weird anti-didactic radar. You have to sneak it in. Again very difficult to do.

So in children's books there is a dual audience to write for, both the child and the adult.  This isn't a case of crossover fiction, which is even more difficult to consciously do. Every children's book has to consider a dual audience if it wants to be published. I'm not saying that you have to consider the adult audience too much, just be aware of it when writing.

Don't underestimate children either. Difficult concepts are good. Children don't like to be patronised, you can simplify but don't avoid things, children are people too. In a project at Uni we gathered 2 groups of school children separately and has a discussion about Anne Fine's 'Up on cloud 9'. This is a book which tackles attempted suicide and depression. The 12 year old group's views on what was happening in the book didn't differ greatly from the 14 year old group, the only difference was that the 12 year old group thought they didn't know what was happening in the book when they actually did.

It's a tricky business this writing for children lark. Wish me luck.


Colin Davies said...

It certainly is, and I agree with almost everything you just said. However, being biased, I think kids don't mind the educational side of things, as long as the story is exciting.

Lindsay said...

If the kids don't realise they are being educated because the story is exciting, then you've cracked it Colin. It's usually when it's really obvious that kids swerve it. Very tricky to do it subtly but I think you've done it well, it's relevant to the plot and drives it. There is of course a market for educational books but these tend to be in libraries and schools, and if you want to get a child reading for pleasure, then it's best to let them lead with what they want. But parents these days always seem to need an outcome for reading and kids activities, they can't just pick up a book and enjoy it, parents want something in return for their money. They seem to view kids an investment of their time and money. Heaven help them when they realise it is a one way account and they won't get anything in return haha.

vicky ellis said...

I always thought the most important thing kids get from reading is an understanding of people. That's why character-led books are my favourites.

You are dead right about considering the adult though. I would steer Ra towards Horrid Henry or Horrible Histories because I wanted to be entertained too. But I think kids learn to enjoy the elements of a book that appeal to their parents because that's what their parents will accentuate.

Really interesting post Lindsay, thanks.

Adele said...

One of the richest children's authors writes educational books for children - she does it for the Chinese market in English. Food for thought.