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Writing children

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Herman Snerd, Apr 14, 2004.

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  1. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 1999
    I seem to vaguely remember something like this being discussed several years ago, but some recent questions I've had leads me to bring up this subject again.

    In short: How do you handle writing child characters into your stories?


    Over the years I've read more than a few fics that include, or are centered around, young characters. Naturally no two authors handle children the same way and I've seen pretty much everything from annoyingly cute to astoundingly precocious.


    For the record I've never written a fanfic that has a child character and I don't have any plans to. My worry is that I'll either over-do it and overuse the character, basically ending up with an adult character in the body of a child, or that I'll find nothing for the character to do and the character will just end up being a bit of scenery. (Basically I would suck at writing a children's book) ;)


    So for those who do write stories with child characters, what's your secret? Or for those who've read such stories, what was it about the way the author handled the character that impressed you?
     
  2. NarundiJedi

    NarundiJedi Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 8, 2001
    I think my secret in writing children is that I really like kids and I used to love babysitting.

    That said, I write humor, so most of the time (well, only once so far) that I write a child, she's going to be a bit bratty and loud-mouthed. What can I say? I was like that as a child, always wanting attention from the adults. I write what I know, and it helps that I can remember how I felt as a child. I even kept a fair number of journals and sketch diaries when I was young, so if you're looking for inspiration, check out your old works from when you were seven or eleven. It tells you the kind of things that kids feel are important, in a roundabout way. ;)

    Jae Angel
     
  3. Kit'

    Kit' Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Oct 30, 1999
    I think the answer is to watch kids and see how they behave.

    Most writers either make kids far too precocious or make them speak like stereotypical babies (as someone who works with children I've never met a child who takes like a stereotypical baby).

    I've written several young teenaged children and one very small child. Actually there are lots of good children characters within the Jemmiah Chronicle series.

    Kithera
     
  4. geo3

    geo3 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Sep 29, 2002
    I've written an OC child who appeared in two of my longer stories. It wasn't hard because I've raised children of my own.

    I think the trick is to keep it simple. My OC had a central role to play in the overall story and found her way into a lot of my readers' hearts and imaginations, but if you look closely, she never carried a scene by herself.(I think very few children could, unless it's a children's story. These certainly were not.) Instead, she was around in a few key scenes and interacted with the important adult characters in ways that illustrated her role and their relationship to her without burdening her. Only a couple of key scenes were writen from her POV, and each time I simplified the language, the insights and the awareness of what was going on in the scene to be appropriate for a child that age.
     
  5. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    I've written a couple of stories where the child is a central character. I wrote Obi-Wan at 6, 13, 14 and 24 in one story. I used increasingly complex language and situations to help describe the story as Obi-Wan grew up. I've also written him at 9 in another story (Bennie which just got accepted into the Archives). I would say that you have to realize that children feel things more intensely and yet cannot express them as well as adults. They would use simple words and clear images to try and get their feelings across. And they get frustrated easily when they don't have the language skills to let you know what they need.

    Of course, it helped that I have a 15 year old and a 9 year old! Observation is key!

    Probably the worst trap to fall into when writing children is to make them too babyish when they are older. A four year old doesn't act like two year old, even when tired. So don't write them that way! No thumb-sucking and sowwie (instead of sorry). They do have their own dignity - allow them to retain it.

    Edit: Jeez Herman I hope I didn't fall into that catagory I've seen pretty much everything from annoyingly cute to astoundingly precocious. Damn, it's possible... cringes and walks away....
     
  6. padawan lunetta

    padawan lunetta Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    May 15, 1999
    I've never written a kid as main, usually they're just...there. ;) I also write what I know, I base a lot of my kid characters off of my own nieces and nephews, who are all rather young. I couldn't write a story with a kid as main, my plots just don't lean that way.
     
  7. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 1999
    Oh don't cringe and walk away, those are just the extremes. ;) :p Plus, those examples also hold for published fiction as much as fanfiction.


    I'm wondering if part of the difficulty for me is that I prefer (and when I'm actually writing, prefer to write) plot driven fics rather than character driven fics. So if the purpose of the fic is to rescue the damsel (or dude) in distress, battle the bad guy and basically save the day, that's not exactly something a 7 year old can realistically pull off.


