1. Rumwriter
    Offline

    Rumwriter Active Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2011
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    20

    Trying to understand a 6 year old protag.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Rumwriter, Aug 26, 2012.

    I'm in a writing course, and my prof. told us to answer certain questions from the pov of our MC, such as "I need to be forgiven for..." or "The turning point in my life is..."

    But my MC is a 6 year old girl, and I'm finding it difficult to flesh out a response because I find a lot of these answers to be very bold for a 6 year old. I don't know how to truly get something substantial out of my character other than "I need to be forgiven for lying to daddy about who broke the cookie jar." I feel like a one sentence answer like that doesn't really help me understand my character.

    Please note, I'm not asking you to do my assignment for me, but I am curious to see your thoughts on how to get a very developed characterization out of a character that has not had a great opportunity to really develop.

    (as a side note, my MC has led a very sheltered life)
     
  2. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    A child's perspective is different from an adult's but no less weighty. Just keep in mind the kinds of matters that shook your six-year-old world. Or observe a child of that age, if it is possible to do so without becoming creepy and arrested.
     
  3. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Children can be quite profound. But I think what makes it difficult is the wording of it - children simply don't think of "please forgive me" - they think of "I feel bad about..."

    Maybe try and think of things with the phrase "I feel bad about..." or "I wish I..." instead.
     
  4. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    I think I may be able to help you answer this, as I had worked with a six-year-old boy on his reading last semester when I was volunteering at a local elementary school.

    Now, I don't know how your MC is, but this kid was pushy, always knowing where to pull the right strings to get his way. When he didn't want to work, he acted mopey, or wanted to check out something from across the room. He was manipulative, and had this air of 'look at me'. He wasn't rude or anything, but he was the exact opposite of shy.

    Children typically think the whole world revolves around them. When they talk, they refer to themselves, not anyone else. If something is happening, their first implus is to wonder how it will affect them.

    If I were answering those two questions with the voice of myself as six, I'd answer them like so:

    "I'm sorry for starting the fight in the bathroom with the bigger kid...but he started it first!"

    "The biggest thing that happened to me was that big hurricane my parents were worried about. It was really scary, I thought we were all going to die in a flood!"
     
  5. Boomstick10995
    Offline

    Boomstick10995 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2012
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Nashville
    When it comes to life experiences, age doesn't really matter. They can still have a big affect. Maybe she witnessed something she shouldn't have (like a murder or raping) or maybe she stole something and feels guilty. I guess it all depends on the personality of the child, even if it's not fully developed. Children feel emotions, but usually to the extreme. If she did steal something and got caught, she might feel and and cry a lot. Or if she witnessed something horrifying, she might completely shut up and not say a word about it, no matter how much she is pushed.

    I think the best way to answer these questions is to just look at your characters personality. I know children are usually one way, but there can be a little depth in them depending on what they experienced in their short life time.
     
  6. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    they think more along the lines of 'i hope mommy or daddy won't be mad at me for...'

    they don't think about being 'forgiven' but only fear the consequences of whatever it is they did or didn't do...

    and i know this from all too much experience, being a mother of 7...
     
  7. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    At six or seven, they ARE old enough to wonder if bad things that happen are their fault, including bad things that are completely unrelated to the child. For example, they are old enough to feel they are at cause for a divorce between the parents, or if wishing bad feelings caused a schoolmate to have a bicycle accident.

    They may not have the logic for what we would call sound reasoning, but they are developing a sense of cause and effect, and guilt.
     
  8. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Exactly. They're starting to develop that concept of guilt and cause and effect, though they're not quite there at coincidental happenings. Just because they say something bad, doesn't mean that they're responsible for a bad event.

    Like if you or I wished harm on a real dirtbag at work, and he got into a car wreck, we would know that it was a tragic coincidence, that our wish did NOT cause the wreck.

    A child won't know that. At that age, they believe anything is possible, even magic, so to them, the phrase, "I hope something bad happens to you" would be akin to uttering a magical incantation to cause something bad to happen even though that bad event just happened to...happen regardless.
     
  9. Rumwriter
    Offline

    Rumwriter Active Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2011
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    20
    So, this will shift gears a little bit, but it still falls into understanding character depth.

