10

I'm having some trouble writing dialogue (and emotive responses) for children in the age bracket of roughly 10-13. They end up reading more like adults with limited vocabularies and simple grammar than like actual children. I'm also having trouble characterising them; even when they read like children, they read like Stock Child #3 rather than like actual characters.

The characters don't remain children for the entire book; the first few chapters are something like an extended prologue, and they spend the rest of the book as young adults. They're also somewhat mature by most standards even as children (since they are a war orphan, a street urchin and an escaped slave), but still undoubtedly children. It's important to me that the characters work well and are engaging.

Does anybody have any advice for writing characters this age, especially in their interactions both with other children and with adults?

15

I'm a father of four children. Two of my daughters are this age. My son is just out of that range (15) and my straggler, my youngest daughter is under it (7).

Kids this age aren't just less-educated adults. They're different. Smart kids this age may have vocabularies that outstrips some adults' - but their concerns are different.

They want to know how everything works; why the world is how it is. Distracted and fascinated by things that adults may find mundane or boring or intimidating. They didn't live the past, so they don't understand it. The world is new and intense and they're only beginning to understand its nuances. They live in an eternal now. They're developing their own passions, making an identity for themselves. They seek out new things - often music, art, literature, technology, the other sex.

Their brains are sponges. They have an deep understanding of technology. With language roughly adult-like, they can ask both profound and child-like questions. They make up words. They use words wrong. They come to absurd conclusions about the world. They know emerging trends in pop culture, whether music, movies, video games, the internet - especially YouTube. They use words that I don't know, they know things I don't.

I doubt kids this age conceive of life prior to the internet.

They speak and dress to either establish their own identity, or lose it to the crowd, depending on their mood and their personality.

They live and breathe YouTube. There's a cultural drive to be a YouTube sensation that resembles what it was like to be a rock/pop star in my generation. They love Minecraft. They love Japanese pop culture, like anime, manga, vocaloids and Pokemon. They love video games more than movies or television. They love Mario, Luigi and MegaMan. They know memes and internet culture.

To write children this age convincingly, spend some time with them, either online or in person. They can open up new worlds for you.

EDITED: for brevity.

  • 4
    1) It sounds like the OP's novel is set in the past, so he will have to modify modern children's behavior. But you've hit on many universals. 2) Another universal about children's conversation that I notice is how quickly they change topics, to the point of non-sequiturs. – dmm Jan 27 '15 at 21:16
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Have you spent time with children? If not, and I know it's not the easiest thing to do if you don't have kids of your own, so I'd suggest watching youtube videos of kids speaking.

3

It's definitely important to spend time around children if you're going to write for them, but I think it's also imperative to read things aimed at your chosen demographic. Writers for that age bracket do a lot of research in order to appeal to their target audience. The creator of TV show 'Awkward.' did a focus group with some teenagers from her old school and asked them their thoughts on various aspects of life. (You can read the interview with her here: http://collider.com/lauren-iungerich-awkward-interview/).

Writing for children is a lot harder than it sounds and can require more research than writing for adults because you have to revert to how you thought ten/twenty/thirty/etc years ago.

That being said, not every children's writer will get it right. Research the most popular ones for not only children's fiction but the genre your piece fits into. I'd recommend The Book Thief if you haven't read it as that's about a girl growing up during WW2. She's very intelligent and also likes to steal.

Also, do you know anyone with children, either your characters' ages or slightly older? You could ask them for anecdotes which will help you get an idea of how children interact with those older than them as well as each other.

2

Sounds like you haven't spent too much time with children.

Their speech pattern reflects largely the speech pattern of their peers and the adults around them.

10-13 year olds can have a very extensive vocabulary. They can very easily know more specific nouns than most adults about some specific topics.

But to me children speak is most easily depicted by focusing on their maturity level. They are more innocent, more blunt (without being malicious), less socially sophisticated.

1

It is called "research". Just go where kids that age hang out and listen to them for a few afternoons.

If your society makes it impossible for you to be around children, as the comments suggest, and you are really serious about this, you could volunteer to work with children for a few weeks or months. I train a group of kids for two hours once a month in a sport, in the past I have given private lessons to struggling puplis. I'm sure you can find something that fits your talents and interests and involves children of the age you are interested in. An internship, voluntary work, or whatever. If getting in there is difficult, you might even try to simply explain your research goals. Maybe someone will not be paranoid and let you spend some time with them.

You also may have relatives, friends, or friends of friends, who have children. Approach them, explain yourself, and ask if you can spend a few afternoons with their kids. If they are close to you, they might even be happy, if you took their kids out for a few afternoons.

As a writer, you need creativity, so be creative. Kids are everywhere. You have so many options to meet them.

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    In today's society this might read as creepy, or set off alarms for parents. Better to volunteer for a school or after-school program --you can explain that you're doing research for a book. – Chris Sunami Jan 25 '15 at 2:52
  • What? If you sit, writing, in a McDonald's, that is considered creepy? Where do you live? – user5645 Jan 25 '15 at 5:51
  • @what It's not the location or the writing that's the problem; it's that you are clearly focusing your attention on somebody else's children while taking notes about something. Trying to hide the focus of your attention would arguably just make it worse. – Watercleave Jan 25 '15 at 8:16
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    Sure, if you aren't looking at them, there's no way for me as a parent to tell. @Watercleave is suggesting that gesture, movement, and body language are part of dialogue, so if you aren't watching the kids while they're talking, you're going to miss part of what you're supposed to be researching. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 25 '15 at 17:43
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    I'd love to come to your local McD and see if you can spot me ;-) – user5645 Jan 25 '15 at 18:55
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I'm kind of going through the same thing. I"m trying to figure out it myself.

Things that I do, so dreadfully in my mind, I try to understand what's important to them at that age. I mean I kinda think back to when I was that age. I can still sort of remember, but not really you know.

I guess reading a juniors reading level book where the main character is a kid of the age you are speaking of 10-13. I guess that's something you could try doing to get the feel of "how" exactly they talk. That's something I might do actually. Best of luck!! :) We're both traveling the same road XP All the best!!

  • Sounds like you're recommending understanding the characters' motivations. Would you be willing to expand on that point? – Neil Fein Jul 8 '15 at 21:15

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