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.

character study: alexander jamaniel

Originally I had meant to sit down and write a short study for my villain Tarren Kanichende. Instead, I wrote about little Alexander Jamaniel, not even a remotely villainous character.

Not part of ‘Blue Crystal’.

Alexander Jamaniel grinned like his father and squinted like his mother, and taken together they produced an expression uniquely his own– happy and enthusiastic, the obvious sincerity of his joy broadcasted to everyone around him without reservation. His smile came lopsided, first tugging up the right corner of his mouth, filled in after by the opposite side. These expressions were easy to draw out but quick to vanish again, came and went on their own at times without any visible cause.

On summer evenings he frequently trotted after his father, showing off and fishing for all sorts of praise before they would sit and study magic from his father’s leather tomb in a wooded clearing away from the rest of the town. His father would sit with his back to a tree and set Alexander in his lap to open the giant book across their legs. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes these lessons were boring. More than once Alexander fell asleep before arriving back home. His father always carried him back when this happened, and his mother always woke him again once in bed. She sang him whispered opera and brushed the hair from his eyes, kissed his nose and forehead and called him her quicksilver baby. Alexander never thought to ask her why.

an interlude

Sleep has never come easily. I remember staring up at the ceiling even when I was very young, watching the shadows of the horizontal blinds move as cars passed by our house, blue and gray walls turning orange and black for a few brief seconds. My bed was tucked beside the wall and away from the path of light and shadow, but I still liked holding my hands up into it, to see the shape they could make as they retreated across the room.

There was one night that I remember distinctly laying in bed, thinking about something I had learned that day, that there were people that spoke languages that weren’t like mine. I was confused, and convinced that regardless, they must still think in English. How could people think differently from me? The concept was abstract, speculative, too far away from my experience. I worked around it. Perhaps, if I learned a new word, I could use that in my thought process. What if that new word happened to be in another language, and I just didn’t realize that? Would I be thinking in words that weren’t my own? Or maybe, just maybe thoughts weren’t words at all. Maybe the images in your head had their own language, a mind-language, that you interpreted as it came to you. That made me feel better, as if I had solved something.

I was five years old. Too young to give voice to the things in my head, aware enough to cry when I heard my parents screaming at each other through the thin walls of our little house, naïve enough to think that making stop signs stopped more than just traffic.

(One of the last writing classes I took in college was on literary non-fiction. It may have been one of the best things for my craft at the time, and I still indulge myself in it now and then.)