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Advice on writing child characters



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Mon Jul 27, 2020 5:27 am
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Wolfical says...



As one of the youngest people in my extended family, I have very little experience with kids. I'm now feeling the negative effects of this: writing kid characters is hard! I feel like every child character (around ages 3 to 10) I've ever written shares the same unrealistic personality: they're cute, innocent, sometimes annoying, and... yeah? That's it?

What are some of your favorite child characters in literature, movies, video games, and other forms of media? (I might need to pick up To Kill a Mockingbird again.) What are some examples of poorly written child characters? What are the keys to writing a believable child character?

I haven't actually played this game and don't know much about it, but enspoilered below is a good video that first got me thinking about why I need help in this area. Apparently the writers depended on their own parenting experiences when writing Atreus which is a big reason why his character is so good, but aside from babysitting my 2 year old nephew, I don't have those yet!
Spoiler! :

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Tue Jul 28, 2020 8:02 pm
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Magebird says...



I'm not sure I have that much to offer for the age range you're thinking of, but I do have some advice for writing kids a few years later! I started writing a self-insert novel when I was 12 years old. Even though the grammar and plot is questionable, it's a great look into what 12 year old me thought fellow kids would be like.

The biggest takeaway I get from the novel whenever I look back at it is this: I thought I was one hundred percent able to solve the major conflict of the story. Whether that would have actually been true or not, I'm not really sure. But I think the trick is to write kids as the protagonists of their own stories, even if they're just a side character that show up occasionally. They might not know as much about the world, and their dialogue might be a little different than older characters.

I think a really good example of what I'm talking about is Karen Brewer in the Babysitters Club. It's been awhile since I read the books, but I saw her in action in the Netflix adaptation of them. There's a part of the series where Karen goes off on her own despite being way too young to be without any kind of adult supervision. The older characters are understandably panicked, but being independent just comes natural to her - even if her motivations for leaving turn out to be a little questionable when you look at it through the lens of someone much older than her.

So, in summary, I think my best piece of advice is to write kids as fully-fleshed out characters - their personalities will develop naturally from there.

I hope that helps! :)
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Tue Jul 28, 2020 8:38 pm
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Wolfical says...



Thank you so much, Mage! <3

I saw something online that recommended looking back on pictures of yourself from a similar age as the character. It helps you remember your younger personality and how your mind worked back then. Your advice has reminded me of all the old writing I have - I've been consistently journaling since I was 8, so looking back on how I wrote and thought back then is an amazing idea!
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:50 pm
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Draculus says...



From all I could recall at 2 am, The Chronicles of Narnia offer pretty good kids' characters, well-developed, though a little older than you've mentioned above. They are not perfect and definitely has bad sides as well as good ones. Just like that movie called Baby Boss. I'm not a huge fan of it, but it also offers a nice child's character to look at. The Lord of the Flies is also about kids, though the children there represent much more than... just children, it still can be very useful. Among my favorite modern fantasy books, there is one called Nevermoor: the trials of Morrigan Crow. The main hero is a kid, though a very special one, but her personality can still be helpful when you make a research on such an interesting subject. But the best choice ever, as for me, will be Toreadors from Vasyukivka. Just read it, and you'll understand why it is one of the best books in the world written for kids about kids.
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Wed Jul 29, 2020 12:48 am
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fortis says...



I remember thinking that The Lost Island of Tamarind wrote a very, very young child well.
Instead, he said, Brother! I know your hunger.
To this, the Wolf answered, Lo!

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Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:49 am
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Tenyo says...



Forgive me in the likely event that I'm about to ramble. I recently did a project on the notions of childhood and it's such an interesting topic.

If you're writing for a younger audience, I would look at the portrayals in older, classical literature like The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Secret Garden. Literature helps younger readers to make sense of the world and themselves, and find ways to express things that they may not already know how, so they often admire competent, independent characters. It's one of the reasons so many stories feature children who are away from home or their parents.

Modern literature tends to have an overly idyllic notion of childhood that is quite unrealistic and unfortunately many adults seem to crave it. Briefly, a lot of it is based on trends of upper class childhoods that became idealised, and then culturally normalised- to have a child who plays all day and cares for nothing. That's where that cute, innocent stereotype comes from. In truth this lifestyle is actually incredibly harmful to their development.

This is the case in general fiction, which often uses children as a representation of innocence. Unfortunately it also leaks into young adult and teen fiction. The once romanticised idea of middle-class maidens spending their youth with little to do but concern with their appearance and swoon over potential suitors, became a cultural norm expected of adolescence.