    Now say for a fic written to demostrate the dynamics between several characters, it's the interaction between people that becomes more important, and in that situation a child character has a better chance of standing out without getting lost in the background.

    As far as child templates go, I have no kids of my own but do have a 5 year old niece and a nephew about to turn 7. Problem is, when I write there's nothing in my stories for someone that age to do other than stand around and look cute, and what's the point of that?
     
  8. padawan lunetta

    padawan lunetta Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    May 15, 1999
    Because they're the characters kid and around? ;) And Parent\chid interaction is important for character driven stories, too. At least it is if you choose to give that character a kid. And if YOUR niece and nephew just stand around looking cute, you must have an easy time babysitting. ;) Mine are all little monsters ;)
     
  9. Jemmiah

    Jemmiah Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Mar 5, 2000
    Ah, my fave subject! :)

    I think it helps if you've already written a grown-up version of that child at some point. That way you can take some of the traits they have as adults and then tone them down (or quite the reverse!), placing them into the body of a child. Of course they won't have experienced half the things they will have by the time they are adults, which is the trick to remember, otherwise as somebody already said you end up with an unbelieveably precocious brat! Not that I've ever written any of those before! * whistles innocently *

    For that reason, I find that the likes of Mace, Qui-Gon and my OC Dex Berlingside are always fun to write as children because of their very diverse natures! :D Yes, writing children can be entertaining! :)

     
  10. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    Problem is, when I write there's nothing in my stories for someone that age to do other than stand around and look cute, and what's the point of that? I had to laugh at that one.... Wow, they do look cute until they get tired or bored or upset or.. well you get the picture.

    All you need to do is look around at how parents interact with their children in the grocery store - that always brings out the worst in both children and adults.

    As for plot-driven stories, a 7 year old probably would just stand there and cry in a tense situation. But a 9 year old would do something if told - even to save the day! They do a lot of growing up in a fairly short amount of time.

    I think that sometimes people forget that the child can alternate between appearing to be older or younger than their age depending on the situation. Even my 15 year old will sometimes act like she's 10 and other times like she's 30... LOL.
     
  11. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 1999
    And if YOUR niece and nephew just stand around looking cute, you must have an easy time babysitting. Mine are all little monsters


    Now Luney, I wouldn't exactly say that my niece and nephew can't be little monsters. We had a birthday party the other night and tears were shed on two separate occasions. ;)
     
  12. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    And if YOUR niece and nephew just stand around looking cute, you must have an easy time babysitting. Mine are all little monsters

    LOL, Luney. If they are related to Herman I doubt he has an easy time babysitting. ;)

    When I've written children, it was helpful to draw on my own experience with my kids, but that doesn't mean you need to be a parent to be able to write them. Most children show up in the romance/humor genre but really they probably should be used more in other stories as well.

    One thing I have noticed is you can tell a lot about a person/group/society by the way they treat a child. That can be uselful even in a plot driven story. Some people will ignore a child, some will fuss, some will not know how to talk to them and feel uncomfortable, others will get down on their level and be non threatening and fun. You can use a brief child encounter or a main child character to help show what your other characters are made of. Kids have this wonderful habit of popping up at the wrong time, losing something important to you by playing. They can also find or say things you didn't expect. As long as they act their age and that can be the hardest thing to get right if you don't spend much time with kids.

    I think you have to respect the child character as a unique person with traits, because it is so easy to just fall back on stereotypes of what a child is. The important thing is to give the child character a purpose. Even if it's just to get in the way of someone else, or to change their mood, or just to inject some fun or tension breaker.

    I've noticed as a mom, that when you are out in public, a lot of people will just ignore kids once they are past that cute baby stage. Often adults think it's ok to jump in line in front of a child or push them out of the way, because it's just a kid, forgetting that you have to teach respect for adults by giving it. But then again I live in a more urban area so that might have an affect. Other GFFA cultures might be very respectful of children. In any case, kids can be hard to write but a good child character can be lots of fun. Unless they are my kids then they are just little monsters like Luney said. :p
     
  13. Kit'

    Kit' Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Dianethx, I think I have the best job for seeing the worst of child/parent interaction. I work in a toy store.

