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.
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:
- Research: Three excellent resources are https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/, 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;" http://www.census.gov/main/www/access.html 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.
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.
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:
- Starting school
- Desire for a pet
- Learning to share
- Getting along with siblings
- Friendship: how to make and keep friends
- 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
- Being goal-directed vs being focused on social situations
- Plans for the future
Photo: Courtesy of FreeStockPhotos.biz
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.