1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Depicting children

    Discussion in 'Research' started by CMastah, Mar 22, 2014.

    Pretty much the thread title, I really have no clue how I'd go about doing so. For the first few chapters, the most powerful characters I'm working on will be aged between 6-10 and honestly I have no clue in how to depict kids. I don't remember how old Harry Potter was in the novels (or at least the first one) but I don't distinctly remember anything that would've indicated his age, dialogue or action-wise (provided he was under 10 during the first novel), nor for any other character that were his age. Should I be concerned about depicting kids as childish or just treat them as relatively normal?
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is an interesting question, and one I'm facing again in my new novel.

    In my first novel, my two main characters in my opening chapter were children. I chose to portray them through the POV of one of them. I just put myself into his shoes. I imagined what kinds of things he would see and know about at that age—in that time and place (1873 Kansas)—and tried to remember what being a child of that age felt like for me, in an emotional sense. I went for it on that basis, and it seems to work.

    However, I'm now writing my second novel, and one of my important characters will be a pre-teen boy. He also has a younger sister, of maybe 6 or 7. Because I'm not using either of them as POV characters, I'll need to write them from outside, as an adult (my POV characters) would see them. I'm not sure how that's going to go.

    I don't have children of my own, and my contact with children is limited, so I'll need to wing it. I guess I'll just put myself in the adult's shoes, and try to see what they would see.

    Correct dialogue isn't really a problem for me, as this is a historical setting (1886) and I'm having to work on suitable dialogue for all ages. However, if you're writing modern children, I suppose you'll need to take into account how they talk. Do they use slang? If so, what kinds of things do they say to each other, and how do they talk to adults?

    I would caution against portraying them as too childish in a goo-goo sense, as this can be off-putting to an adult reader. However, there will be things your child characters will be concerned with that adults aren't. And vice versa.

    Child characters probably won't care too much about Romance, and be much more interested in friendships and relationships with the adults in their lives—and maybe pets and hobbies, if they have them—possibly being 'cool' or being seen to be cool. There will be many things about the adult world they don't fully understand (sex, high finance, mortgages, the world of work) or haven't encountered yet (a driving test, a job interview) and things they simply don't care about (their parents' music videos from Days of Yore, cocktail parties, etc.)

    I guess you need to fully immerse yourself in your scenes, and try to remember what being a child was like for you. Look around you with child's eyes, if you can.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a book, _Growing Up With The Country_ about children in that approximate time and place. (Well, Montana, but I think they're both the being-settled West.) Not particularly relevant to this thread, but I thought it might be worth mentioning. They had a startling amount of independence and responsibility.

    Edited to add: I'm always recommending Rumer Godden's books, but I think that she has some of the

    Edited again to add: I still love children's books. I'd be happy to reel off a list of books that I feel depict children in fairly deep ways, as opposed to just romping around having adventures, if that would be at all useful.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Cool! It's by Elliott West, and I've owned it for several years. A great resource for what I've already written. It deals with children's issues all over the developing west, not just Montana. In fact there was quite a bit about Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, you name it. Very helpful all around.

    How do you know about this book? Is it the kind of thing you also write about?

    I also own Frontier Children, by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith, with a foreward by Elliott West. This one contains tons of pictures AND good text references as well. I do love research!

    And as far as a book portraying children in depth for that era, you cannot do better than Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson. And the Laura Ingalls Wilder BOOKS as well. (Not that horrendous travesty of a TV series...) Both of these stories kick-started my lifelong interest in 'real' settler stories about the west. (As opposed to gunslingers at dawn, the 'western' myth.)

    Ack. In my enthusiasm, I'm derailing this thread. Sorry...
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
  5. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Harry Potter turns eleven during the summer the year he begins studying at Hogwarts, his birthday having been just one month earlier and is clearly stated in the first book because it's central to the plot (the Hogwarts letter arrives at that time etc. and the Dursleys escape to a small hut on an island to get away where Harry is when he turns eleven, and right after that Hagrid arrives and has brought a birthday cake). Each subsequent book represents almost exactly a year (with various parts of the summer holidays missing). The official Harry Potter book timeline is that Harry was born the 31. of July in 1980, making his first year at Hogwarts the 1991/1992 school year. Just happened to know because I'm a fan, so I decided to share. As for the actual writing children part I suggest reading and watching books and movies with children in them to give you an idea of how they're presented in media, and then you can make up your mind of how you want to do it, and you could also research when children develop physically and verbally etc. and maybe even talking to some children yourself. Know that children often tend to be presented as different than they actually are, but also that this is not a bad thing in itself, as many if not most actors and actresses are older than the characters they portray and that children characters are often written as smarter than average because it either makes them more interesting or simply more special in comparison to their peers. Just my two cents.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2014
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  6. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I have three kids in my book, but I have children of my own, so I just wrote what seemed natural. While you don't want to make them too childish, you also don't want to give them too much adult insight (unless the child is unusual.) Kids misunderstand things all the time. An example: when I was a kid, I thought we were poor because my parents wouldn't buy us stuff I saw other kids get. When I got older, I realized they were just more frugal and actually had more money.
     