    Something people also don't do in stories, but what happens in real life is the cooing over babies, the silly talk and the giving of parenting advice even when one isn't a parent [face_blush]

    I would be really interested to see what people thought of my main OC child. He is a child and stories do revolve purely around him. He's probably a bit mature for his age, but I actually figure that Jedi children are.

    Also has anyone ever considered the long-term pyschological effects that Jedi children would suffer having been taken away from their parents between the ages of 3 months and 3 years (correct me if those figures are wrong). By that stage there would already be a strong attachment between parent and child, and there have been studies that show that children who lose parents or are taken away from their parents do often have issues with attachment and personal interaction.

    Anyway, end of my off-topic rant.

    Kithera
     
  14. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    I've thought about that Kit. It's one of my personal dislikes about the old order Jedi. Taking a baby away from it's parents is just wrong to me. Making such a life decision, without giving that person the chance to decide if they would even want to be a Jedi, doesn't sit well with me. Your point about the attachment issue is true, but then agan maybe that's what they wanted. For the Jedi to be able to stay away from attachments. I just find it very cold.

    I think for a Jedi child, I'd do some research on children who grew up in orphanages and how their lives were to get some ideas. I'm sure the Jedi had caregivers, but children crave attention and a caregiver would have to split that attention up between a lot of other children. So I'd say that the Jedi child might have issues with approval and wanting it from the adults in their life.
     
  15. EmilieDarklighter

    EmilieDarklighter Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jan 19, 2002
    Ooooh...one of my favorite subjects!

    Actually, none of my current stories have children in them, but Landslide has a fourteen-year-old, and several of my in-progress, unposted things have smaller children. My favorite in-progress is something akin to Cheaper By The Dozen. Plotwise, it's completely different, but it does involve a family with twelve children, and that gets tricky.

    I spend a lot of time with children. On one side of my family, there are seven grandchildren, of which I am the oldest. I also adore babysitting, and I want a big family when I'm older. If you want to write children right, you need to spend time with them. The children I write about are based on the children I know--like two of my cousins, who are constantly fighting, or the little boy that I babysit that never stops asking questions. Give kids little quirks, and don't make them too mature. There's nothing that bothers me more than reading about eight-year-old Anakin Skywalker (or Anakin Solo, for that matter) contemplating the intricate wonders of the universe. Kids will be kids. Let them play and bicker and eat too many sweets. Let them whine about chores and refuse to eat their vegetables.

    If you can't spend time with kids, check out the TV show Kids Say The Darndest Things, or watch children's television like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. Pay attention. Put yourself in the shoes of a child, and try your best to remember your childhood. Kids have to deal with a lot of things, no matter what galaxy they live in. No matter where you are there are always icky vegetables, stupid rules made by moms and dads, scary teachers, and bullies. It's universal. ;)
     
  16. VaderLVR64

    VaderLVR64 Manager Emeritus star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Feb 5, 2004
    I'm the mother of four, the aunt of more than a dozen (just on my husband's side of the family) and I can tell you this. All kids misbehave, all kids have these wonderful qualities that blow you away, and all kids are guaranteed to call you on anything you don't want brought to the public's attention. It WILL happen, it is just a matter of when. My kids are all ages now, from 9 to 20 with two teenagers in between. I like kids, I think relate well to them, I always have a houseful because they like to hang out here. They can play their music loud and they can be rowdy. They can devour food and ride a mattress down the stairs (we have an old one just for that purpose). They know the rules (no racial/ethnic jokes, no one gets hurt, and no mean spirited remarks) and they follow them. Kids are kids, they are loud and active creatures. I take a lot of what I observe and I include it my stories if I have a child or teen character. I love teens, they are very interesting and they have some amazing ideas. I just think of them as not having very reliable "brakes." Meaning an idea that seems good at the time may not be stopped by the "brakes" of maturity and the knowledge of consequences. So, I like writing kids and teens and I hope I do them justice.
     
  17. Jaya Solo

    Jaya Solo Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 12, 1999
    I have about seventeen little children running around creating havoc in my story currently. :) They're all cute, and it's fun to develop each of their own little quirks and watch them get into trouble. It's a humor story and the children were sort of a plot bunny that's run amuck.

