Helena Writes #1: On intended audience

Helena Writes
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Helena Clare Pittman, one of the Center’s most dedicated teachers, has written, painted, and taught her entire life. In her monthly Helena Writes series, she shares a lifetime of wisdom, one pearl at a time.

This first post shares Helena’s response to a student inquiring about intended audience. Enjoy!

Writing for Children student: Who is the audience we are writing for in assignment 4?  Is the intended audience children? (Maybe this is a silly question considering this class is titled Writing for Children, but I want to make sure.) I believe this is an important part of an author’s mindset as she writes.  For example, I could take the same exact story elements- the same characters, the same place, the same motivation, the same problem/resolution, basically the same “story”-and, depending on my audience, write in a very different style for each.  I know for me, I would write differently for an audience of children as compared to an adult audience, so I am interested in your answer/thoughts.

HCP: When I write, I really do want it to come from deep within me. Once the writing is on the page, I look at it. Then I ask, who is this for? What’s the voice? I assess where I want to coax the piece.

So when writing began to come to me with older picture book voices, I was surprised, and I went with it. These are certainly some of the stories I feel are my best: The Angel Tree, The Snowman’s Path, (both published by Penguin/Dial), The Call of the Dove (Cricket). Had I stopped the flow of Ruthie Pincus stories, by wondering who I should gear them to, I would have tied myself in knots.

Who is this for? What’s the voice? I assess where I want to coax the piece.

Instead, the most inventive, deepest writing I’ve done, poured out of me. That voice works for adults and children. I have gotten plenty of feedback. It’s a middle grade voice that is also an adult voice. The point is, it’s MY voice.

I’m working on a story now that has developed over time; my sense of humor is a big part of it. Children get it, I’ve read it to groups. So, I’d put it this way–my voice has a way [of speaking] to people of different ages. It’s when I am consciously struggling to write, say, a picture book text, knowing, now, what I know, after 40 years of writing for children, that I can imagine the child I am talking to, from the experience of talking to young children, and sensing the feeling that holds a child’s attention. But I’ve known writers who begin by addressing a particular age, and that makes for a more removed, perhaps, contrived and maybe more commercial approach. This, of course, has its place. It isn’t what I can share with people, though. I can only pass on what I do and what I know from my own work and teaching experience. All approaches are valid. It’s a question, I suppose, of how it strikes you.

All approaches are valid…Find your approach and go for it.

So I would say this–find your approach and go for it. I will do what I always do: read your work and give you feedback to the best of my aesthetic and understanding and capacity. You will know something about yourself I can’t begin to know. Follow yourself in that way, and I will help and guide, no matter what you write.

Hope that helps,

What questions do you have for Helena about audience? Or, what part of Helena’s advice resonated most with you? Share with us in the comments!

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