1. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Writing an unusally young protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Duchess-Yukine-Suoh, Sep 7, 2013.

    So, I'm writing an apolaptiyc fiction and the main character is 10-19 during the course of the novel. My one issue is when she is younger (10-12). She's a capable heroine and quite mature for her age. However, I don't want her to be unrealistic. Any help?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What kind of things do you have her doing when she's that young? It might be very believable.

    Personally, I believe that many, if not most, young kids are capable of taking on a lot more responsibility than most adults think. I'm not shocked when I encounter a child hero in fiction; I'm writing one myself, actually.
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How is she unusually young? Or did you mean unusually mature for such a young person....?

    What does she do as a heroine? Fence? Train dragons? Wrestle? Shoot guns?

    I think a 10yo girl can be really capable. I was even younger than that when I already worked most evenings at the horse stables (it's not child labor if the payment is riding lessons, haha) and did a lot of chores at our country house, like wood-chopping, carrying fire wood, fishing including rowing the damn boat, grass-mowing, etc.. If she's had an upbringing that hasn't sheltered her, she could easily be more capable than some 20-year-old prissy city kid or whatever. The background matters, adds to the realism.

    There was one 12yo boy who shot the rifle better and faster than most grown men. He had just practiced like crazy and had some inclination toward that particular craft as well.

    One obstacle, however, is her size. Pit her against a 200lbs warrior dude and she's gotta clever herself out of the pickle while he could muscle himself out.
     
  4. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Unfortunately, there are lots of young people out there who have to do things that should be beyond their age. I have worked with 9 year olds who have looked after parents with mental health problems, kids who have been abused, kids that abuse others. Around the world there are young children who have to earn a living for their families, who live homeless on the streets, who deal drugs, take drugs, whatever.

    I don't think age is a problem for ensuring your heroine is realistic. Give her a back story that makes sense. If she is a spoilt brat, who has everything done for her, and doesn't know how to make toast, it would be unbelievable that she could suddenly look after herself in a post apocalyptic world. Give her a realistic back story and anything is possible.

    edit: she could also have a mentor when younger, someone who helps her learn the ropes.
     
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  5. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Remember this is a post apocalyptic setting - I would have thought everyone would be mature before their time. Of course that depends what caused the apocalypse, but you get the idea.

    Also, even in the real world, some develop more quickly than others. And everybody has flaws. Maybe she's mature, but is afraid of the dark. In the end, as long as you give her flaws and make her strengths realistic, I really don't see this as a problem.

    Look at both The Road and The Walking Dead video game (not the rubbish one; the one that's comprised of five episodes). Both have young characters, and The Walking Dead especially brings out Clementine's maturity. In fact, watch The Walking Dead TV series. There's some excellent writing there, and plenty of young characters to have a look at. Check it out.

    Bottom line: you're fine. :)
     
  6. Ray West
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    Ray West Member

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    Look at Ender's Game - the protagonist is only six for the first chunk of the book. Years younger than your heroine!
     
  7. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Thank you guys! She is an orphan and started working at a restaurant when she was 10. See, when she was 11, a war broke out, so she and her love interest's 4 year old sister were sent west on a train, but then the train broke down. So, the two of them walk over a hundred miles to the 4-year-old's relatives, in brutal winter conditions, while fighting for food and shelter. (And that's just 3-4 chapters of the book, a lot more happens!)
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you don't usually become a survivalist working in a restaurant. As long as you explain how she survives through the brutal winter, how she's learned to hunt, how to stay warm, how to set up a camp, which tree burns the best, how to make fire when you have no dead-dry twigs, how to deal with predatorsor with other people who might not be too nice, etc. it will be realistic. The age won't matter that much; she'd have similar problems even if she was 20 and had worked in a restaurant (well, a little older people often withstand hunger and cold better). On the other hand, 100 miles isn't that long a distance.
    As BritInFrance put it, the realistic backstory is important.
     
  9. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Ah, thank you. (Came up with a good bit about the hunting, so special thank you there.) She walks from Cut Bank, Montana to Calgary, Alberta which turned out to be roughly 200 miles, sorry guys.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My main question here is why no one ever came to fix the train, and why the adults on the train would let two kids go wandering off. I realize that you didn't ask for advice on that part, but it is a puzzlement.

    I'm not sure about the brutal-winter-survival scenario. One book that I can recommend about kids doing everyday things that are beyond their age is _Growing Up With the Country_, a nonfiction book about kids on the American frontier. It describes quite young kids herding, hunting, running newspapers, and so on, with little to no involvement by adults. But those kids did have parents and homes to go to at the end of the day. I'm just not sure about a situation where the environment can kill you within hours.
     
