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I am writing a novel which I imagine will have an adult or older readership (or at least teen) wherein the main protagonist is a ten year old boy. It is definitely not written for a younger audience as it deals with issues such as the loss of a parent and finding ones place in the world.

I have received the ultimate accolade with one of my scenes as a few of my proof readers have surreptitiously wiped away a small tear (it is supposed to be an emotional moment).

Most of the story is seen through this boy's eyes (not exclusively but 90%).

What advice can you offer to help me ensure that the story is authentically ten years old and yet not too immature for the audience?

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The paragon example, I'd say, when writing from a child's perspective in first person, in a book that is NOT for a child audience, is found in Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence.

I'd call these stylistic points Condillacian statues effects.

1) Slang and language use that is not quite formal English is necessary if the perspective character is a child and not an adult, because they lack experience or possibility of wide reading or writing. Whatever experience they do have has a disproportional effect on their speaking and writing. And this is magnified by the fact that they imitate what language objects (words, phrases, etc) they newly experience based on analogy with the language objects they know.

It's an unintentional sampling and selection bias which results in this slang, not necessarily any desire to speak in slang where a choice to speak in slang or nonslang exists. They can't parse what is nonslang (from our perspective) nor can they, at that point, output nonslang.

We all learn by imitation and analogy. But adults have learned much more by definition than children. And it's not just the slang that's important to be authentic and provide emotional connection (because almost any reader shall remember how they were and were not when children themselves) when writing from a child's perspective.

2) Children have limited perspective, and generally do not know immediately the point of what is happening around them, for they lack experience. So the perspective character, if they are really a child, must come to conclusions if and only if their personal experience at that point in the novel justifies the inference.

Adults in contrast may simply make an observation or hypothesis or make an inference at once. (It may be true or false in the context, but the key thing is that it's made at once. There is not necessarily any lead up to it.) It depends on knowledge or experience besides that which they have through experience of the events of the story. They presumably had much experience and reading or discussion outside the story.

But if the perspective character is a child and novel discusses their life, this is not the case. The story must provide all the inputs leading to any inference or assertion of the character if the character is a child in order for it to be plausible. If the character is not plausible, although they story may be interesting, there would be little emotional connection and not much emotional impact.

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Many children's books deal with difficult topics. For example, 'Two Weeks with the Queen' is about someone coping with a sibling dying (it is very sad and very funny). 'Bad Alice', a novel I have just been using with twelve years olds, is about the effects of sexual assault. A recent children's book award winner was about someone trapped in a totalitarian state and featured scenes such as one where a teacher very graphically beats a student to death. You may be surprised what young people read and enjoy.

Having read many books written from the perspective of a young person, I would suggest trying to see the world through a young person's eyes and trying to think like they do. Of course this is difficult, and you can't just rely on how you thought and felt at that time, but it about understanding what they could know and what they are interested in.

The other thing you need to consider is the language that they use. You don't want to burden your text with too much slang, but it has to sound authentic. For example, when reading through I play I had written, a colleague said that teens just don't use the passive form of the request I had inserted (I can't quite remember what it was). When I thought about I realised it was true. It had to change.

  • ``A recent children's book award winner was about someone trapped in a totalitarian state and featured scenes such as one where a teacher very graphically beats a student to death." There is such a book? What it is? I have a list of anti-totalitarian literature. – Guido Jorg May 5 '15 at 18:30
  • "Maggot Moon" by Sally Gardner – S. Mitchell May 5 '15 at 20:20
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Narrate the story in third person. The narrator can both tell of the boy's perspective and reflect it from an adult (or teen) viewpoint.

Or let the adult look back and narrate his own childhood (in first person).

That said, some famous children's or middle grade books (such as Astrid Lindgren's Brothers Lionheart, in which the ten year old protagonist dies) deal with serious matters such as death, abuse, or poverty. In the bookstores I frequent, many childrens books are devoted to grandparents dying, avoiding child molesters, or overcoming the trauma of divorce.

The real life of children often isn't all that happy, and children's literature does not need to avoid the less pleasant aspects of life.

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We've all been 10, so decide on these two options:

  1. Write from the child's POV exclusively, giving readers the inside look at the character, or
  2. Write from a 3rd person POV on the child

I suggest #1 because if done right, it's much stronger emotionally. However, it also depends on the story type and the content. Ultimately you'll know what's best, and there are also other perspectives to show from (and you can switch between them too).

TL;DR - Whatever provides the best emotional connection.

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