1. Veltman

    Veltman Active Member

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    How to write a child's dialogue?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Veltman, Dec 12, 2018.

    My current project has child characters that play an important part in the story. I never had any children characters in important positions before in any of my writing projects and I have found this to be a challenge. How do I know if their actions are too much for someone their age, if their dialogue and vocabulary is too developed or too simplistic for someone their age, etc?

    In this project there are (so far) two characters that are children. A girl,8 and a boy, 10.

    Help me out here. Examples are welcome
     
  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Supporter Contributor

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    If you could provide a sample of the dialogue in question, that would be helpful in
    helping you. :)
     
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  3. theoriginalmonsterman

    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

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    You can probably just go online and search up "younger kids dialogue" to do some research on the topic, better yet read some books that include younger characters. Reading novels directed towards a younger audience can also help give you an idea of how younger kids typically speak.
     
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  4. LastMindToSanity

    LastMindToSanity Senior Member

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    From what I've seen, kids know what they mean, but they just don't know all of the words they need to use. So, I'd write out the sentence as if an adult would say it, then 'forget' some of the words. Not a lot of them, but the more complicated words, and swap them with simpler versions. Kids understand how their native language works, they just don't know every word they'd need in some situations.

    That's what I think, anyways.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
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  5. Fieryace

    Fieryace New Member

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    It sounds like you might need to do some research on stages of language acquisition. One example that jumps to mind is overregularization.
     
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  6. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I usually research dialogue by listening to people talking. Eves dropping on conversations in coffee shops, the hairdressers, et cetera. I wouldn't recommend hanging around school yards and playgrounds, though. If you have family with kids around that age, then tell them what's up and see if they'd mind you hanging out if you offered to help tidy up and cook dinner. Barring that, watching some TV and reading some books with similar characters is probably next best.
     
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  7. Veltman

    Veltman Active Member

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    I think I forgot to mention something key to this discussion here. I'm not a native english speaker nor do I live in an english speaking country. I learned english myself through films, games and talking to people online. This disconnect with the language on a day to day basis means that I have rarely ever seen any child speak in English, so it's completely uncharted territory for someone writing in English.

    Sorry about the mistake. I forgot to clarify this very important detail. That's why I need material on it.
     
  8. Sian Davis

    Sian Davis New Member

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    It would really depend on the characters personalities , Are they shy? Talkative? Are they happy and secure in their family unit or are they in an upsetting or unstable environment. Traumatized children for instance, will likely behave and talk in a different way to a child who isnt.
    Are there some children that you can spend some time with? Or have a chat to some friends or family who have children and ask them about the way in which their children will talk about certain subjects. My 5yr old daughter (almost 6) Sat at the table with me the other day and said "Mummy if something goes into a black hole, How does that happen and why" I said "Im sorry Lydia, I dont know." So unsatisfied she decided to rephrase the question instead, " If something gets sucked in, what happens? How does it happen?" In the end I suggested that we ask google, because my mind was starting to boggle !!!. An intelligent child is often a curious child. Children ask lots of questions!
     
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  9. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    It would depend a little on age, but for the most part I'd write it the same as an adult's. Just a simpler vocabulary and less filtering. Children don't usually spare others' feelings. And their lies are often easier to see through.
     
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  10. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Writing dialogue is hard enough, but doing so without being able to listen to living examples is damned near impossible. You could try watching and listening to movies with children as key characters, but how will you know which ones are good examples and which are not?

    On top of being able to mimic chidren's speech patterns, you still have the challenge of writing purposeful dialogue. Dialogue isn't just replaying small talk and chatter, it is a matter of revealing character, relationships, and motivations through dialogue. What the characters say, what they do not say, the double meanings of phrases, how they evade responding directly to what other characters say, these all can elevate dialogue beyond chatter.

    Children aren't stupid or unaware. They often pick up emotional context better than most adults. They may surprise you with the sophistication of their vocabulary, and with their insights. The child who silently sits and listens to an adult discussion is likely to blurt out something blunt and perfectly on point, then disappear to another room. On the other hand, they may miss subtleties of language or situations that are so important to the adults. They may suddenly turn silly just to break a mood. Or they can get restless and start talking nonsense to get attention. Or they may more directly break in to get their own needs met.

    Finally, dialogue shouldn't be generic, and this is especially true of child dialogue. Children are often way over the top, so everything tends to exaggeration; more exuberance, bigger drama, more volatility. So a dialogue that works for one child character will fall with a huge splat for another one.
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that to a very large extent this is going to be a set of artistic decisions. Adult speech is usually halting and sloppy and repetitive, and has to be adjusted for fiction. Children's speech is likely to be even harder to take apart and put back together.

    Examples as in examples of fictional works with children? I'll tentatively assume so:

    Martha Grimes has some really good child characters--though they tend to just be supporting characters, so unless you want to read a whole lot of her books, you might want to try to get ebook versions so you can just jump to those scenes. But I particularly like them because they're not adorable--they're often pretty ruthless.

    Of course I recommend An Episode of Sparrows.

    Robert Barnard's Masters of the House is pretty good, and the younger of the main two child protagonists is 11--a little beyond your plan, but I think there are also younger children.

    There is, of course, Lyra in The Golden Compass.

    Edited to add: I thought, hey! There are surely countless videos with kids talking. This series is sort of interesting:

    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2etPlnTb9sVy63iAeM82b7yl0m124am7
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
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  12. Veltman

    Veltman Active Member

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    This is exactly what I'm looking for here! Thank you!
     
  13. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    Go to the kids and learn from them.

    Anything we can give you, kids can give in deeper and moremultidimensional level.

    Development between 8 and 10 is huge.

    Individual differences become big in that age gap.