One of the keys to getting it right is first to acknowledge what children care about. @Magebird hit the nail on the head in writing kids as the protagonists of their own stories. Think realistically about what a child cares about, but express it in a way that perhaps would be better than they would be able to.

If you want to see more into the mind of a child I'd recommend taking a look at auto-biographies and memoirs of childhoods, particularly those written in the 1990s at a period when the kids who grew up under these stereotypes were writing of their own lives and starting to challenge those notions with very raw and realistic accounts of their own childhoods.

Also, quick note on Lord of the Flies, although it is a fantastic book I've also seen some academic criticism of it because although it doesn't classically idealise the children, it still portrays them as being incompetent and uncivilised in the absence of grown ups, as well as the depiction of boyish aggression being of nature rather than nurture.
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Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:37 am
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Kazumi says...



Hands-down, one of the best and most beloved characters in video game stories: Ellie from The Last of Us.

Perhaps one way to write children is to constantly juxtapose them with adults. Because the 14-year-old Ellie is always with Joel, not only do you see how they grow as they bounce off each other, but you also get to highlight her qualities as a young girl and her place in the zombie apocalypse as a hopeful youngster.

She's optimistic, funny, and snarky as a teen, but not shallowly so. She's also a troubled and strong girl who grows to be more independent as the game goes on.

Seriously, watch gameplay of The Last of Us. It's Joel's story, but it's also poignant from Ellie's perspective.
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Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:41 pm
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Wolfical says...



Everyone - thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

@Tenyo suuuper helpful and interesting stuff. Understanding how the stereotypes came to be shows how especially unrealistic that personality type would be in the setting I'm going for. Ultimately, it sounds like I need to find their unique motivations - it's common sense (I do that already with the adult characters) but I guess I needed to hear it stated clearly from you and Mage. Thank you!

@Kazumi I've seen roughly the first couple hours of gameplay, and yes from what I saw Ellie is amazing! She comes up all the time in video essays. I'm hoping I get to play it soon, and if I don't I'll probably just watch the rest of it.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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Thu Jul 30, 2020 4:34 am
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Nymeria says...



Hi! I have 3 younger siblings, the youngest being 8 right now. I also nanny two boys, 6 and 8. I’ve been around kids a whole lot.

What I’ve learned from my little brother is that his mind is a trap. He once regurgitated a John Mulaney skit to me nearly word for word after seeing it ONCE. He spits out TV show and movie quotes and jokes he’s learned all the time. He’s memorized a couple of Hamilton songs. He also holds grudges; he still gets onto me about eating his last piece of birthday cake like four years ago. Also, he’s a really good liar. It’s concerning.

The kids I nanny are really good at entertaining themselves. About ten times a day they say, “I have a game!” And then spit out some wacky crap about the house is flooding and we need to get to high ground or whatever. They’ll spend a half hour digging in the dirt with a stick. They yell at each other and sometimes scream when they get frustrated. They’re always super excited to show me their new clothes or toys.

Some kids have the attention span of a goldfish and want to change the game every four minutes, while others will get fixated on something like legos or drawing for hours. My little brother has been going through a book a day during this quarantine, and that’s something I did too. Universally, kids love to tell people about the things they’re interested in, be it books, sharks, a tv show, Minecraft, or planes. I have one nine year cousin that has always been fascinated by everything nature and he’s always relaying facts he’s learned about the local wildlife, down to the different types of bumblebees. Kids also like to collect things, that’s pretty universal, too.

I hope this helps! The big thing I see a lot of that annoys me is writers will either make children act too young/stupid for their age, or way too mature. You have to find that happy medium, which can be difficult.

I can’t think of any books that are good examples of child characters right now other than the ones already mentioned, but I can recommend some movies— My Neighbor Totoro (all the Studio Ghislaine movies do a great job of representing children) and Nanny McPhee. Beasts of the Southern Wild is another great one that features a six year old girl, though it’s an untraditional setting.

I hope this helped a little! Good luck with your writing :)

Nymeria
Last edited by Nymeria on Thu Jul 30, 2020 4:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Thu Jul 30, 2020 4:56 am
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Wolfical says...



@Nymeria you were just the person I was hoping would reply to this. A perfect summary of what you feel makes kids special, thank you so much!

Universally, kids love to tell people about the things they’re interested in

Ah, yes! With my nephew it's trash trucks. Unique obsessions is definitely something worth considering as I build these characters.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  








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