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Writing children realistically?

Discussion in 'Research' started by Shreddies, Aug 6, 2015.

  1. Shreddies

    Shreddies Troubadour

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    Does anyone know any guides or have any tips for writing children realistically?

    For various ages, but specifically around 8-ish and 12-ish.

    I don't know any kids well enough to observe them. :(
     
  2. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Do you remember being the ages in question? Have you ever looked back at your childhood and remembered how you viewed things as opposed to now?
     
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  3. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    They're MONSTERS!




    Sorry. A school teacher should not answer this post.

    (Trick already gave the best answer anyway.)
     
  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  5. Shreddies

    Shreddies Troubadour

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    Unfortunately, no. I don't remember anything of my childhood aside from still images and the odd snippet from around the age of 10-12, and even then it's extremely blurry at best. :(
     
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    This.

    I know sometimes when I think about the way I thought and did things when I was young and really young, I want to smack myself and wring my own neck.

    From my observations, children are just people. They may be blissfully ignorant, but they're not dumb. Their knowledge is limited, so they may draw incorrect and oft funny conclusions to things. But at the same time their observations may be astute and carry a certain truth.

    Children tend to be very truthful, but not always tactful, because tact sometimes means having to bend the truth or tell a white lie.

    I find children are oft driven more by their emotions and don't generally think about the future. Now is all that matters.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
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  7. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    As sure as there are dumb adults, there are dumb kids. Youtube is full of videos showing kids doing dumb shit.

    I like the term blissfully ignorant. I'm going to use that when referring stupid people I know. It's so much nicer.

    You Canadians are so f**king nice. Even French Canadians are polar opposites of their European counterparts.
     
  8. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    From the introduction to Ender's Game:

    -- -- -- --

    I recall a letter to the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, in which a woman who worked as a guidance counselor for gifted children reported that she had only picked up Ender’s Game to read it because her son had kept telling her it was a wonderful book. She read it and loathed it. Of course, I wondered what kind of guidance counselor would hold her son’s tastes up to public ridicule, but the criticism that left me most flabbergasted was her assertion that my depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic. They just don’t talk like that, she said. They don’t think like that.

    And it wasn’t just her. There have been others with that criticism. Thus I began to realize that, as it is, Ender’s Game disturbs some people because it challenges their assumptions about reality. In fact, the novel’s very clarity may make it more challenging, simply because the story’s vision of the world is so relentlessly plain. It was important to her, and to others, to believe that children don’t actually think or speak the way the children in Ender’s Game think and speak.

    Yet I knew–I knew–that this was one of the truest things about Ender’s Game. In fact, I realized in retrospect that this may indeed be part of the reason why it was so important to me, there on the lawn in front of the Salt Palace, to write a story in which gifted children are trained to fight in adult wars. Because never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along–the same person that I am today. I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires. And in writing Ender’s Game, I forced the audience to experience the lives of these children from that perspective–the perspective in which their feelings and decisions are just as real and important as any adult’s.

    The nasty side of myself wanted to answer that guidance counselor by saying, The only reason you don’t think gifted children talk this way is because they know better than to talk this way in front of you. But the truer answer is that Ender’s Game asserts the personhood of children, and those who are used to thinking of children in another way–especially those whose whole career is based on that–are going to find Ender’s Game a very un-pleasant place to live. Children are a perpetual, self-renewing underclass, helpless to escape from the decisions of adults until they become adults themselves. And Ender’s Game, seen in that context, might even be a sort of revolutionary tract.

    Because the book does ring true with the children who read it. The highest praise I ever received for a book of mine was when the school librarian at Farrer Junior High in Provo, Utah, told me, “You know, Ender’s Game is our most-lost book.”

    -- -- -- --

    Then Card wrote Magic Box, where he fell into every trap he avoided in Ender's Game, because there's no limit to the ways in which he's devoted to destroying his own legacy.
     
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  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You write children just like you write all people. They aren't some strange, different kind of being. They're just people who are still developing.
     
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  10. Manalodia

    Manalodia Sage

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    Hmm. I like how he explained it, even if I don't quite see it that way. I've never read Ender's Game so not sure if "gifted" means intelligent or having unique abilities (presumably the first since he speaks of reality, haha). What I've found most often to be true for all of the academically sound or gifted kids I went to school with is that they were socially inept, some to the point they made you question that intelligence only applied to a textbook. It may mostly depend on how children are raised.