    With any character, it is important to know what drives them. What are their goals, their fears, what do they want, what do they crave, etc. Sometimes these questions are easily answered as ideals that truly shape a persons life: Magneto wants peace between humans and mutants, but he has been the subject of oppression before, so he is feels he has no choice but to destroy humans. Indiana Jones wants to find rare artifacts; he has had a deep passion for antiquities since he was a kid. Emperor Palpatine was to be ruler of the universe. Gollum wants the rings of power. These desires are so huge, and don't change much throughout the story.

    However, sometimes a desire can change from page to page, or from chapter to chapter. What does Ender Wiggin want? Is it respect? Is it safety? Is it to be left alone? Honor? To save humanity from the buggers?

    Is it really possible to sum up all of the nuances of what motivates a person? Is a person's goal different from their desire? Deep down Harry Potter desires his parents/some sort of famiy for support, but his goal in each book is always to defeat Voldemort. The two are not connected.

    I think about myself. How would I describe myself as a character? Well, I want to be a writer. Is that my greatest desire? Well, it's my desire as far as my career goes. But if I ask myself what I want at any given moment, that's hard to say. To constantly want something means never being in a state on content. Is having a character be content lead to a weak/dull moment in the story? Vonnegut said "make every character want something, even if it is only a glass of water," but with such temporary desires, it makes it hard to understand a character fully. At least I think so.

    Big goals are easy to identify: Character A is tasked with saving the world.

    How do I flesh out the small nuances?

    (Ender is a good example I think. He is so complex that I can't exactly pinpoint his exact desire, so using him might be helpful to me)
     
  10. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Ender does not think like any child I have encountered. But he shouldn't. He was engineered to think differently than other humans. So I would not recommend him as a model.
     
  11. Rumwriter
    Offline

    Rumwriter Active Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2011
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    20
    Well, at this point I'm trying to figure out desires in general, not just use the model to understand my 6 year old protag. But I find him interesting because I can't pin point or exactly express what his desires are.
     
  12. maidahl
    Offline

    maidahl Banned

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2012
    Messages:
    332
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    I'mscared
    Chill with kids. I find when I surround myself with my research and hang out with what I'm writing about, it becomes more plausible. I like Scout and Jem as examples of little kid perspectives.
     
  13. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    Treat children as individuals, in real life and as characters. While you should know that there are reasonable limits with regards to believability in what you do with child characters, I think there's a lot more flexibility with child character than people give them credit for.
     
  14. maidahl
    Offline

    maidahl Banned

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2012
    Messages:
    332
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    I'mscared
    Interactions. That's how a character is real. That's how you learn how the character thinks and holds his/her self in self-regard. <---Not showy. I'll explain.

    Make the kid have relationships that mimic stuff you know. Write relationships you know, especially if you're starting. To do this well, HANG WITH THE KIDS.

    Kinda sayin' kids can't write kids. We can. Why? We can observe them
     
  15. Lythya
    Offline

    Lythya New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2012
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Denmark
    I've always thought children were interesting because they were "humans incarnated". They are us, all our deepest, natural feelings but uncensored. They haven't been molded by society's expectations yet. Which is also why I think children should be viewed as having ultimate feelings. Children can be very cruel, very selfish, very indulgent. Their love, however, is also boundless, which is why it affects them so wholly if someone they love is taken from them.
     
  16. jid
    Offline

    jid Member

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2012
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    0
    Maybe read about child psychology / developmental psychology a bit? It obviously won't help you when it comes to the MC's personal quirks and such, but it might help you get a better understanding of how a 6-year old would view things.
     
  17. Luna13
    Offline

    Luna13 Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2012
    Messages:
    136
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    The Desk Chair
    Of course I don't much remember my six-year-old life but here are some things that I remember being on my mind.
    *I can't remember which number comes after this one.
    *How do I spell that again?
    *That girl is SO nice but I don't really like her friends - what should I do?
    *Gosh I stink at soccer - remind me why I'm on the team?
    *That boy who sits next to me in class is so cute.
    *That other boy who sits next to me in class is gross.
    *Yuck. Tuna.

    Those don't do much in the way of answering your questions, but perhaps it'll help with making your character not so flimsy and shallow. If they're six, these things that seem silly to an adult are monumentally important and are not to be overlooked. Just be careful and don't make the character seem silly and dumb.
     
