Know Your Audience

Getting to know your target audience can be as fun as it is enlightning. The focus of this post is on children, but the ideas set forth can work for any audience.

General Resources
No matter what your association is with children, a good way to reach them is by keeping a scrapbook-style binder. The binder can be organized in sections. Ideas for topics can be:
  • Articles
  • Research: Three excellent resources are, where interesting facts can be found on major historic events and current issues of many countries and facts on birth rates, child labor information, children under the age of 5 years underweight, found on the home page under "People and Society;" under "Easy Stats" for topics such as Housing, People and Education; and the InfoTrac Periodical and Reference Database at your local library, to research sources such as academic journals, books and magazines.
  • Photos and pictures cut out of magazines and ads to pose as story characters
  • Kids' favorite books and pastimes
  • Notes on snippets of conversation, the way your audience dresses, funny and poignant incidences, etc.
  • Mining your own childhood experiences, the people you have known and your memories: Occasionally when I browse through personal journals that I've kept through the years, I put subject notations on post-its and stick the post-its on the sides, like tabs; this way the information is easily accessible while composing. Also, I created a photoscrapbook of my growing-up years to jog my memory, and have found how true it is that the story is in the pictures.
  • Index on the subjects and locations of data saved on your computer.
Zeroing in on Kids' Needs
An excellent resource for understanding all aspects of writing for children is Writing for Children & Teenagers, by Lee Wyndham. Part of Wyndham's philosophy speaks to those writers who may not be "up" on the latest fads and trends (though many terrific and entertaining writers are). She wrote that writers can focus instead on the the universality of people's basic needs, young and old, and how these needs never change; summarized from Wyndam's book here: 
  •  The need to love and be loved: No one ever outgrows the need for love. Stories of deep and   moving significance can  be woven around this subject.  
  •  The need to belong: Children desperately want to be accepted by one's family and peers.
  •  The need to achieve: Wyndam wrote that, "To do or be something . . . not only gives  one a feeling of personal satisfaction and worth, but also elicits respect from others . . ."
  •  The need for security--materially, emotionally, spiritually: How one faces or does not face anxieties and fears provides innumerable story themes. "The youthful character can be badly warped by . . . tensions, or  tempered and strengthened by adversity, depending on the influences he or she comes under." 
  • The need to know: Tap into children's natural curiosity by satisfying their desire to know the how and why of things.
Addressing Children's Problems
Two resources that are helpful in understanding what children are like at each age are Child Behavior: The Classic Child Care Manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development by Frances L. Ilg, Louis Bates Ames, and Signey M. Baker, and Youth: The Years from Ten to Sixteen by Gesell, Ilg and Ames. The two books serve as helpful references when stuck with how a child
might react to certain situations.

Problems common among children are best addressed by age group. Here is a partial list I have put together over the years from various sources:

Ages 3-8
  • Starting school
  • Desire for a pet
  • Learning to share
  • Getting along with siblings
Ages 9-12
  • Friendship: how to make and keep friends
  • Bullying
  • Accepting responsibiity for one's own actions
  • Getting along in social situations
  • Romance: dating, the meaning of love, personal conduct with the opposite sex
  • Acceptance of oneself and those who are "different" in some way
  • Faith/Religion
  • Being goal-directed vs being focused on social situations
  • Plans for the future
In between projects or in the middle of one, your "Audience Binder" will help keep you on track and perhaps give you ideas on how to expand important parts of your story that may not have occurred to you. Because you have taken the time to really get to know your audience you will be rewarded many times over, and continue to have fun adding to your treasure trove of knowledge about some of your favorite people.

Photo: Courtesy of

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's  Fiction Essentials online course and is currently taking Sweeney's Picture Book Essentials online course. She has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-9 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook. 



Kathleen Moulton said...

Linda, I appreciate the break-down according to age. I recently sold a story to a children's magazine and would like to continue in that genre. Sometimes I get a mental block for ideas and your tips are a good resource for me. Thanks!

Linda Wilson said...

That's great, Kathleen. I'm glad the tips were helpful. Congrats on selling a story to a children's magazine. That's neat you've decided to write for children. It sure is fun!

Magdalena Ball said...

Very useful overview on the all important job of knowing the audience.

Linda Wilson said...

Good you find it useful, Maggie. Thanks for writing.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great information and resources. The breakdown of problems related to specific age groups is a helpful tool for children's writer. Thanks for sharing!

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks, Karen. I think it is helpful to study our audience. It's amazing what there is to learn about them that helps in our quest to reach them!

Melinda Brasher said...

I like your list of big themes important to the different age groups. Thanks.

Linda Wilson said...

Great, Melinda. I hope they're helpful.

Shirley Corder said...

Linda, thanks for this article. Funnily enough I wrote today to a lady who is organising an event at which I'm speaking, asking her questions about the anticipated audience. I'm SO glad I did! She had asked me to repeat a talk I'd given at a Relay for Life meeting of cancer survivors. Turns out it's an annual celebration of a group of parents from a local school! I would have been SO off target!.

Linda Wilson said...

Ha, Shirl, that shows to go ya how good it is to know who to gear your writing/talk to! What a funny story!

Debbie A Byrne said...

These are some great resources Linda. I will pass it along to others as well. Thank you!

Linda Wilson said...

You're welcome, Debbie. I'm glad you found them helpful.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I can feel your love for kids in this article!

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Carolyn. Your comments are always supportive and encouraging.

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