    Long ago children were treated with more maturity/responsibility as much was expected of them. There was difference between social classes and if some could even afford school, but they matured through work at home. Their diction was that of adults early on and their young minds were encouraged to think; this may be one huge difference. Schools now tell children what to think, what's acceptable to think and do not allow the chance to expand or question (unless instructed to). This depends on the teacher or parents, as well and how present the family is at home. We live in a society now where younger and younger are expected to take care of themselves since the mother can't afford to be home, but they are not being reinforced with the mindset to do so.

    More to the post though, it may be harder for some of us to recall childhood if they are up there in years, but I still can recall most of it myself. Stupid decisions, lack of experience and what understand I did show and grew. It's not very hard for me to write about children since they are indeed like people and vary in degrees. They grow if the story takes place over time where adult characters are more set in their ways unless it is a point to develop another way.
     
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  11. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    This is truth. The part of the brain that deals with future consequence doesn't develop until a person is in their teens. I can't recall the exact age, but I want to say 13 - 15.

    Kids are different from adults. There is a reason that psychology has a segment dedicated to children. They think different, respond differently, and have less life experiences to help govern their thoughts/actions.

    Children also suffer from an inferiority complex. They challenge adults to level the playing field. When a child makes a parent angry, it's with this motive in mind (or a lack of good life experiences to hell guide their behavior).

    They also lack the verbal skills of adults. They're more prone to showing how they feel and will appear more emotional.
     
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  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I guess I would start by asking why you want to write about children when you admit you don't know anything about them. If it's an attempt to stretch your own skills, then kudos and it's time to do research. Which, I realize you were asking for pointers. I don't have any except to say to start reading books written for that age group.

    But carefully, carefully. Children books for the 2010s read very differently from ones written in the 1950s.

    Which brings me to a couple of important points. One is class, one is era, one is culture, and yet another is context. Children speak differently around adults than they do around each other. Children of aristocrats speak differently from children raised in a slum, and both speak differently from rural children. This includes not only what they say but when they speak. And modern children speak differently from medieval children. As someone has already noted, what sounds like realistic dialog to a reader in one time and place is going to ring false for another.

    All you can do is to immerse yourself in the literature and try to find your own voice for your characters. It's going to be limiting. Children don't have the same breadth or depth that an adult does (or at least can have). At the same time, they can bring a unique perspective that can be difficult to sell in an adult character.

    For myself, I wouldn't attempt to write children unless the story absolutely required them. Even then, I would get away with much because of the fantasy, non-modern setting of my world. I would not even begin to contemplate writing contemporary children. I have enough pitfalls of my own creation with inviting in more!

    Best wishes in your endeavor.
     
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  13. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Generally speaking, children are more impressionable and innocent at the 10-12 age. This is the "awkward" age. The children are old enough not to believe in Santa Claus and such, but not teenagers yet in mind or body. The bodies are shifting to the young adult form, sometimes giving girls a lanky appearance having these tall child bodies, and boys look sort of like tiny men. Height differences are probably most extreme at this age, with a lot of girls being taller than boys, and boys who grow slower are smaller than guys they might outgrow at 18. (I was like that. One of the smallest freshmen and also one of the largest seniors in my class… though I wasn't very big. My class was exceptionally runty—not one senior weighed 200+ pounds.)

    PS- My oldest daughter is 7yr,7mo and is 52" tall and over 60 pounds. She's tall for her age. Just today, I checked the beam with penciled height markings. Amelia's height at 2yr,7mo is greater than that of her 2yr,11mo sister, who is taller than my middle child was on her 3rd birthday. I suppose an average 8-year-old girl would be at least 4 feet tall.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2015
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  14. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

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    I have two boys - one aged 10 and one 3. The 10-12 year age bracket is a very interesting one - children have one leg in childhood and one in adolescence. My 10 year old is starting to be interested (obsessed) with girls and finds teenage themes engaging, yet sometimes he just wants to be a little kid - he's aware that he's still in the wonder years and sometimes he even says "Dad I'm growing up too fast, I want to keep being a kid". He still loves the protection of his parents and yet is starting to push against us, to need a peer group.