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  7. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Thanks for the tips guys, the kids I'm looking to depict come from a stone age style village. The thing is, one of the kids in particular is pretty observant and manages to make good deductions based on his observations of things in nature.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can imagine several pitfalls in writing children:

    - Making them adorable and wise and flawless, perhaps feeling guilty over tiny flaws in that perfection. (The kids in The Five Little Peppers come to mind.)
    - Making them more normal but looking at them with an indulgent Victorian-father attitude at their flaws. (Extreme case: "Johnny didn't want the shot. Johnny hated shots. Johnny didn't understand that the shot was necessary to keep him healthy and that it meant that his parents loved him very much..." blah blah blah)
    - Making them irrational and badly-behaved for no good reason. ("Johnny threw the juice box on the floor. Bang! Woohoo!")

    Edited to rant: They removed the Louis Darling illustrations from Ramona the Pest! What the bleep?!

    No; there was a period where I was feeling opinionated about the assumption that children have always been either protected and watched every instant, or abandoned to beg in the streets Oliver-style. So I was interested in historical information about different attitudes along that spectrum. So it was sort of in the context of fiction, but I didn't do anything with it. :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
  9. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    It really does help to be around children as much as possible. For example, I can write a child's dialogue because I help looking after a couple of boys once a week after school, and I'm a teacher in Sunday School and an occasional helper in a children's club. I've also had experience in a primary school, so I can write pretty much any age of a child from 3-10, although I find it easier to write about younger children. What I'm saying is it's not all about "putting yourself in their shoes", as many have said. It's also about watching children as much as you can (in a non-creepy way). Make sketches if you have to. If you know someone who has kids and would be willing to let you help look after them, then do it. You will soon get into a child's mind, and you can ask them questions, even ones that will appear specifically in your novel. What I'm saying is that research is useful and even essential at times. :)
     
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  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing you will notice is that younger children can have a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy. I substitute-taught a music class the week before St. Patrick's Day, where the regular teacher left a note to discuss traditions associated with the occasion. The 2nd grade class seized on the idea of leprechauns, and almost all of them had an earnest tale to tell me of how they themselves (or a sibling) had caught one and even got hold of its pot of gold. A little strange, considering that many of those kids would be 8 years old, but there it was.

    Kids that age also adore, even demand, routine and regularity. If you as a new adult do anything Teacher or Mommy wouldn't do, they will set you straight immediately. At the same time, some of them will take advantage of the situation by being noisy and unruly-- to the great distress of the better- behaved contingent. But this could be a stress reaction caused by the absence of their regular authority figure. They express stress also by vague tummy aches and a constant need to go to the bathroom. Some children (age 8 and under), if they decide they like you, will want to give you hugs even if they just met you that morning.

    This is absolutely true. People of all ages reason from what they know and have experienced, and children's experience is limited.

    Be aware also that some kids will resent grownup unfairness and "stupidity," others will accept it because it is the world as they know it, and others (especially those who read), will think they're rising above it but may find out later that they were tragically wrong. The same child may experience all of these reactions at various times.

    I could go on, but you get the idea.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Wow, you guys are fountains of information.
     
  12. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    The thing is, while I'm seeing tips here to avoid romance as kids aren't into that kind of stuff, one of the important aspects of the two kids in my novel (at the beginning) is the boy showing a liking for the girl and her reciprocating. This becomes an important point because they're separated in youth and then meet again later in life when they're both older. Currently, to simplify this scenario, I'm planning on having an observer watch as the boy gives a gift of (insert something that occurs in nature that a stone age person might value, something practical) and the girl SOMEHOW showing she likes the boy.....and then.....what, they skip off into the distance?

    The thing is, in the culture that I'm depicting, I'm having it that people get married at a young age (mid-teens) and prior to that, since marriage is such a 'soon-to-be-happening' thing, it struck me that the children would be wary of it and would try to cultivate some interest in the other party (though nothing sexual obviously, just creation of a close childhood friendship that leads up to marriage when they're at that age). I understand that perhaps stone age cultures weren't like this but this aspect of the culture is less important than the relationship that's supposed to bud between the two.
     
  13. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe that prior tips to avoid "romance" are advising you to steer your child characters clear of the drives and complications that come with adolescence and beyond.