  11. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Oh, well they didn't fix the train because:
    1.) There is a brutal war breaking out.
    2.) It was just carrying poor people,and this is an apocalyptic universe, after all.
    Essentially, everyone only cared about themselves and didn't care about an 11-year old and a 4 year old wandering off.

    Thank you for the book suggestion! :)
     
  12. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    We have very different ideas about what is excellent writing; it was the writing in particular that made me stop watching the show after the first season although having the actors fake recoil didn't help the matter any either.

    Anyway, I'd echo KaTrian and ChickenFreak: the kid(s) need some back story that explains how they know how to survive a harsh winter, especially when they aren't always in an urban environment. Wilderness survival isn't as easy as it is in movies. I highly recommend you check out some actual wilderness survival guides. Then you'll have a pretty good idea what it takes to make it through such a trip during winter and can adjust the character's back story accordingly.

    Oh, and if she has to fight, give her a gun (preferably at least a pistol and a rifle/shotgun). Without one, her chances of survival drop exponentially. A knife is a necessary tool and a pretty good weapon against one guy, but only if you know how to use it. Give a knife to someone who doesn't know how to fight with it, and they're just as likely to get hurt by their own blade, especially if the person they're tussling with knows what he's doing. Perhaps she used to hunt with someone? And this someone taught her how to gut and skin the animals, i.e. how to handle a knife? Perhaps they taught her some self-defense fundamentals (unarmed & armed: knife, handgun, long guns)?

    Also, it wouldn't hurt if the MC had somehow learned to drive (and knew how to siphon gas) because 200 miles / 320km is no joke even for adults on foot, even during summer, so for a couple of kids to travel that distance in a harsh winter is pretty damn hard, especially if they lack the necessary experience to have the necessary survival and combat skills to help them survive such a hostile environment.

    That being said, it's perfectly doable, but requires a solid back story that explains how the characters got the necessary skills.
    Just my 0,02€.
     
  13. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I'm not arguing with you. Instead, I'm simply asking why you don't like the writing. Did you only watch season one? If so, I can understand why you stopped; it felt a little stale and stilted. Season two really kicks things off, though, but not with action: simply with character development and tension. Still, each to their own. :)
     
  14. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed, no need to argue over matters of taste. Not to hijack the thread, but:
    I did watch season two or most of it (I got to the bit where
    Shane turned into a zombie and was killed
    ... it'd be cool if we had actual working spoiler tags).
    My problem with the writing was making the characters make incredibly stupid mistakes as a cheap way to create suspense (like the mom driving her car off the road because she couldn't run over zombies and just had to fiddle with whatever instead of keeping her eyes on the road in a dangerous, post-apocalyptic world), how they lost the kid every now and then/how he wandered off knowing full well there were zombies out there (in the middle of nowhere for some odd reason), and of course it only took moments before zombies found him/he found zombies even though it's pretty damn rare to meet anybody in a forest even without an apocalypse that further reduces the number of creatures you're likely to encounter. There were a number of idiotic things the characters did just so we'd have cheap thrills / suspense.

    The worst, however, was the constant social porn. Season 1 was actually pretty good, especially the first episodes, but when they got to the farm, the SP level just went through the roof and if there's two things that repel me from a TV show, they are needless social porn and writing that turns the characters into idiots dumber than the zombies they're hiding from.

    However, it's a popular show for a reason, so I'm probably in the minority with my opinion and that's all it is; one guy's opinion (although KaTrian does share it, so there's at least two of us. She almost finished the 1st episode of Season 3, giving the show one last chance to redeem itself... but no joy).
     
  15. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    To go somewhat off topic... why does an 11 year old have a love interest? I suppose I could see a crush, but at 11, I still thought boys had cooties.
     
  16. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Ender's Game is a very bad example, as Ender basically acts like a miniature adult. Anyone who's actually been around a six year old for more than an hours knows to call bullshit.

    Working for search and rescue in the mountains of Colorado this strains the very boundaries of credulity. The woods here are full of the bodies of experienced adults who made one wrong decision. Navigating 200 miles over even terrain without a map or compass would be hard enough, doing it in the mountains would be nearly impossible, doing it in winter, well-nigh unthinkable, and doing it at the are of 12 with no prior knowledge completely unbelievable.

    People don't realize it but the mountains will swallow you whole. This summer we lost 16 people, five of them children, and it was an entirely average season. And it's not over yet.

    I don't work the winter, but the horror stories I've heard about hypothermia keep me awake some nights.
     
  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What, exactly, do you mean by "social porn"? I've never seen the show, and I'm not familiar with the term.
     
