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A Matter of Age (A.K.A. Skinsy's Confused)

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Mon Feb 13, 2012 12:13 pm
Sins says...

I have a bit of a dilemma. I've had a novel idea for a while now, and although I doubt I'll be able to write it anytime soon, I'd like to give it a go eventually. The problem I'm facing is something to do with the protagonist and the format of the novel. Basically, I want to write the novel in the voice of a 6-8 year old kid and do so in a diary format.

That gives me loads of issues though, the main one being the fact that a 6-8 year old's writing skills aren't exactly... well, very professional. Not only in terms of spelling but also things like sentence structure and punctuation. The problem is that I hardly want to write something that doesn't make sense and looks really unprofessional because of the age of the MC, but then I can hardly write in a diary format and make the child have unnervingly advanced writing skills.

The only good thing is that my intention is for this kid to be really intelligent for his/her age in the first place, but still... it would seem weird to write a diary in the POV of a 6-8 year old without any real grammatical errors.

Basically, does anyone know how to solve this problem? Or come up with a good excuse for the diary to have advanced grammatical skills for a 6-8 year old's? I've thought about scrapping the diary format but I just like the idea, and have always imagined the novel like that... As for the kid, I definitely want to keep him/her between 6 and 8 because I want that sense of immaturity and innocence.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated, even if they involve shaved cats. I'm up for anything. Thanks, guys!
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Mon Feb 13, 2012 12:34 pm
Blues says...

Hey Skins!

You've got a large dilemma there!

I honestly have no idea about what you can do, but perhaps the narrator could be recalling the events from when they were that age (but narrating it when they're older)? Of course, that'd mean that you'd have to write it in a non-diary format. I'm not sure how you'd do it while keeping that format.

Although, you could still keep the sense of immaturity and innocence in the dialogue if you have it from the POV of the narrator when they're older and recalling the events. Then, you'd have the balance between good writing and the immaturity and innocence.

Hope I helped! :)

Edit: Thinking of it again, I had another idea which sounded a bit silly to me, but I thought I'd mention it in case it sparked a big flash of inspiration.

Why not have the narrator - when they're older - read the diary? Maybe the entries would be simple one liners that'd trigger flashbacks or something which are obviously a lot longer.

A problem with that (that I can think of) is that the reader might question the relevance of the diary if it was in the format which I explained earlier. Perhaps that could tie in with the main plot if there was some sort of crisis that involved the past (the diary) which would make it a lot more relevant? That crisis would probably be the climax, maybe.

Just a few ideas. I hoped I helped - even a bit!

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Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:43 pm
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Lauren2010 says...

You could always combine POV strategies.

For example, each chapter/section/whathaveyou would begin with a short diary entry from the POV of the MC themselves. This allows for things such as bad grammar/spelling/sentence structure and abbreviated length (because I know I wouldn't have written pages of diary entries when I was a kid, they would have been short and focused on only the important stuff) without destroying the reader by making them sit through a whole novel of terrible mechanics (the written kind, not the car-fixing kind).

Then, the rest of the chapter would be a retelling of that event from the eyes of a 3rd person narrator or from the eyes of a 1st person narrator speaking from the future (so that they could appear older and wiser). The 3rd person narrator, in general, allows for the narrator to be more intelligent and wise than the MC. If you decided to scrap the idea of the diary entries, I would suggest sticking solely to a 3rd person narrator.

It may also help to hang out with a 6-8 yr old (in a legal, non kidnapp-y, non stalker-y way) to get an idea of how intelligent they seem before embarking on a final decision, because they might surprise you with how eloquent they can be (that is, as eloquent as any child can be xD)
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Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:01 pm
IcyFlame says...

Definitely try spending some time with a 6-8 year old to see just how intelligent they are: that age is very difficult to guess at!

You could have the child writing a diary but I think it might be easier for you to just tell it in their POV. That way, the protagonist doesn't get bored of the diary entry after a page or so and you still get the same kind of innocence. I do wonder though, whether you might need to have two POVs to swtich between, as reading (and probably writing) the voice of a child could become tiring.

Try out a variety of methods maybe for the first three chapters or so and if you fancy posting them all on here I'll definitely be up for checking them out! If at first you don't succeed try try again!

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Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:26 pm
Sins says...

Thanks for all the advice, home dawgs. I really appreciate it!

Luckily for me, I have a seven-year-old cousin so he could be pretty useful for figuring out a kid's intelligence at that age. But yeah, you guys have definitely come up with better ideas than me. My only worry is that I get confused easily and I know I'll end up confusing myself if I do something like have the MC looking back at his days as a youngster.... Most people would cope fine, but hey, this is me we're talking about.

I think the only way I can keep the young voice and have the novel in a diary sort of format is to scrap the diary itself, but to make the novel present tense. The good thing about that is that I recently read a novel with that kind of format, so I could use that as a guide of sorts. I think you have a good idea though, Icy: try a variety of methods and pick the one that works best.

you might need to have two POVs to swtich between, as reading (and probably writing) the voice of a child could become tiring.

That's the challenge. ;)
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Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:52 pm
Shearwater says...

I like Lauren's idea but the only thing that could become a spoiler is the first diary entry. If you plan on surprising us within the novel, the first entry would spoil it since most likely, the child would've written it down like, "I saw my real dad today." Or something, you know what I mean.

Um, this is quite an interesting POV though, especially since you want to write in a diary format. If I were you, I would actually just forget about the diary format and tell the story as the child's adult self glimpsing into the past and telling the readers a story of when he/she was younger and probably have them write in the diary every chapter. Something like that. It's a tough one, Skinsy but keep your mind open and see where you can head with these different formats.

