1. Quorum1
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    Quorum1 Member

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    Writing from the perspective of an 11yo

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Quorum1, Sep 19, 2010.

    Anyone have any thoughts on how to write in first person from the perspective of an 11 year old without the piece sounding like it was written by an 11yo writer? Or know of an example who has successfully written a story for adults from a younger person's POV?

    My character is a very typical 11yo boy, whose experiences lead him to mature before his time and ultimately commit an atrocity. I want to write from his perspective to allow the reader to experience his transformation, but whatever I write sounds immature and I'm scared of losing my readers.

    Ideas?
     
  2. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I'd see it as a sign of skill if the writer made himself sound like an 11-year-old, and just change the parts that stood in the way of good prose and storytelling.

    Post a sample in the Review forum (after making a a few reviews of other people's work), and it'll be easier to comment.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Don't? Child narrators are painfully overdone these days, they're on the verge of going very out of vogue (thank god). If I have to read about another precocious kid discovering the world I'm gonna lose my mind. One every now and again is fine, if the writing is good, but for a while there it was feeling like every second book was narrated by Haley Joel Osment circa 2000.

    If you need some good points of reference, if you feel like you must add another book to this sadly overworked category of fiction, there's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The History of Love, The Selected Works of T S Spivet, all published since 2000, all high profile, all pakced with precocious child narrators...
     
  4. Quorum1
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    Quorum1 Member

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    Don't worry too much, it's just a short story - you're highly unlikely to come across it. Thanks for the list though.

    It's actually a fantasy story, not really a coming of age so to speak. This might sound tragically cliche, but I actually dreamed it last night. I tried to get it out this morning but I was writing from the 'bad guy' side and it wasn't right (in my dream I could hear both POV). The kid reminded me of my 11yo brother and whenever I write I'm just chanelling all the conversations I've had with him (usually revolving around bakugan :)confused:) or something).
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write it the way you would normally then simplify the language to something more basic. I have written my 17 year old boy like that and aside from my fight scenes which are improving but still sound like a middle aged lady beating someone with her handbag I have got him passed several teens.
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I can't stress enough what a terrible idea this is, especially when the protagonist in question is only 11. The way an 11 year old experiences the world is a huge way away from how an 18 year old does which is completely different to how a 25 year old does and so on, especially in these early formative years. The best child characters are constructed so that they allow the reader some insight into what it means to be a child (Ian McEwan, who I can't believe I didn't list, is possibly the best writer in terms of this). The worst read like dumbed-down adults.

    And the fact that it's fantasy shouldn't be used as an excuse. That mindset is why genre is so often regarded as inferior. Your characters should still be psychologically realistic, engaging, alive, and most importantly well written, regardless of genre.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Children aren't alien beings and personally I don't find them that mysterious. I think this is why JK Rowlling, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton do so well portraying children, they don't try to be children. Harry Potter, George and Anne, Charlie etc are childlike but still quite grown up - Famous Five should be unbelievable but I have never found it so when reading the story...

    I just know I can write from first person POVs from children and get them passed by children of similar age - with the exception of my fight scenes but with help they are getting better:) We have all been children once so it is not that hard when letting your subconscious work with the characters and getting to know them to produce a childlike quality to a character. I also know children aren't fooled they know when you are trying to be something you are not. You may get a realistic gritty portrayal by a more gullible adult but a child will know you are trying too hard. I know I feel the sameway and think it is why children in adult books are often cringeworthy it is something a writer of childrens book needs to know your readers are smart.

    My advice is if you know an eleven year old enlist their help. As always OP is welcome to take what advice works for them and their writing style not everyone bonds with characters in the same way. I personally believe the best portrayals of children are in childrens books use them as a template. Giving the story a childlike feel will help.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think writing an entire book from that perspective is a good idea either, unless that is also the age of your target audience.

    If you are looking for an example, a classic nearly a century old begins in a child's first person perspective: James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Fortunately, he doesn't dwell very long in that age.

    Eleven isn't really all that young. It would be far more challenging if you were writing as a six or seven year old. But if you are determined to go ahead with this, you need to spend a lot of time listening to eleven year olds, to get a sense of their level of conversation. Listen to sentence structure and use of vocabulary, and also the balance between talking about themselves vs talking about their surroundings (an aspect opf maturity). Pay attention to their grasp of the world at large, but keep in mind that an eleven year old in 2010 will have a much more realistic world view than a rural eleven year old in, say, the 1860s (e.g. Tom Sawyer).
     
  9. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    If you're writing from the perspective of a young narrator, the key is to keep their mental state in mind. Youngsters won't be as knowledgeable about the world, so they won't get the significance of things the way adults do. They might be more impetuous, less concerned about responsibilities, more willing to explore. They won't have as many resources as an adult might, which affects everything from transportation to how they find information to how they resolve conflict.

    They fear the unknown, to an incredibly strong degree. They don't have enough experience to give them a good perspective on things that are new or different or scary. This is why you can have kids who won't call the cops to report that they were attacked, because police are Not Something You See Very Often and are therefore terrifying. This is why you can have kids who get homesick, not because they are in a terribly unpleasant situation at the time, but because home is familiar and comforting and it can be hard to be brave all the time the way kids have to be when you stick them into a strange place like summer camp.