    I agree with the comments above - kids speak differently among themselves than with adults. When my son is chatting with friends he's trying to impress, entertain and give orders - he'll use foul language, talk loudly/excitedly, make fun of teachers and tell stories etc - with adults he's trying to keep out of trouble or get permission/favours for things he wants (adults are gatekeepers of all the goodies) - he is quieter and more mannered as this is what adults expect of kids. In past times I'd expect kids to be even better mannered as they were 'seen and not heard' and probably use 'yes sir, no sir' - but no such manners would probably apply when chatting with other kids.

    As a 10 year old he is becoming more aware of the outside world, of what is wrong and right - its the beginning of a social conscience. With younger kids they are more self-centred about their own needs.
     
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  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Huh. This is not how my kids are at all. The talk the same way among adults and among peers. Maybe it's because I've always talked to them like equals.

    I think the thing is, that kids are A LOT more influenced by how they are raised than adults are. Adults have, generally, become their own person. But kids are still highly dependent on their family and their surroundings. How their parents treat them and the environment they grow up in are going to have a huge impact on their personality and behavior.

    Of course, all kids are different. If they are given breathing room to develop themselves then it's noticeable from very, very early ages. I have 5 kids and they are all unique individuals. Their unique personalities started showing up almost as soon as they were born.

    So there is no "this is how kids of this age group act". All kids are highly different. But, when you get down to it, they are just people who still have a ton of physical development ahead of them, who are still discovering the world around them, and who have a lot to learn, all depending on their inherent nature, their environment, what experiences they've had and how they are raised by the adults in charge of them. They're really just smaller adults.
     
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  16. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Playing off Mytho's point, I'll add this:

    How kids talk/act depends on several factors, a big one being other kids in the home. My 2-year-old is the only one of my daughters who was stripping Barbies (actually, Disney princess dolls) at 1 and dressing them at 2. The others weren't into these kinds of dolls until later in life. My two-year-old is also the most advanced speaker for her age of the three, and it's clear to my wife and I that she simply learned from her big sisters and had the desire to interact as they do.

    I think it was basically, she learned to walk around the same time as her sisters (all within weeks of each other at 11-12 mo), and from there she tried to catch up with her big sisters in terms of playing and talking. Her interest in reading took time (though she mastered the iPad), but now that my 5-year-old is getting serious, my 2-year-old wants me to read Dr. Seuss books five-in-a-row. My 7-year-old will likely prove to be the earliest reader because she had a little time as an only child, while my 2-year-old will likely be 2nd earliest because she has two big sisters with the ability and desire to read to her.

    Anyway, lots of factors determine how children develop, so yeah, you can write a child and be off (from the average) by a couple years and you're not really "doing it wrong." (Unless of course you have a 12-year-old with a sword defeating an entire crew of grown-up pirates, and it's meant to be a not-vomit-inducing story.)
     
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  17. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I don't know if it counts as a vomit-inducing story, but this reminded me of Hitgirl from Kick-Ass.


    [video=youtube_share;Ampl0-BxSYI]https://youtu.be/Ampl0-BxSYI?t=77[/video]
     
  18. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    a 32 year old man with a sword defeating an entire crew of pirates is equal unrealistic.
     
  19. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

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    Not as much as you might think. Stede Bonnet once had a crew of 46 split between three sloops, leaving an average of 15 on each. Now consider William McBean, a Scotsman serving with the British during the Indian Mutiny, who was set upon by 11 men and killed them all with his sword, an act for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. And he was apparently 40 years old when that happened. Sure you need to fudge things a bit but with the right circumstances almost anything becomes possible.
     
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  20. DanJames

    DanJames Scribe

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    Watch documentaries of or related to children. A good way to get an unbiased look into the mindset of multiple children and draw your own conclusions.

    Even if the documentary came out last year but you're writing a story in the middle ages, quite a lot of the mindset is the same, even if the culture and experiences change.

    i think the biggest thing to keep in mind is ignorance, naivity and curiosity. If the legends say that everyone should stay away from the cave at the edge of town, it is more than likely one brave, silly child will be curious enough to try and find out why, naive enough to fall into a trap and ignorant enough to have been blissfully unaware of all the warning signs.

    Of course, that's just one specific example of a child.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2015
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