One Writer’s Journey

May 30, 2017

Know Your Audience: Write What They Know

My library shelf contains the latest haul from the St. Louis County Library.

“Write what you know.”

It doesn’t matter if you are trying to make your first sale, collect additional clips or having problems with writers block.  Sooner or later someone is going to give you this bit of advice.  Someone other than me.

I’m much more likely to advise you to write based on what your readers know.  This doesn’t mean that you should limit yourself to what they know.  Young readers are curious, often more curious than adults.  But what they know will help you determine what they understand and how to explain things to them.  If you write fiction, knowing what they know can help you shape your plots.  So what do they know?

Preschoolers:  Just about everything is new to this audience but that doesn’t mean that everything goes. They are still exploring things close to home which is why books about colors, noises and basic routines are so popular.  Take a look at Sandra Boynton’s books which include Blue Hat, Green Hat; Moo Baa La La La; and Pajama Time. 

Kindergartners and Grade schoolers:  Developmentally this is an extremely broad range.  They are exploring an expanding world.  At the younger end, this includes school which accounts for the number of kindergarten stories.  There are also a lot of books about friends and family and a wide range of nonfiction concept books, animal books, and books about all of the things they are touching on in school including both history and STEM topics.  These are readers who are beginning to understand how broad and diverse the world is and they want to explore it in fiction and nonfiction.

Middle School:  These readers are pushing boundaries beyond family and school.  What they discover often does not coincide with what they’ve been taught.  Books about people who don’t quite fit in or who challenge what is accepted are popular.  So are books about discoveries and break throughs.  These readers are also exploring good and evil often through fantasy or mysteries.

Young Adults:  Teens are exploring and heading out to find their place in the world.  They are challenging, questioning and demanding answers.  Because of this, the books that they love often make adults cringe because their lit often feels “no holds barred” to established adults.  Check out authors like Matt de la Pena and A.S. King.

Knowing something about where young readers are in the world can you help you understand when an editors critiques your manuscript and tells you that is sounds too old or too young.  But the best way to understand, is to read.  I always have a stack of books from my local library.  Use published books to help you learn what young readers need and what publishers are buying.

Isn’t it great that reading is “work” when you’re a writer?

 

–SueBE

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