  19. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Essentially it refers to social drama: people arguing, having affairs, getting caught having affairs, lots of bitching and moaning about whatever, back-stabbing, betrayal, scheming, and most of it done just to have conflicts in the show, i.e. without a proper connection to the main plot. Often it's the result of writers losing perspective and instead focusing on trivial issues.

    When you're writing a relationship drama, like the Bold and the Beautiful, Friends, or whatever, drama is all you have, they don't have an apocalypse or some other big adventure on their hands, but when you do have a show where the world has essentially ended, it would make more sense if the focus was on actual survival instead of... well, look at the strip Jack Asher posted (which summed WD pretty well for me).
    It's very easy to fall into the social porn trap. It's happened plenty of times to myself and KaTrian, and it's only when we're proof-reading our first draft that we realize just how much needless bitchiness and dicking around we've written and so far every time we've cut it out, it's been for the better since the stories we've written have always centered around more pressing issues than social drama. We know people sometimes cheat on their spouses or argue over trivial things etc, but to us that's just boring and a weak way to uphold the consumer's interest in the story: "omg, who is she gonna sleep with next?"

    As for the topic, I have to agree with JA: I know a little bit about survivalism, but I would be thoroughly screwed if I had to travel long distances of wilderness in a harsh winter. And in the mountains, of all places. If I had to travel through a large forest in the summer here in Finland, I'd likely be okay because there are so many edible plants, berries etc. no extreme weather conditions, and excluding wolves and bears, which are pretty rare, there aren't many threats either, the terrain is easy because we don't have mountains or ravines etc, but that's an altogether different situation plus I'm an adult with some knowledge of survival and I tend to carry survival gear with me, especially if I know I'm going on the road instead of just getting milk from the nearest grocery store.

    I have a pretty good idea of how it feels to be cold, and it can be debilitating to say the least when you no longer feel your extremities except for the burn of frostbite, your nose, throat, and chest hurt from the cold air with every breath you draw (but you can't stop breathing, can you?), and you can't stop shaking either. Luckily the longest I've had to endure such a situation (-25C / -13F) was 5-6 hours, but if I had days and miles and miles to go (before I sleep), well, it'd probably be over pretty quick. Especially without the skills and proper equipment to make a fire from wet / frozen wood and build a shelter (a simple lean-to would hardly suffice in tough winter conditions).
    Another problem is when you're walking off the beaten path during winter: it doesn't take long before sweat is streaming when you're traipsing in knee-deep snow and then when you stop to make camp, it's easy get really, really cold in sweaty clothes when it's time to settle down. That's just one of the reasons why I'd give the kids a vehicle of some sort as well as guns and at least some survival know-how.
     
  20. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    My protagonist is also quite young (12-13 initially) it's pretty different for me because despite what she's gone through she's still quite sheltered.

    I don't think it's fair to underestimate children but I wouldn't buy having a 12 year old with a 4 year old walk 100 miles through any kind of wilderness, especially if they didn't know what they were doing. I'd say that a four year old would not be able to walk far in a day, neither would a twelve year old carrying a toddler.
     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    "Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence", (different story but some similar elements), is one of my favorite stories, and it's based on a true story. Your scenario is definitely realistic. Kids can do a lot more than we in the West give them credit for.
     
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  22. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm thinking of making in Fall. Still hard for them, but more believable that they would survive.

    Thanks again for all your help, guys!
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm trying to find the link to a particular documentary about a number of individual girls who overcame their circumstances to grow up as heroes but one thing was clear from the stories, we often have little concept of the work and hardships very young children in some countries endure, including 4 and 5 yr olds. You have to think outside the culture box, but it is very realistic for some kids.
     
  24. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    Depends on the culture and upbringing of the child but I used to do scouts and many 12/13 year olds would struggle to travel 10km (~6 miles) in half a day. I understand that a child in a post apocalyptic setting would be fitter (although perhaps weaker due to lack of food). My main concern wouldn't be having the children make the distance it would be having them make the distance before getting lost or dying from starvation or dehydration.

    Even if a twelve year old with food could make it in say 5 days and had knowledge of navigation to not get lost they'd still most likely have to feed themselves something to be strong enough to make the whole distance.
     
  25. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence is a totally inappropriate comparison. Those girls escaped over flat terrain, and had a constant location guide. All they had to do was follow the fence.
    The didn't need to orient. They didn't need to find a pass. They didn't need to climb. And they didn't need to find a save descent. All those things you have to do going over the mountains of Montana.

    What's more the average temperature in the Outback is 100 degrees, it never snows, there's no freezing dew, and there's no threat of dying from exposure.

    It also takes them 10 years to get home.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2013

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