The things you learn about writing when you don’t expect to learn anything at all

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My mum is a principal at a primary school. Last Thursday night I attended her school’s yearly concert, Juggling Friends. It was a show about the ups and downs of friendship and that BULLYING IS WRONG.

Now, since I started writing seriously, I have become very analytical about everything I encounter. I wasn’t expecting to really do so with this show, but several things jumped out at me. Mostly clowns, pink elephants and breakdancing eight-year-olds, but also the themes. They punched you in the face with messages of anti-bullying (HA, oxymoron) and friendship. There was no way anyone could fail to understand what was going on, especially seeing as the main characters reiterated everything they had learned at the end of the show.

It came to me while watching little dogs and champions dance on the stage, that while the show was a not so subtle approach to the themes for me and most of the audience, the children themselves were learning about the messages while they also performed. So, really, the show was for them and us oldies were only along for the ride, enjoying the antics of Popo the clown.

What has this got to do with writing? Simple, know your audience. The audience for the show weren’t the adults. It was the students of the school that were the audience. The older generation simply observed their children learning and what principles were being taught in the school. The writers of the show could have written it to be more subtle, or filled with jokes that would go over the children’s heads. They didn’t though, because they knew the concert was for the kids, not the parents.

If you’re writing a children’s book, you need to make the themes bold and obvious so your message is clear to the child reading it. Subtlety is not a child’s strong point. Shout it out to them and they will learn. Conversely, when writing a book aimed at adults, hide those themes. If you keep pointing them out to the reader, they will get frustrated and put down your book. We can pick up on understated messages, due to the years of experience behind us.

This is why the main characters of the show reiterated the messages about friendship near the end, so the children had no chance of missing the themes that were intended to be known. Always be clear when writing to children. Otherwise your message will be lost in space.