writing children, part i

This is a topic I’ve meant to tackle for a while now, mostly because children are so often so badly written in stories, and partly because I’ve failed to find any good advice on the matter online. Anyone with any tips, tricks, or thoughts on the topic, please, post them in the comments.

Children are… difficult.

Unapologetically selfish. Sweet. Generous. Silly. Mean. Serious. Awkward. Energetic. Lazy. Tough. Fragile. Careless. Intelligent. Foolish. Mirrors of what they see about them. Parroting, grass-stained, stuffed-animal toting, messy children. Frustrated by the difference between what they mean to say and what everyone around them understands.

Children are characters. But they’re also one-person fantasies, and it’s important to keep in mind that they do not, will not, can not have the same perspective as adults. Talk to a little kid some time. They have entire worlds buzzing around their head, and they don’t always seem to realize that these things they’ve collected from movies, from games, from dreams, from things they’ve been told are not always part of real life.

The Little Mermaid will have a girl spending her baths with her legs crossed, kicking and splashing water everywhere, and how exactly do you explain to Mom that you had to rescue the prince from the evil McDonald’s toy when she starts asking things like ‘what were you thinking?’ and ‘Molly, you know better!’?

(Because the answer, of course, was that there was simply no choice in the matter. Doesn’t mom understand that the prince was in trouble? “I had to!”. Then, maybe to get out of trouble later, “Sorry…”)

It goes on. My cousin Sean (age six) informed me that he was actually part of a secret alien race who simultaneously lives on three planets at once and that he was a spy meant to blow up the earth, but that he loves his mommy and daddy too much to finish his mission. He also informed me that his power level was a thousand million, and that he was the strongest ever. I replied that I was actually the Queen Jadis, and I was an immortal necromancer even higher than that for my royal blood. Sean became incredibly indignant, and began to tell me about his secret unlockable levels. It sounded like a bad anime.

Human thoughts. The human wish to be regarded, twisted into a completely new form. None of these are new character traits. They’re just stuck in a form of almost surrealist fantasy, brought into the real world into what would appear to be a random jumble of emotions and raw dialogue. Still difficult to understand, maybe, but along with base personality, I think anyone who want to write children characters needs to take the time to understand where they’re coming from.

Anyone with thoughts on the matter, please, add a comment. I meant to write some more thoughts on this topic, and I’d like to see what people think.

3 thoughts on “writing children, part i

  1. I completely agree that kids have different perspectives than adults. I’ve also noticed that, contrary to popular depiction, they are extremely perceptive, but unable to grasp the finer details/nuances that come with experience.

    • Perceptive. You know, I bet some are. After having just spent ‘girl night’ with my cousin Amy (9), I think that’s a hit-and-miss thing.

      Amy was perceptive enough to see me take a break from the family crowded around the Chinese take-out, maybe, but her total response was to call out (loudly) “Eliza’s eating like a dog!” several times (I was eating on the rug, for lack of any other surface). When that didn’t get Amy any attention, she forgot about me entirely.

      It’s difficult to distinguish what’s bad parenting, what’s childishness, and what’s personality.

  2. Have you thought about reading books that have children in them, and see how they are written? For instance, To Sir Phillip With Love by Julia Quinn (yes, it’s a romance, bear with me!) has two children in it that just seemed so… true to life. To me, anyway.

    In terms of the 9-yr-old, it sounds like she’s used to attention and felt lost in the crowd. I can relate to that, sort of. I often feel lost in crowds, but I enjoy that feeling, whereas obviously your cousin does not.

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