I hope you write it! I'll be here waiting to sink my teeth into it. :)
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:19 am
Azila says...

Hey Skins,

When I first saw this post the first thing I thought of was the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Have you read it? It's been a while since I read it, but I'm pretty sure I remember it being a large part through a child's diary. The narrator may have been a bit older than your age range, but not much. You might want to look into it.

You do have a bit of a bit of a dilemma, but one thing is certain: writing something that's a grammatical/syntactically mess, would be a little painful to read. I do really love the idea of your character being very intellegent, though -- especially if they're intellegent in the way that most kids that age actually are intellegent, because one should never underestimate those little beasts, honestly. Anyway...

Some ideas that I had:

-You could have the 6-8 year old's diary entries be interspersed with entries from 10ish years later, maybe? That way it would sort of be like switching character POVs, except both POVs would be the same person... just at different ages.

-Maybe you could go between the diary entries and the child being a present-tense narrator? Each chapter could have bits of each. The kid's narration would probably be less tiring to read, and it would also give the reader an interesting look at what the kid thinks is worth remembering about the day and how that differs from what actually happened (i.e. what they write down vs. what they experience).

-The other thing that you could do is... just make it all be written through the diary entries. I agree that this would be very difficult to pull off (I know I wouldn't be able to do it!) but with enough determination and experimentation it just might work. As long as you made it clear that the kid cared about journalling (and therefore was careful about spelling, etc.) then I could see it being kind of cool. Especially if the journal ended up spanning several years. It would be experimental, but I could see it working.

Personally, I'd recommend experimenting with this by writing short stories as sort of "test shots." That might just be me though...

And definitely keep a 6 year old or two in your closet for reference! :}

Good luck! And let me know if you wanna discuss ideas or whatever. You know how much I like to talk about ruin other peoples' novels-in-progress.
Last edited by Azila on Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:21 am
stargazer9927 says...

I'm also writing a novel (well, I've written a couple actually) in a eight year old perspective. I've only written two diary formats though, one being twelve and the other being sixteen, so I don't know if I can help you there. But when writing like an eight year old just try to think like they would. Yes, they are innocent, and they rely mostly on other people.

Just don't forget to add character to them. Of the two eight year old novels I've written one was really smart and didn't think like a normal eight year old at all, while the other didn't understand simple things (for a reason related to the story) and he had to have everything explained to him. Personally, I've met both types. I did this reading thing at a second grade class once and those children amazed me. 17 Again was their favorite movie apparently... Don't underestimate them, but at the same time don't overdo it. I also have a sister around that age, and let's just say she's on the lower end of the scale. It's all about personality.
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:57 pm
Twit says...

Everyone has given you some good ideas structure-wise already, but I thought I'd add that if the child has older siblings, that could add some maturity to its articulation. Like, the brother after me was fairly average and all in articulation, but my very littlest brother (he's just nine) can at times sound very mature because all his siblings are quite a bit older than him, so he's picked up expressions and words that can sound really incongruous because he's so young. He doesn't always know exactly what they mean, but he uses them anyway--kind of like Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird.
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:42 pm
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RacheDrache says...

I'm the proud babysitter of a 6 and 8-year-old, and what they're capable of would definitely surprise you. And I know I started writing when I was 8. I was far from good, but some of the main things I weren't grasping were things like pacing and transitions and flow. So 6-8 year old writing can actually be mechanically sound, with decent punctuation and such, but what'll be missing are complex sentences that juggle complex relationships...and all concept of flow and transition and between-the-lines and such. I think some of my diary entries at 10 go something like "Today I went to school and my friend was so annoying. She just needs to grow up. I had pizza for lunch. My brother is stupid."

Otherwise, I'd go creep Snoink's novel Swan Song because it's also in diary entries of a six-year-old and that might give you some ideas.

I know from reading Swan Song that it's a really enjoyable/frustrating reading experience because a kid isn't going to give the info the reader wants. The kid doesn't know what someone's going to be reading this or that explanations might be nice. The kid's just writing as people actually experience stories, so it's all very real and awesome and... frustrating.
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:36 pm
Sins says...

You guys are loads of help. Like, srsly.

I know what you guys mean in terms of kiddies' intelligence. Little kids can be cleverer than they seem, especially if it's the kid I'm planning to write who's a little, innocent genius. :P I think I could make it believable that the kid's a good speller and knows how to make sense with what they're saying, but it's things like correct apostrophe placement I know would be impossible to make believable, and it would kill me to write things like 'the dogs toilet' instead of 'the dog's toilet.' Not that I'd want to write that anyway...

Also, thanks for the novel suggestions, turtleface and Rach! I've always been intrigued by Snoink's novel because I've seen it pop up a lot here. I've just never actually read any of it for some reason, so I'll totally check that out.

As a side note, I actually found a journal I wrote from the ages of 7 to 10 and to be fair, I always managed to write one page. It's not too shabby either. I could even spell unfortunately correctly at eight. Y'all jealous?
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:18 pm
babymagic18 says...

Advice, read children's books it may just help. Or find a child in that age range and ask them to write something for you and work from there.

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Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:06 pm
Starhunter says...

Another book that might help is "The Music of Dolphins."

It's written in diary format from the point of view of this girl who was raised by dolphins and then taken to a research center to be studied. Her way of thinking and writing is very simple and what she writes (at least in the beginning of the book) sounds like a little kid. There's even times where she'll write about something, and there's something happening in the background that she doesn't pick up on, but it's obvious to the reader... the way something could be happening around a little kid, but they just think everyone's happy.

It's a quick read, and it might help.
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