  18. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    440
    Likes Received:
    20
    I took a developmental psychology class recently, and here's what I can recall about 6 year olds:

    They'll have theory of mind, meaning that a 6 year old can understand the difference between reality and what a person believes. This typically develops around 4-5 years old. But 6 year olds don't apply this concept as broadly as most kids. In particular, one big difference is that 6 year olds often will pay more attention to the outcome of an action (which is easy to see) than to the intent the person had. So, if one kid accidentally breaks 3 plates while another kid deliberately breaks one, 6 year olds say the kid who broke 3 plates is more naughty because he broke more plates, ignoring the difference in intent.

    If you don't know Piaget's model, he suggested four major stages of cognitive development in childhood, each with qualitatively different ways of thinking. six year olds are on the cusp between two stages, preoperational and concrete operational, and most six years olds will show a mix of the two styles. Preoperational kids tend to show magical thinking, and have trouble keeping in mind two dimensions at once. If you pour water from a short fat cup to a tall skinny cup, preoperational kids will say there's more water because the cup is taller. Comcrete operational kids know you can change around things and they stay the same - you can pour water from one cup to another, but it's still the same water. They can also take into account multiple dimensions, such as height and width. A transitional kid will show both modes of thinking in different contexts. Also, concrete operational kids still have trouble with abstract concepts and planning. Often they don't have a coherent strategy for solving puzzles, unless an adult suggests one. For example, many younger kids, when trying to remember something, don't think to repeat it over and over to themselves like adults typically do.
     
  19. Pythonforger
    Offline

    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2010
    Messages:
    405
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Amongst the Mortals
    I'm thirteen, so I remember most clearly what it was like to be six.

    Most of my thoughts were along the lines of:
    "I don't like this person. How can I cause harm to this person. I should push him. How should I push him without my teacher seeing? Maybe I should spill glue on him instead. Yes, that sounds like a good idea."
     
  20. Michele
    Offline

    Michele New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    I would like to note that answers from the POV of a 6 year old won't necessarily accurately express what they feel. In fact, like all humans, 6 year olds will try to say what they want you to hear, so I would make sure that your answers reflect that. I think what they think and what they are capable of expressing through language are two different things as well. They are definitely very self-focused, but they are sometimes very affectionate and generous as well. (Not every 6 year old is plotting to spill glue on you! ;) @pythonforger LOL!) One last point: A 6 year old's world is fairly small, so any big changes will rock it, which could help you find your "turning point" answer. Starting school will be a big change of this sort. Check out the Ramona the Pest books by Beverly Cleary for one very successful characterization of a kindergarten age girl.
     
  21. Les Zeppelin
    Offline

    Les Zeppelin New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2012
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    1
    The OP should definitely have a read through Room by Emma Donoghue (if they haven't already of course!)
     
  22. sharonwagoner
    Offline

    sharonwagoner Member

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2012
    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    0
    I have a background in psychology also.

    As stated here, 6 year olds are very self centered. They are often eager to please. They can be very generous and affectionate. Very young children will offer to share their food. We do seem to have social hard-wiring.

    They do not like sudden change. They still have trouble controlling their emotions.

    They learn very quickly. You could say that about a dog, also. If they get away with manipulating once, they will try it again. My daughter was in gifted classes throughout school. When she was 2 to 8, she tried everything on us, at least once. She really kept us on our toes. We stood firm and came through alright, but I often see parents inadvertently teaching their children to be manipulative and difficult, by not thinking.

    At 6, they cannot see overall patterns. Ask them to draw a window with a grid over it, they will draw a bunch of little squares instead of a grid pattern. Their brain works differently than an adult's.
     
  23. Michelle7
    Offline

    Michelle7 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2012
    Messages:
    27
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yes, children of that age do think very differently than adults. The Are very self-centered at that age. But please do not underestimate them. They can also be very intelligent and sensitive. For instance I have a 5 yr. old niece. She is very smart in the fact that she understands waaayy more than i would have imagined. I can talk to her as if sher were 25. I can tell her what I am feeling and she understands. I wouldnt think that would be typical but she does. she still thinks everything evolves around her, but she has the capability of understanding what others are going through. If something is bothering me and I tell her she will feel empathy. I didnt think that was possible but it's true. For example, if I say I am ugly she gets highly upset. "No your not. If I keep saying it she gets almost to the point of tears. So, I say you mean I'm pretty?" She says "Yes. But not as pretty as me." So, even though she can empathize with others, she still reverts everything back into comparison with her. I hope this helps.
     

Share This Page