1. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing for young characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Shadow Dragon, Oct 20, 2008.

    Hey I was wondering if anyone else that has young characters has this problem. Near the beginning of my novel, my MCs are young, like between five and ten. However they act more like teenagers than their actual age. So have others had that problem of characters with a little too much maturity for their age?
     
  2. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    Depends if I'm writing in first or third person...in first I have absolutely no problem, in third the dialogue is hard to do and I usually fail miserably.
     
  3. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    No. I actually avoid using young characters since the character of the child may not seem realistic because I don't remember what being a young child was like. The youngest character I ever wrote about was 18.
    Maybe your problem is similar to this?
     
  4. Ziku
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    Ziku Member

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    Young characters can be a pain, one of my parts is narrated by a nine year old for example.

    Your best shot it to tell yourself "ignorance is.... Youth." Lots of adults will wonder about things, but they will not usually ask for the answer out loud.

    "She's hemophobic!" Uncle Ziku yelled to us as he bashed at Sin.
    "Ummm..... What's that mean?!" Katana called, Uncle Ziku just sighed.

    That is an example, also notice the use of "Uncle" Ziku. No matter an adult's age, they won't (as I've seen) narrate AND call someone by a title like "Uncle" the same goes for calling a character "Dad" or "Father." As an adult they'll more likely say "My Dad" but for a young character, "Dad" is just good enough.
     
  5. Ennui
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    Ennui Member

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    Ultimately,alter the disposition of your young characters into a duly one, barring they are precocious.Characters who are aged 10 and above can be matured.Let the young characters be puerile and not pompous.
     
  6. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    If you listen to little kids talk between themselves when there's not an adult around, you'll hear that they tend to make a lot of boastful or contentious-sounding statements. They don't really have what we would call "discussions" about things--one kid (often the one with the highest degree of verbal sophistication) is usually the leader or "authority figure" and the other kids assume various roles. They will to the best of their abilities mimic what they see and hear adults and older children doing and saying--sometimes with their own comic interpretations of same.

    Little kids have a hard time putting their perceptions and emotions into words. Without an adult present to explain things to them, they will often react toward unfamiliar things either with aggression (striking out behavior) or fear (withdrawing). Whereas older children (8, 9, 10 years of age) will say such things as "What is that?" and "I've never something like that before," and "What is that person doing?" and sort of verbally check with each other about something that is new or unfamiliar, little kids will react with more emotional types of responses.

    Not to say that very young children can't easily verbalize what they see, think, and feel, but they have to take cues from someone who's older. A five-year-old who has a lot of interaction with his/her older siblings and parents, and other older members of the extended family may be able to express himself quite maturely when his family members are there to encourage him, but when he's by himself, with other kids his own age, or around strangers, then he may seem like he can't speak at all.

    For children under the age of six, unless they have had some sort of special upbringing, interaction consists mostly of play--they pretend to have discussions that mimic the discussions they hear around them, and copy the actions that they see in their environments, but for the most part this is only play, and practice for when they are older.

    It's a difficult task to write realistically about little kids; they have their own state of mind that we, by the time we are grown or close to being grown, have almost completely forgotten. As an adult writing about little kids, you're always going to be on the outside looking in.

    I hope this helps! yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    You could listen to some lectures for free at the UC Berkeley website on developmental psychology. Here is a link to the lectures. Scroll down until you see Psychology 140. This should help. Also observe children. Go to a park or to an uncles house or someone who has kids.
     
  8. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't rely too much on young characters below age 10, they are usually props. I do rely a lot on kids ages 10-13. They are very mature yes, but all of them have been through hell so that has made them grow up a lot faster than they would've. A major element in my serial is that the 3 boys in this age range are sort of caught between the maturity forced on them by the tragedies they have lived through, and the child-like innocence that boys their age should be able to experience.
     
  9. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    I'd recommend you get to know a younger child well (if you don't already) and pay close attention how they respond to things. It probably won't come naturally because you're older, but remember...just keep it simple!
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    But don't hang around just outside playgrounds - you might creep people out! :)
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    cog ha, yeah that's true. No officer I am researching a book, honest.
     
