1. Kaye00
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    Kaye00 New Member

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    Writing convincing children

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Kaye00, Jul 23, 2011.

    So, in my main story I have three children who appear and are at least somewhat important to the plot. My characters are a two year old girl, a four year old boy and a six year old girl.

    My problem is that I have no idea how to write dialogue for children. The only time I ever interacted with children was when I was one of them, so I don't really have any experience for this and I'm afraid that I'll make them sound too old. I know kids of certain ages use a certain level of vocabulary, I just don't know exactly what level applies to what age.

    In the story the four and six year old's have lost their mother and have only recently been reunited with their father (and the siblings were also separated for at least a year). In the past two years, their country was conquered by a dictator of another race who is now committing genocide by trying to eradicate everyone of their kind. So, obviously, I know these kids, while they may not understand a lot of what's going on, would convey some grief over all of this. Though I have no idea how kids that young would do so.

    The two year old on the other hand is even more difficult. She's basically been dragged around as the main characters try to escape this oppression while simultaneously trying to fight against it when they have the opportunity. She was born just as the oppression started, so I don't think she would realize how wrong it is. She has seen people killed violently in front of her- which I have absolutely no idea how to express, but there doesn't seem to be any way to avoid it, either. Her mother also, well, completely loathes her and sees her as a burden. She protects her from harm, but only because she feels she has to. The girl is paid attention to, by the other characters, but her mother barely even looks at her. My problem with her is mostly that I don't know how much of this would be expressed at this age or if it would be shown only as she grew older. The vocabulary issue is especially difficult with her, too. I don't really know how quickly babies learn to speak... :/
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is kind of tricky, because no two children are alike in their speech skills, even siblings. A lot depends on how much social interaction they have and how much interest and encouragement they get from their parents/carers. In studies done in the UK, kids who are read to seem to have a significantly higher vocabulary and also kids in the higher socio-economic bracket are way ahead when it comes to communicating--sadly--than children with a more deprived background.

    Where I live in Turkey, though, all children are always surrounded by adults and never 'seen and not heard', and Turks are incredibly social creatures. It always strikes me how very early children start speaking and how talkative they are here compared to when I'm with kids in France or England.

    My own kids are tri-lingual, and the oldest hardly said a word until she was three--then she suddenly started talking very well in full sentences, and now she is equally good in two and pretty good in the third language. My younger babbled in a mixture and grammar of her own devising from her first months, it seems like, and was coherent at 2, although mixed up words--deliberately I think, she chose which she preferred--until she was 4, when she became fluent in all three. My grandson is 15 months and says names of things he wants in his mother's language, but understands when I ask him to get things like 'biscuit, ball' etc.

    So, you could have your 2yr old saying words, and the other two speaking fairly well. A six year old can be pretty good, not all that different from a teenager. The traumas they have suffered could have set them back and made them talk in a more babyish way--on the other hand, they could have been forced to grow up more quickly. It's up to you, really.

    Next time you travel on public transport or something, listen to the kids talking around you.
     
  3. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Certainly everything madhoca said. But to add to that, in my experience children who are not treated like babies talk faster. What I mean is the kids whose parents constantly baby talk to them, baby talk longer, the kids whose parents describe everything to them, or at least don't dumb down language around them, pick things up faster.

    By the time my son was 2 he was speaking in sentences and using words like "disgusting". (That happened to be his favorite word, lol). My daughter took longer, not really speaking full sentences until she was almost 3 but she was a micro-preemie and had some delays in the beginning that had to be overcome.

    Important to note though, both of my kids were quite adept at speaking in sign language by 9 months old. I taught them to say thirsty, hungry, please, thank you, more, etc. so that they could be understood. Children get upset when they can't communicate. The point of that being they have the capacity to understand (and even tell you) long before they can form the words with their mouths.


    My guess would be the people surrounding these kids don't have time to sugarcoat things or baby talk to them so their command of the language would probably be pretty good.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The way to write convincing children is not that different from writing any convincing character. Observation, and more observation.

    Of course, unless you are in a position to observe children as part of your normal activity, you might come under some unwanted scrutiny yourself if you start shadowing children to learn to write them. So don't hang around playgrounds, staring through the chain link fences and taking notes.
     
  5. Kaye00
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    Kaye00 New Member

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    Hah... yeah, I know better than to go creeping around on play grounds.

    This is all helpful, though, thanks. :) I think the two year old has been speaking a bit too well for her age, but I'll revise that.
     
  6. BobLobLaw
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    BobLobLaw Member

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    I like to think that children are really optimistic, and should be shown through their dialogue. And obviously, they're really youthful.

    And a big don't: Don't dumb them down. Just because they're young doesn't mean they're stupid.
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Most of the 4-6-year-olds I've babysat/worked with/etc either don't talk much, or they talk a whole lot and ramble lol. It's usually not in-between like with adults.
     
  8. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest reading some of Enid Blyton's books but I think that today they may sound a bit 'old hat' gosh, golly, gee, type of thing and I don't know who her modern day counterpart would be - Jackie Wilson, possibly.
    Look round the children's section in the library or book store and see how published authors do it.
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Barbara Parks wrote a really popular series with a 5-year-old protag, Junie B. Jones. (I think the intended audience is for 2nd-4th grade reading levels though)
     
  10. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    More than likely a two-year-old that hasn't had much positive parental interaction and has had frequent violent experienced would be quiet and slightly withdrawn. She would probably talk in single words or two and three word phrases.
    Four year old boys in this situation would possibly take on the strong silent personality, meaning he would talk to people he felt comfortable with but say very little to others. Four year olds also tend to misunderstand some adult conversation or words.
     
  11. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    A six year old girl in this situation could very likely be very adult like in her approach to conversation and possible come off as precocious.
     
  12. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Watch and learn, grasshopper. Don't read other writers' concepts of what children in these various age groups might behave like. That'll just make your own characters copy cats and a poor second. Watch children and how they behave and interact and talk both to other children and to adults. And really pay attention. That's the only way to learn.
     

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