Hey! Sorry for his delayed response, my inbox is getting a little full and I’ve een pretty busy. This is actually a really good ask, though. Thanks!
Writing Characters that are Children
The single largest literary mistake when it comes to writing children is putting them all into a mold – cute, clueless and carefree. When in fact, as they learn about the world with an often innocent perspective, children are some of the most interesting characters that writers can offer.
1. Children are not stupid.
Now, please don’t read that and suddenly think you’re breaking insane boundaries by flinging your child character into the Young Einstein trope. Kids may not have much knowledge, but that doesn’t make them unintelligent. The child won’t be able to keep up with an intense political conversation, alright, but they are most likely a great problem solver, with an innate ability to learn quickly.
2. Children need to act like children
It is unrealistic to have an eight year old character always choose the mature path, and make the right, level headed decision. Early years are for learning, and at eight years old they can’t possibly have it all figured out. They need to make mistakes, show immaturity, have tantrums, and be a little reckless. Kids are easily excited, too. Think of a time a child has told you a story. We were in school!!!!!! And teacher was there!!!!!!!!!!! And guess what!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I made a painting!!!!!!!!!!!! And guess what!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mine was a dog!!!!!! And !!!! And!!!
3. Children often tend to blow things out of perspective
A child narrator isn’t necessarily an unreliable narrator – they are simply a child, living the way a child does. Everything is important, and kids jump to conclusions pretty easily. Think even of the first Harry Potter book, how fast Harry is to act, and how quickly he makes up his mind. This is typical of younger characters.
4. Think about the way that children think
Like I said, children always have large gaps in their knowledge of the world, s they jump to conclusions. Again, this doesn’t make them stupid. Kid’s brains are always working hard, trying to make sense of everything going on, and learning about the world around them.
5. They are heavily influenced by those around them.
As they grow up, children learn most things by example. From family, mentors, the whole deal. They often idolize people, too. Anybody else have a younger sibling that absolutely tailed them growing up? (Join the club.) In Harper Lee’s TKAMB (which I’m going to talk about more in a minute,) Scout wants to do everything Jem does, and learns a lot of his ways.
6. Don’t get caught down on baby speech.
We all know how young kids speak, punctuated by their loss of interest and excited bursts. But don’t sound out every single stammer, it makes for very heavy reading, and encourages the reader to skip over dialogue. You’ll also need to think about the word choice of the child. This person if new to the English language, let’s not burst out any extreme vocab. A little thing to note about the way children speak – have you ever noticed that once a child learns a new word, they use i as much as possible for a couple of days? Bear this in mind as you write.
7. Young head on old shoulders
Yeah, it’s overdone, having the kid be ruler of wisdom. Yes, you ca have a brilliantly written coming of age where the child is a little ahead of themselves, but be careful not to have your child as a little fountain of deep realizations.
A note on Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Personally, I think that TKAMB is the best story that I’ve read to date, led by a child. Aside from the themes of racism and class, Scout is a young girl on her way to maturity, handling the plot of this book as she is – a child. We see her make rash and stupid decisions, we see her learn, we see her jump to conclusions. We see her want to be with Jem all the time, and all the while.
What makes Scout such a brilliant character is the fact that she is real. We can relate to her, because we know that we too were once like that. Children are children, and no writer can ever change that.
I hope this was helpful! As always, if anybody has any questions, feel free to message me,