I have had the pleasure and privilege to write a series of humorous stories that have found wide popularity with both children and adults. I am asked regularly how one writes books that appeal to young and old alike and that is a good question. You might guess that I think of a childlike story and then write with grownups in mind. Or you might guess that I write an adult story and then frame it in a manner that children will like. Those are both good guesses. Wrong, but good none-the-less.
In fact, for me, writing in a style that has cross-generational appeal does not involve writing with a specific age target in mind. It is more a matter of painting clear pictures of situations or events that I hope will have universal appeal. Truth be told, it may be easier to write stories with multi-generational appeal in the specific genre I write in, that being humorous Victorian family steampunk fantasy science fiction. In other words, stories of a family from another time that combine a little science with a lot of adventure and absurdity. Humor, for the most part, is non age-specific. Okay, fart jokes clearly go over better with children, and political humor targets adults, but core humor, the type that spotlights the ironies, indignities, and pure craziness of life, that type of humor appeals to all ages. Write in a manner that makes everyone laugh out loud while becoming engaged in the greater story arc, and your story will have universal appeal.
For authors with protagonists that are dealing with age and gender specific issues in coming of age books, I think the challenge of universal appeal is more daunting. Focus too much on specific age-related situations and you risk losing readers outside of that age group unless you have a very compelling larger story to overlay on the sub-stories. The Harry Potter series is a good example of a larger story arc filled with several coming-of-age sub-plots that created a literature juggernaut with strong cross-generational appeal.
If I make any concessions to a specific audience in my books; it is to readers with short attention spans. Growing up, I loved reading but was intimidated by large books. I simply wanted to get through one good story and on to the next. As a result, I would speed read larger books and would only slow down and actually enjoy the wordplay of shorter books. As a result, my favorite stories tended to be from smaller books.
We live in a time of short attention spans, wide-spread youth with reading disorders, and limited pockets of time to relax and read. Books that can be consumed in small bites, almost like a collection of short stories, but come together into a compelling larger story that appeals to all ages will have a better chance of appealing to the broadest range of readers.
So, how do I write stories that appeal to all ages? I like to say the world is absolutely brilliant. Difficult sometimes. Confusing often. But humorous almost always. When you capture all of that in a good story, you will most assuredly appeal to both the young and the young at heart.