    Going by my personal experience (lol) as a grade school child I always had a "boyfriend," by which I meant the boy in my class who wasn't icky and with whom I was willing to play one-on-one. One such young gentleman was my "boyfriend" through 1st and 2nd grades. When he brought me a baby doll for my seventh birthday, I said in all innocence, "Oh, look, D-- gave me a baby!" He was my boyfriend. That's what he was supposed to do. We'd play house in the ravine across the street from where I lived: he'd act out coming home tired from work, I'd go through the pantomime of fixing him supper, we'd imitate our parents in various ways, and that's as far as it went. That is, unless you count our total lack of embarrassment in going to the bathroom in front of each other (if we went back to my house my mom would say it was time for D-- to go home). Both of us had siblings of the opposite sex and bodily curiosity never came up.

    How did it end? He moved away and I never saw him more. Oh, well, on to the next!

    That's one woman 's encounter with childhood affection. Your mileage may vary.
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Thomas Kitchen - you're right about observing, especially if, like me, you don't have children yourself and aren't around them often

    @Catrin Lewis - oh yes, you brought up some great characteristics, especially the one about kids liking routine and creating a fuss if it gets interfered with. Is it because they see the routine behaviour imposed on them, and resent when others don't follow it? Or is it because they can sense, beyond their own limited world, that there is CHAOS out there and they don't like it much?

    @chicken Freak - The Five Little Peppers. And How They Grew. Omigod. That takes me back. Yes, they were sicky-sick weren't they? Like eating far too much candy in one sitting. And while I didn't see it at the time, this was SUCH a blatant example of the kind of children's literature (?) that wasn't designed to entertain as much as instruct the children of the day. Remember the Bobbsey Twins? Same stuff...

    @CMastah - oh, I see what you mean about Romance. Yeah, it's perfectly possible for children to develop strong attractions for one another, some that will last all their lives. They may even, as Catrin pointed out, refer to themselves as 'boyfriend and girlfriend.' However, they're unlikely to want to watch TV shows or movies portraying adults seeking 'Romance' or true love. Fairy tales maybe, but show them Casablanca and they'd just nod off, I reckon.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2014
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  15. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    One thing to remember about kids is that time feels like it goes by a lot slower than it does for adults. Which is partially why they're more prone to boredom and impatience. The wait from the start of December till Christmas can feel like forever. I certainly didn't perceive my midteens as soon-to-be-happening. As an 8 year old, midteens will take as long to come, as your whole life has taken so far.
     
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  16. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    You've been given a lot of great advice. I don't have much to add, but I'll give my two cents anyway. I don't have children of my own, but I have a lot of experience with them.

    Children live more in the moment than what teenagers and adults do. They are present to an extreme degree. They also have a lot more energy due to being young and due to their presence of mind. If you're not wasting energy thinking about the future or past all the time, you definitely have more energy to enjoy the present moment.

    For example, this is random, but last summer I remember walking back to my car with a friend after a fireworks show. I was thinking about the fireworks I had just witnessed and about how long it would take us to get out of the parking lot once we finally made it to our car, and I looked ahead and saw two little girls. They were running up and down the little hills between the ditches, looking at the grass and the litter and finding "clues" that must've been a part of some game they'd just made up. They were giggling and loving every moment of their walk. They weren't thinking about the fireworks. Those were over. They were in the process of walking back to their parents' car, but they weren't thinking about that either. They were playing. They were totally enthralled in what they were doing, and what they were doing had no point. It was just play. They were in the moment, really enjoying the outdoor weather and the things around them.

    Just watching them made me realize how grown-up I am and how I wished I had the motivation to run around looking at random things but how I actually had no desire to do any of that and really just wanted to get to my car already.

    Most children are active and playful, and they love imaginative, role-playing type of games. And most importantly, they're very in-the-moment. If you want to describe children, describe their play.

    I agree with what others have said, that being around real children will probably be your best shot at realistically describing them. A lot of books and movies do depict children very unrealistically, and most people with children will see that right away. "Oh, yeah, sure that family has five children and they're all sitting quietly around the dinner table. Sure, that happens..." My favorite is when a movie shows a public school teacher lecturing in front of a class of about 12 quiet students. That set-up is unrealistic already, and then she has to leave the room for a second to talk to some other character. So she tells everyone to read silently to themselves and she steps out. :D It cracks me up, but also ruins the movie for me. Is she crazy? And there is no way those children are still sitting quietly when she comes back!

    If people can describe children the way they really are, it means a lot to those who actually have experience with children. It may not make much of a difference to those who don't know children, but to those that do, it greatly enhances the overall realism of the story. You're right to put a lot of thought into it. Good luck!
     
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