    Both fat and not so intelligent kids start they prepuberty earlier. It shows in many levels. More intelligent and slim kids start they prepuberty later. It shows often in social life and plays.

    Intelligent kids are more like child and often also a bit precocious. They play more childish plays and may like more childish toys. At the same time they might read and talk in quite adult way.

    Stupid kids mimic adults more - specially with negative social traits.

    Narcissistic kids are like a mixture between these two.

    Creative kids are outside their peer dominance hierarchies. Other kids have a position, they have an area that is not constant. It can be both high and low at the same time.

    You must learn well both your kids - characters - and social environment of kids.

    You don't write about those kids. You write about their relation to things. You can't do that if you don't know enough about it.

    Motivational system of kids is different. Kids act out their motives and emotions in a different way. You must learn the difference.

    So... Go to the kids and learn.

    You can prepare youself in Youtube, but after that you must go to kids.
     
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  14. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem with Youtube and movies as references is that these are staged, or at least edited/selected. Nothing beats observing them in their natural habitat. When they are off to the side, not overtly aware they are being observed, you can see the wheels turning. This is true for any kind of peoplewatching, but especially so for children.
     
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  15. The Bishop

    The Bishop Member

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    I also have children's dialogue in my story and all I do is make it sound less developed and less intelligent. I do this by having them use simple and small words, simple and short sentences, etc. Just make their dialogue sound less smart compared to an older character's dialogue
     
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  16. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere...

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    For me to do it, I had to spend some considerable time with children and watching funny Youtube videos when kids do things. There just wasn't any way to do it.
     
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  17. Show

    Show Contributor Contributor

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    I think a key thing to remember is that approaching this as writing a "child character" is an easy way to fall into stereotypes. Like adults, children are different. They have different personalities and levels of sophistication. Often when people don't find a given child believable, it's rooted a bit more in then not personally encountering such a child before more than it being impossible or even unlikely for such a child to exist. Focus on your characters. The fact that they are children is secondary. Write them as a person first. How do YOU see them? You can touch up dialogue as needed later but you need a concrete vision for their own idiosyncrasies that you discover.
     
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  18. Gary Wed

    Gary Wed Active Member

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    I write lots of children into my novels. Over time I have come to think that it is less about vocabulary than it is about how their minds work.
    Generally speaking, children lack focus, or better said, they have their own focus, which may not fit the priorities. They tend to speak honestly, openly, and not necessarily on the topic at hand. Plan on being surprised.
     
  19. RobinLC

    RobinLC Member

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    If you have friends or family with kids, just listen to their speech. My son is 8 and gets confused about some big words or uses a smaller word.

    He'll also try to clarify when an adult uses a bigger word. Like the other day, I said: "We're going to an auction." He knows what an auction is on some level, but it's still a bit fuzzy for him. So he second questioned me, "Like you buy stuff to sell there?" Yes dear. ;)
     
  20. Princesisto

    Princesisto Banned

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    Having spent two years writing a novel with a precocious 9-11 year old as main character, I have some practical ideas to contribute.

    First, chop your sentences. Kids don't use compound and complex sentences although the boy in your story will be trying to go in that direction. Even with their simple sentences, they see absolutely no reason why every one needs to have subjects and verbs, let alone objects.

    Also, the maximum the girl will speak at a time is one or two sentences. They are just not speechmakers. the boy might do double that.

    They will tell stories but just not very long ones. The girl's stories will ramble and go off on tangents. The boy may be able to stick to a topic but he'll only give you what was most important to him. In my novel, the reporter-narrator often nearly goes mad trying to get a story out of the main character, the New Little Princess, with dialogue like:

    "Where were you, LP? I've been trying to get you all day! By the way, Merry Christmas!" I said.
    "Eatin'", said the Princess. "And Merry to you."
    "The whole day?" I said.
    "Aye," she said.
    "What were you eating that was so special?" I asked.
    "Nowt special. Guatemalan food. She tried for me. Weren't like ours but good try. 'T warmed me heart," she said.
    "Who is 'she'?" I asked.
    "Tampado weren't bad but wi' no coconut milk? Too spicy!" she said.
    "I mean, who cooked it?" I said.
    "Oh, I dunno' know if she cooked or not. Most probably the servants, I daresay," she said.
    "Princess, who? Who maybe didn't cook?" I ask, trying to keep my composure.
    "Oh, Kat," she said.
    "Kat who?" I asked.
    "Hemingway, innit?" she said.
    "Noooo ..." I said.
    "Aye," she said.
    "Katherine Hemingway? The President?"
    "Aye," she said.
    "Why didn't you tell me?" I said.
    "'Twas all hush-hush. Done wi' me Mum and Dad last night. Couldn't breathe a word," she said.

    An adult would have just said, "I had lunch with the President today. Sorry, I couldn't say anything about it earlier because of security reasons." But children can't think in overviews like that: they say what they experienced with their senses, what they saw, how it felt, etc.

    Also, children often confuse similar-sounding or rhyming words. When the New Little Princess has to go to arbitration about who really wrote one of her songs, she calls the arbitrator "Mister Masturbator". The reporter-narrator often calls her "Little Mimi Malaprop". The girl is more likely to do this than the boy because the boy's vocabulary is far wider than the girl's.

    Finally, children take everything literally. They have no idea of metaphor. If they haven't heard the expression before and had it explained, when you say "It's raining cats and dogs." a good-hearted child will fetch a bowl of milk for the cats and some bones for the dogs and try to go outside.

    And yes, the advice that the best way to understand child-speech is a lot of contact with children is dead on: I am a teacher. That is where I got mine. You say that you are not in an English-speaking country. Volunteer to work at an international school. You may find a church in a place with many foreigners: you can make friends with foreigners who have children.
     
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