A Writing Journey

Children as Characters

In the sequel to QFS, I have several children characters. I have always avoided using children in my writing. Why? Because I have never seen children done well in books (no – not even in children’s fiction).

You might be protesting this – what about Harry Potter, or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe? These are wonderful stories and I will not try to argue otherwise. But when you look at the children in them, and then look at real-life kids, there is something distinctly different. Children in real life are quirky, unpredictable, and full of nuance. Children in stories are well-rounded, use language well (or at least consistently) and are, on the whole, adult.

There was a book I read part of several years ago (and that it has stuck in my memory shows how much it bothered me) in which a five-year-old boy spoke with perfect grammar, perfect understanding of complex words, and insight that children of that age, quite frankly, don’t have. My nephew is this age, and even when he wasn’t I knew that children didn’t talk or act the way the character did.

So why is it so difficult to write child characters? I have a theory. It goes back to the unpredictability of real children. In books, we like a certain amount of unpredictability, but in the end we like to know how a character will react in certain situations. Children may scream for two hours at the mere mention of a nap one day, and the next go down without a fuss. So when we write, we give them one (maybe two) reactions to a situation and leave it at that. In addition, it is difficult to capture the silly little grins, the words that don’t flow quite right, and all the little things that make children so real.

And what do we do to make up for the fact that we struggle? We write them as mini-adults, perhaps a little flatter than our older characters, and say that they are mature for their age, or reserved, or had to grow up fast. I’m not saying that these things can’t happen, but when all child characters are like this I’d say there is a problem.

What do you think? Have you read any books where the children were especially well-written (if so, please share – I really want to see that!)? Do you struggle with writing child characters?

Take-care, fellow travelers.

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Comments on: "Children as Characters" (5)

  1. Reblogged this on QuillTwist and commented:
    You’ve definitely got a point about children not being written realistically sometimes. I tend to avoid them mostly, except recently I’ve written a scene where a man looks after his neighbour’s mentally handicapped child. I did this to highlight the MC’s character as he ends up threatening some other children in a park who bully the girl for being simple.
    Otherwise, when written well, children can be used as symbols of innocence.

    • Thanks for the reblog! I think that is a good use of children characters. You are right, they can be used to symbolize innocence, but that is done too frequently for my tastes. Still, when done well it works.
      Take care,
      Emily

  2. Good point! I’ve scrolled through my read books on Goodreads and couldn’t find one where there was a believable child protagonist. Hmm, I feel a new story bubbling…

  3. I’m currently writing a story where the protagonist begins the novel at age seven. I agree that writing a young character is hard to do accurately. I’m doing it as a reflection from the character when she’s older to make it a little more believable.

    One book I thought had a well written child was Room by Emma Donoghue. I thought the young narrator was going to annoy me at first, but it made the book read even faster. I highly recommend it.

    • I think the technique of reflecting back on childhood events works well. Some of my favorite books have done that (Assassin’s Apprentice, for example). I will have to try to find a copy of Room and see how I like it, thanks for the suggestion.

      Take care,
      Emily

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