  12. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    IDK if interviewing would work for me. I don't know any people who've survived what my characters have survived. So I think I'm on my own there. I do know a few young people but I don't really want to end up basing my character on that person. They're still my creation and I want them to be their own person. As long as I can keep the character relatively believable, I don't see a problem if the child is very mature for their age.
     
  13. CommonGoods
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    CommonGoods Senior Member

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    Hmmm, is that experience speaking? :p

    I happen to be one of those lucky few who has a mother who works on a school, so I help out a lot, and thus come in contact with a lot of children between different ages. So for me, writing about children isn't all that hard. It is my own age catagory I have problems with...

    The main thing about writing about children is remembering that they are children. They don't just use different words, they see things differently. I had a conversation with a 6 yo who kept talking about the cloud-factory. Took me a couple of minutes before I understood he was talking about the powerplant (smoke comming out of the chimneys = clouds). It can be tricky, very tricky. Making the children in your story overly naive helps, somewhat. But the best way is just chatting with children from that age catagory.

    In case that is a problem, you could try reading some books that involve small children, or perhaps watch some anime (Alvis from Last Exile is an exelent example of the 11 yo heroine).
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The thing is, kids of different ages in a particular locale have their own "dialect". So just as you need to listen carefully to pick up the dialect of an adult in a locale, you need to do the same for children. If you don't, it won't sound natural to the reader.

    If you pull it out of your head, you probably will end up with a mish-mash that sounds inconcruous. At least if you listen to children of the right age group but in the wrong locale, you'll have a dialect that is self-consistent.

    For the same reason, do your active listening on individuals. If you work from a mixed crowd, you'll again end up with an aggregate that is just a bit "off".
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is pretty hard to write kids convincingly unless you spend a lot of time around them. Most of the authors I know who write children well (especially in books for children), if they haven't worked in education or childcare, are at least parents. It's been a curse of American film and television for years, having kids be more mature than is realistic for their age, or just not following the correct behaviours. If it really is that important to you to write children realisticly, observing them when you go to the park is one way to start. But to really get a good sense of what kids are like, volunteering at a school or daycare is your best bet, so you can really get to know them.

    This site will also help. It describes the developmental stages for what children are learning, as well as personality traits and social skills they are developing.

    http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm
     
  16. Fire of a Rose
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    Fire of a Rose Member

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    Hmm. Young writer that I am, I haven't had that problem yet. Funny how these things work. Anyway, while I agree that you should hang around kids of the age you want to capture, you might want to also talk to people with the maturity level you're looking at. Especially if you can find it in someone young for that level. However, I find maturity to be a very confusing concept, which is mostly based on whether you can carry on a decent conversation with a stranger when absolutely necessary. Or, at least, that's what it's always been for me. Necessity happens way to often around here.
     
  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some kids are very mature for their age though. I think if you want realistic children as secondary characters, then yeah, going to a school would help. But if they are main characters, I think maturity could be a good thing. Maybe I think this way cause all my characters of any age tend to have lived through a heck of a lot. I just don't feel like using real children as models is really going to help. I'm not basing my characters off of any child and I feel creativity is limited if I try to make the kid seem like a typical schoolyard kid. As I said earlier, these kids are my creations and if they are more mature for their age, then that's just how they are.

    If I was a character in a story, the author who wrote me would've probably been acused of not knowing how to write a boy. Not that I was extra mature or anything but I just wasn't like everybody else. And that's sort of the approach I take to my characters. They are not like everybody else. They are their own people and their experiences have shaped them into who they are today. They may be more mature than most kids their age, but most kids their age haven't gone through as much as these kids have. So I feel their extra maturity is a good thing and something that makes their characters more worth investing in. I want the readers to see them as people and not just as "the kids." And I feel that letting the writer in me create them rather than base them off of people I don't really know but have only observed, that is how these kids will be viewed. And if they aren't taken seriously, then the story doesn't work.
     
  18. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Show, the way you're approaching it is also what so many writers don't do, whether they have been through traumatic events or not, that makes them fail at writing children. You're treating them like people, not just kids. You respect them as individuals. But you also have to keep in mind their stage of development, what real children would do, when the bad stuff happens and what they had to do to survive. How resilient are they? Did they have to become more mature and responsible?

