Setup: 18 kids (ages 2-14) from 1995 America time travel to Ancient Egypt just before the Exodus. The MC knew this would happen (or thought she knew) and told people, but no one believed her. Now they're stuck there. At this point they're thinking (hoping) a few days, but it will turn out to be about 3 months.

It's the first morning after their arrival. They're all staying with Hebrew families in their village and it's time to have breakfast before going off to work. They've all had their adventure and a sleepover and they want to go home.

I'm not worried about the two youngest (2 and 5); they're with their respective siblings and, after some adjustment, will be okay. I'm also not worried about the 5 12 & 14 year olds; they are main/secondary characters and have their own worries, but are basically okay.

But I have 11 kids ages 7-11 who are freaking out.

Crying, tantrums, stupor, anger, fear, what have you. And not the kind of stuff you expect to pass in a couple of hours. Oh, they're having some adventure too but, most of the time, they're so over it. (And honestly, they don't even know if they'll ever see their parents or homes again; their emotional states are completely justified.)

I don't want to spend the next several chapters focusing on their emotions, but I don't want to handwave them away either. I can spend more time with the older characters and put the rest in the background, but I'm not sure where the balance is.

How do I honor their feelings and concerns without letting them take over the story? How do I acknowledge their reality while continuing to move my plot along?

P.S. One of the hallmarks of the Exodus story is all the adults who bitch and moan about how much better off they were being slaves in Egypt instead of wandering free in the desert. Bonus if you can tie these things together.

  • I'm confused about where they are "sleeping over" which seems to be a planned field trip – the issue is they get stuck there? There are never any adults, even the ancient Hebrew adults? These adults will have more experience with a panicked homesick child than the 12-14yos. Also don't over-estimate the stamina of 14yo, they can put up a good front but still break down, as they are closer to the young children than adults. Also, I expect a 6yo Hebrew in ancient Egypt had some street smarts and sobering maturity the future kids lack. They would notice and take roll models to emulate.
    – wetcircuit
    Feb 7, 2019 at 15:29
  • @wetcircuit Yeah I realize I didn't explain that well. I'm "not worried" about the older kids because I already have plans for them, not because none of them are freaking too. It was a planned visit of sorts but it's complicated. Yes, there are plenty of adults in Egypt and many of them are taking care of the kids and etc, but they're also busy both because they're slaves (serfs is a better description) and because in 2 weeks, they're leaving Egypt.
    – Cyn
    Feb 7, 2019 at 15:34
  • The Hebrews are in a village (a bunch of small huts with some livestock and gardens, communal kitchens, etc). The kids are split up over 7 households in a group of 11 households that share meals (all descendants of the same matriarch). One 14 year old is an only child, the rest are there with (all of) their siblings.
    – Cyn
    Feb 7, 2019 at 15:37

3 Answers 3


It's your story, so you make the rules.

The actions of your characters can be based on whatever the group manages to 'agree on' or whatever they dare do on their own. I'm not sure what kind of story you are trying to write, and what we are supposed to experience along with your characters.

In a scenario like this, I would probably establish a certain dominance by the eldest. It's quite realistic, given that they are the 'wisest' people that remain from 'their own time and culture'. I believe that the younger would automatically seek their comfort, advice, etc. unless they had reasons not to.

In that case, the eldest could gather the entire group and set some ground rules, in order to keep everyone out of harm's way. The rules could be:

  • No crying or otherwise uttering your emotions since no-one from 'this time' can help you.
  • If someone older than you tells you something, you listen. If they order you to do something, you do it.

The list can go on...

If the first rule is established, and you are not writing from a first-person perspective of the younger ones, you can merely show, once in a while, a tear gathering in the corner of their eyes, when they stand silent and try to accept 'the next move' decided by the elders of the group. If we follow their thoughts, you can have them repeat (either to themselves or in their heads) something like "No crying, no whining, we will soon be home." or whatever makes sense for your story and characters.

A cool dynamic and potential development could be to have the rules make good sense early on, with an example of near-critical consequences, avoided because they followed the rules - or something 'bad' that shows why they should follow the rules from that point on. Then at a later point, the younger ones could grow increasingly frustrated from a lack of belief in the promises made by the elders -> conflict.

In the meantime, when the kids go on 'adventures', it would make sense that they are often occupied by the thrill most of the time, but that a lot of situations involving families (when they're around people) will remind them of their own families. If you establish close relations between the characters, you can have them understand and notice the clues when someone is feeling 'the symptoms you mention', and quickly help them focus on something else. This could be a back-and-forth dynamic, in which they take turns being 'the strong one', even though it would be useful (and natural) to have one of the characters be naturally 'stronger' mentally than the others.

A good trick:

As far as I'm aware, a lot of writers use a 'trick' that involves going in-depth with something once (in this case their emotions) and then throughout the rest of the story, only showing 'reminders' of the emotions that we once were shown in-depth. This way, we know what we're supposed to remember (the kids are still not alright) and we can focus on the main story-events. Then, if something important happens based on their emotions, you can show how this is different if it is relevant to the story.

In short: Give them a reason not to focus on it

If you do not want their emotions to take up too much of the story, you have to establish something that makes us and/or them focus on different things, be it in-group rules, exciting events, survival or something else. It certainly makes sense to let their emotions show since it is reasonable for them to experience the emotions you mention.

