Are you familiar with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) syndrome? It’s a genetic illness that strips people of their immune system. They’re vulnerable to infectious diseases that aren’t a problem for most of the general population. As a result, those who suffer from SCID must live in a bubble—a sterile environment with filtered air. They can’t have physical contact with other people without protective gear.
Living in a bubble may be necessary to prolong life for those suffering with SCID, but it can mean literary death for a writer. To be effective writers, we must know not only who our audience is, but also their frame of reference. We need to understand their world.
While this is true no matter whom we write for, it’s especially important when writing for children and teens. All too often, we draw on our own childhood experiences, but those experiences may no longer be applicable to our audience. Our culture is changing faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth. Did you catch that last pop culture reference? While it might evoke a familiar image for baby boomers, it’s irrelevant to most young people. Payphones are almost nonexistent in the United States today. Even if you can find a payphone, they’re hardly ever enclosed in booths anymore.
Or consider the world of social media. Most writers consider themselves fairly up-to-date if they have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts. But did you know that tweens and teens have moved to social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat?
For more information about the mindset of young people today, check out the Beloit College Mindset list. Every August, Beloit College updates the list for the new class of incoming college freshmen. Even if you’re writing for a younger audience, it will help give you a sense of the world of our tweens and teens.
Then there’s the issue of Common Core. Regardless of your opinion of Common Core educational standards, are you familiar with what they are? These standards affect more than the classroom. Many secular and Christian publishers are evaluating new titles as well as their backlists in light of Common Core standards. But other Christian publishers don’t intend to apply Common Core to their releases. As writers, it’s up to us to know the publisher’s position before we submit our work.
Don’t write in a bubble. Learn the context in which your audience thrives. Understand their frame of reference as well as the current events that affect them. Then write the words God has placed on your heart to speak to a generation that needs Him more than ever.
Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.
In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com.