    To give you en example, when my ex-boyfriend was 8, his parents divorced. Mis mother had custody at the time, his father on weekends. Two years later, it looked like Dad was going to try for full custody, so Mom carted him and his brothers (one about 2/3 years younger the other 2/3 years older) to different parts of Ontario and eventually to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They lived in women's shelters and crappy apartments until Children's Aid eventually caught on and they were brought back to their father.

    Youngest brother was for the most part fine, particularly right away, but definitely not more mature for it. Though the last time I knew them he was having some serious anger issues. The oldest, who was beginning the "Idenity" stage of development has very little direction, doesn't know what he wants, and can't seem to commit. Being dragged around like he was had a big influence on that, I'm sure. My ex, who was hitting puberty, and very emotionally unstable times for kids in the most stable situations, stayed that way. He had to lie a lot, chose to hide in Animorphs books, not connect to people, and go into denial about what was going on in order to get through it. It's still effecting him now. The event also triggered a mild bipolar disorder in him (three guesses why we're not together anymore).
     
  19. Show
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    I see them as people. There is no direct mold that kids fit into.

    Now your topic is divorce. It's quite common to find a child whose parents are divorced. That's not quite the kind of trauma the characters I write go through. I think there are many different types of children, the same as with adults. My characters have sort of been forced to mature faster than they would've liked to. They're still children, but their outlook on life is different than most kids. I don't see kids as being people that can fit into a certain mold. Now I'm not speaking about 5 year olds. The kids I'm referring to are almost teens.

    I do agree that most kids probably aren't mature but I don't think it's fair to say that none of them could possibly be that mature. Each kid is different and I think as long as you treat the kid as a real person, and not too extreme in any direction(mature or immature), you should be alright. Everyone has their own writing styles and I'm quite comfortable with the way may children have turned out. I don't find them too mature for their age, considering everything they've been through. I think if I wrote them any other way, then the story, the characters, and everything I've put my heart and soul into would suffer. They may be more mature than the average child, but such children do exist and I don't feel their maturity exceeds believability.
     
  20. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Being carted off by mother and living in a different dirty apartment or and womens shelters every few months common?

    My only point was that all kids are unique, but the circomstances have to make sense for them to be more mature. The situation has to have required maturity and responsibility to survive, and be logical to the individual. Please don't misunderstand my comments as a way of saying you are wrong. Also, keep in mind that there is a difference between a ten-year-old who had to grow up fast and a seventeen-year-old who hasn't. Going through those events doesn't cause a change in biological growth in the brain, or make your hormones behave differently.

    Also, why does it matter is the situation is common?
     
  21. Show
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    Probably more common than some of the things I've put my characters through.

    Well that I definitely agree with you there, and I think the reason that the kids had to mature quickly is quite apparent in just knowing them. Considering all they've been through, they don't exactly have a choice in being a little too mature for their age.

    It doesn't. The point was that if it is more common, you'd likely find more kids to help you understand how a child reacts in that situation. I doubt I'd find many kids who've been through everything my characters have so I don't think learning from the real people is a possibility where my characters are concerned.

    I also tend to flock to writing quieter kids than rowdy ones since I myself was quieter and know what it's like to be a quiet kid better so I think I can more easily and deeply get inside the character's head and make them real. So in that sense, my characters that are kids also happen to be a tad more mature than usual. Now, don't get me wrong, they aren't these wise old buddahs. And I wouldn't really say that they've gained more responsibility than usual either. Their outlook on life is just a lot more mature than most kids their age because they have been shaped by all the tragedies they've lived through.
     
  22. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't have the problem with that as such, as I usually write my charector being between the age of 11+ which I think I can do without too much hassle. My problem is when my plot requires the charector being older, and I do not really think about that. Like if I am writing about a 12 year old, and am making them do something that I wouldn't think twice about, but someone at 12 might not really do.

    Also, I sometimes struggle with writing too much older than myself. I can do to about early twenties allright, but anything past that and I wonder if your thoughts and stuff would be different, and so the charector would behave differently.
     

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