  • 1
    The older kids would try to make rules, but I can't see the young kids following them all the time. "You're not my parents! You can't tell me what to do!" (said as if their parents could even stop them from misbehaving.)
    – Laurel
    Feb 7, 2019 at 17:50
  • Though I agree that it is unlikely that they would follow them all the time, we must consider that these teenagers are not in their usual environment. As I stated, it could be a natural development after they learn the consequences of not following the advice/rules of the older kids. Also, just because the older kids are 'the oldest', it doesn't mean that they are mature enough to appear parent-like. In many cases, teenagers would likely have less trouble following older kids than their parents, especially if they appear as role models somehow.
    – storbror
    Feb 8, 2019 at 7:23

Coming-of-age stories are often like mysteries where a set of "facts" are presented which the child slowly begins to realize is either a lie or an abuse of the truth. Unlike a mystery, the reader probably already knows this so it's more about the moments where the child has a glimmer of understanding or at least some recognition that there is another world that operates above their level. A child might be confronted with a reality, but have no context to process it. Unlike adults, they will absorb as eye-witnesses more than they react, comment, or criticize.

There is the old psychological stress reaction "fight or flight" which flatters adult male agency but ignores the third survival instinct: "freeze". Freeze is what children do most. It's how a mother (deer or lion) can drop her babies next to a bush and come back to them later. They are not as curious about the world. They aren't going to protest their circumstances. Most kids will just freeze and do nothing as a stress survival instinct.

They will all have individual personalities by this age. Some will fret, some will comfort others, some will be cynical, and some will escape to humor. They are not successfully applying these personalities yet, but they are popping up constantly in what they say and how they interpret what's going on, especially among the others close in age where they will be roll-playing as leaders and dramaqueens. Allow some of the kids to be self-important know-it-alls, some to be compassionate, some to be little jerks. They won't be very good at these personalities, inconsistent, and they won't be able to persuade the others, but these traits will still be leaping out at odd times.

Rather than viewing them as lost little ducklings, maybe try making a few stand out for humor and audacity, rebelliousness and pomposity too. The older kids will mostly be able to see through this, like using reverse psychology and other obvious "tricks" to get the younger ones to comply. Clearly you can't have 11 kids crying for 3 months, so their emerging personalities and friendships will evolve and mature through the adventure. One will still be bossy, but smarter about how they boss. One will still be a dramaqueen but less destructive. One know-it-all is proud of all the new things they can now be an expert about. Differentiate, and give them growth even if it's just an inch.

With so many kids, you might want to organize them into factions so the reader can keep them straight. 2 girls are inseparable and always agree, so they are effectively handled as 1 character in the reader's mind. Some are independent or skew towards the older kids, and some are just lost and need constant supervision. Readers will need some bold and recognizable traits to separate them, and they will probably need to be hammered a few times before you subvert them or allow the kids to grow past it.

Lastly, kids adapt. Fast. If they need a parental figure, they will pick one and latch on. They will forget they are upset, and they will quickly learn the "rules" to most circumstances even if they don't overtly test them. Let them have insight, but then let them be naive morons too. Most won't have a realistic understanding of danger or "forever", so circumstances won't be dire. They will complain about creature comforts at first, but even this will become boring because young kids aren't attached to an idealized past the way adults would be. Kids are always looking for next and new, without applying critical value to the experiences. Things are much more "right now" for the younger kids. The older ones will understand what they are missing, and wish they were somewhere else. The younger ones might appear to accept things more quickly because they don't really understand the scope and they don't have any expectation they could influence it anyway.

  • 1
    Nice answer, thanks. And yes, I realized a while ago that this was too many kids to have without having factions. While the kids in a particular group aren't interchangeable (except for my twins), the reader may or may not remember who's who, and that's okay.
    – Cyn
    Feb 7, 2019 at 17:05

Your setup reminds me of multiple stories I've read as a kid of a group of characters getting stuck on a desert island. In particular, I'm fairly sure Jules Verne had one with kids, I recall another one with kids set in the 1930s or 1940s. (Not Lord of the Flies. That one put an end to the genre.)

Now, your story isn't about a desert island, but it is about an unfamiliar environment where one must learn to survive, and it is unclear when/whether "returning home" will come to pass.

All the desert-island stories had this commonality: a character, or a couple of characters, were the "leaders". They didn't just tell the others what to do - they kept their companions from "losing it" mentally. That is, they offered support to the other characters. There always was a scene (sometimes more than one) with one of the weaker characters breaking down, crying, etc., and the leader would be there to support and inspire them. Such scenes both acknowledge the struggles of the secondary characters, which is what you're trying to do, and maintain the focus on the MCs, building them up.

  • I like this approach. Sweet and simple. All 5 of my older characters are very different from each other and would do this in different ways. One would tell the kids to shut the blank up and stop whining (his home life stinks and he's happy to stay put for a while). The MC is wracked with guilt over what happened. Another sees this as an adventure and learning experience. One feels responsible for everyone. And the last has very mixed emotions. So not only can I deal with this problem, but I can show my main characters' personalities in the process.
    – Cyn
    Feb 7, 2019 at 15:30

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