    So. Don't dumb down your vocabulary. Just focus on what the experience is like for the character, and report it to the reader as best you can.

    I'll edit in a link at some point to a story that contains a good example. I have one in mind, but it hasn't been published yet (it will be in the next couple weeks) and at that point I can link to the relevant webpage.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't.
     
  11. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    You'd be surprised at what 11 year olds come out with, and their knowledge of the world. :) I teach 11 year olds, and some of them are incredibly socially adept. The one difference at that age is that they are still children, and still enjoy having fun. Responsibility is something that often happens to somebody else - but I'd say their observations about the world and their understanding of situations are similar to those of an adult.
     
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  12. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Presumably, the child isn't alone in the world. If you write the adults as adults, and the child as a child, that should distinguish that the piece was written by an adult.
     
  13. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    J.K. Rowling and even more so Astrid Lindgren is two fantastic authors when it comes to write children as children. Not as stupid adults, not as simplified and glorified or demonised. But as humans first and foremost with a slightly different world view than adults and their own wisdom.

    Neither of them is as dark as you would go, but I would recommend reading "Ronia the Robber's Daughter" and/or "The Brothers Lionheart" by Astrid Lindgren with deal with some hard themes from the viewpoint of the children in the story.
     
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  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Roald Dahl's are often quite dark - Boy his autobiography has some really scary moments. Lian Hearne's Across the Nightingale Floor is as well - character is a bit older in first really awful scene but not that much older. Tom Sawyer has some nasty stuff happen. The boys in Lord of the Flies by William Golding are horrible have awful things happen, and could be aged anywhere between 11-18 I don't remember the book specifying age just they are in secondary school.

    There are plenty of great children characters to draw from. Junior/YA fiction is so rich some of my favourites still come under it.

    Perhaps the best and darkest though has to be for me Jane Eyre she is 9 at the start of the book maybe it resonates more with me because I was 9 when I read it. I seem to remember something with Wilkie Collins and young children. Not to mention have you seen Dr Who's the Empty Child? And Oliver is also very young when the book starts.
     
  15. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    The main thing I can say is, don't make the kid seem too innocent and simplified. Kids become experienced way before their parents realize it. Lots of adults think that kids are these fragile, pure, unknowing little babies that must be protected....they really aren't...yes, they're still developing, but they're much tougher and more mature than people give them credit for.
     
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  16. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Yeah, Mallory. I agree. Kids aren't stupid. Some can be manipulative. Some know how to lie perfectly. And despite the TV shows that are out there today that act like kids are complete vegetables, I know personally they aren't.
     
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  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for good examples, read james patterson's 'max' series...
     
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  18. Quorum1
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    Off topic, but that made me laugh out loud!!

    It's not meant to be an excuse, just that the storyline is probably a bit different than you might've imagined ;).

    There's some really great advice in here so thanks everyone! I'm going to give it a go, if it doesn't turn out it will be good practice anyway.
     
  19. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    If you want me to check anything out, you can PM me and I can tell you where to email it. :)
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Cog, if memory serves, "Tom Sawyer" wasn't written in the first person; "Huckleberry Finn" was.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I never said it was. I was pointing out the world perceptions of a youngster in that time period as shown in the story, in contrast with the world view of a modern boy of about the same age.
     
  22. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's probably more of an era thing than an age thing. Adults at that time had very different world views as well, and so the difference between them and children were no greater than it is between them now. My point being that in such a scenario it's a bigger pitfall to get the era mentality wrong than the age mentality.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not really. I'm talking about unrealistic perceptions of matters any adult of the time would understand. The age of disillusionment comes earlier today than ever before, because in the present, children have greater access to direct information about the ways of the world. In the past, adults were more able, and more inclined, to shield the nastier details of huiman behavior from their children.
     
  24. flanneryohello
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    I'm not sure I totally agree with this. While kids today have easier access to information about the ways of the world (via the Internet, TV, etc.), I think children were forced to grow up much faster in the past. In fact, present day (Western) ideas about the sanctity and innocence of childhood, and the importance of letting children experience their formative years free of major responsibility or knowledge of "adult" concepts like sex, death, etc. are extremely modern. Back in Tom Sawyer's time, children were often an integral part of home and family life in the sense that they worked alongside their parents on family farms or were sent out to work at a young age to help support the family. Back then the idea of a sixteen-year-old boy still being a "child" without major responsibility wouldn't be very common at all--as it is now. Life was harsher then too--without the benefits of modern medicine, etc., life spans were shorter and children weren't shielded from the reality of sickness and death the way they are today.

    The Internet has certainly made it easier for anyone--child or adult--to find information on all kinds of things, good and bad, but as far as how parents treat children today versus in the past, I think modern Western children are more shielded from reality than ever before. And I think an 11-year-old in 2010 dealing with a post-apocalyptic scenario would likely have less basic survival skills than an 11-year-old in 1860.
     
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