    I guess I base the kids on all of the ones that I baby sat, and I can?t say that I?ve grown up enough to not watch cartoon shows and so on. :) Plus? I said quite a few things as a child in public that nearly made my parents die in horror. I was such a little angel. (They learned very quickly to not say stuff in front of me.)
     
  18. Daughter_of_Yubyub

    Daughter_of_Yubyub Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    Jul 8, 2002
    In the end, the only way to write children is to actually observe children. My poor little brother has served as guideline for many young male characters. I also spent a lot of time working with children through various volunteer programs. And I saw kids at their worst working at McDonald's. I love kids, but I hate the Happy Meal toy display case that shows the ones we don't have at the moment. :p

    What I've been trying to do with my little Wes fic is demonstrate an increasing awareness of how bad things really are under the Empire as he ages. When he is nine, he has a vague idea that his parents need help getting by. As he gets older, he starts to realize more and more how badly treated his world is.

    Or at least, that's the effect I'm aiming for. :p

    Blarg, IPA. :p
     
  19. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    My best way to do it isn't in characterization, because I'm around a lot of children and I can see behavioral patterns. The challenge, generally, has always been in dialogue for me. SO I take the advice of Ray Bradbury's example between "Say it ain't so, Joe," and "Refute these calumnies, Nicholas!" Picture your character in normal speech and don't make them beyond their years or ridiculously juvenile and it usually plays into your characters.
     
  20. Jaya Solo

    Jaya Solo Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 12, 1999
    So if the purpose of the fic is to rescue the damsel (or dude) in distress, battle the bad guy and basically save the day, that's not exactly something a 7 year old can realistically pull off.

    Sure they could... and then they'd wake up. ;) I read a great story about a kid that pretended to be a Jedi... but that author never finished it. :: sniff ::
     
  21. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Well, theoretically, if the bad guy were about their height and could be outwitted, rather than outfought... Wait a minute, when did we start talking about Home Alone?

    Here's a consideration: Tips on writing Jedi children without making them MarySues? They're not omnipotent, omniscient, etc. so what up?
     
  22. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 1999
    Children, particularly Jedi children, as Mary Sues is a pet peeve of mine. Personally, I find it boring to read about overly precocious children solving the puzzles that leave their parents baffled.


    While it would make sense for a child to accidentally overhear the nugget of information that winds up being the key to solving a riddle, it just doesn't work for me to have some 6-year-old prodigy comprehend and solve complex problems that nobody else can grasp.
     
  23. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    It didn't work all that well with the NJO either when they had the teenagers constantly showing up the older characters and coming up with all the ideas. ;)
     
  24. angel_gidget

    angel_gidget Jedi Youngling star 1

    Registered:
    Apr 16, 2004
    Well, for starters, I think it's a good idea to avoid using big words in their dialogue. Some kids understand a lot of the larger vocabulary that's thrown at them based on the tone it's used with, but they don't usually bother trying to get their tongues around those words themselves.

    Another thing I tend to stress with a child is that they can be a little oblivious to personal space boundaries and subtleties. For instance, they'll give the nice adult a hug, even if they adult happens to be a Senator who isn't supposed to show such displays of affection in public.

    Another thing is the affect they have on adults. Adults often try to improve their behavior around children on the instict of being good role models. Or at least, try too look like that's what their doing when their with a child in front of other adults.

    Anther thing is that a child is more likely to say what's on his or her mind. It's a great way to enlighten an adult character who's missing something. If they other adults are waiting for him to catch up on the subtleties, the child can cut through it by simply describing what he or she saw.

    I guess that's my two cents. Basically just a few observations of what I do without thinking aobut it when I write a kid in one of my fanfictions. Hope it was helpful.
     
  25. Marsa

    Marsa Jedi Youngling star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 23, 2004
    Wow.

    Thanks everbody! My readers don't know it yet, but one of my stories is about to get a lot of children characters.

    No mains, fortunately, but truth be told, I've only been writing fiction for two and a half months. So I appreciate any and all advice!

    I'm gonna have to keep referring back to this.

    Question: MarySues as children ARE annoying, so dare I mention Ender's Game???

    What's y'all's spin on that?

    Hopefully I just opened a can of worms, cause I'm curious! ~Marsa
     
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