19

I'm writing a story with 3 POV's. One of which is a 6 year old girl. The problem is simply this: I'm neither a girl nor in first grade. In fact, I'm quite a bit older. The first problem I've more-or-less gotten, but it's the second one I'm having issues with. I've looked at the question How can I make dialog sound like that of a six year old?, and it helped, but the storytelling aspects aren't there, which is more of what I was hoping for.

I definitely understand what Wetcircuit said, that this is asking what to write. I don't want an exact 'she'll sound like this,' more of a generalization to pointing me in the right direction. I tend to write with a style of long sentences and words, and it doesn't end up fitting at all.

Essentially: How is a little kid's thinking different from older kids and adults, and how can I transfer that methodology into my writing?

11
  • 4
    Does this answer your question? How can I make dialog sound like that of a six year old?
    – Mindwin
    Feb 9 at 15:37
  • 2
    I assume you don't happen to have a six-year old girl of your own to talk to, but maybe you have friends or family with girls that age? (You probably don't want to try approach that outside of the circle of friends and family :P )
    – towr
    Feb 9 at 15:44
  • 1
    "more" is not enough. If the question linked doesn't solve your problem, you need to tell us what is missing and how your problem is different.
    – Mindwin
    Feb 9 at 15:56
  • 1
    @wetcircuit I've got a plot already built out. It's just what are some style changes in order to make it sound kiddish.
    – Murphy L.
    Feb 9 at 16:40
  • 1
    Have you read something written by a 6yo? Aside from the obvious "that might help", I want to ask something different. Did you find it enjoyable to read that? Do you think that your readers would find (this part of) your book enjoyable if it were written in that style? If you answer yes, that's perfectly fine. I just wanted to bring it up.
    – Blueriver
    Feb 10 at 16:31

5 Answers 5

17

Character first

They are still a character, and more importantly a protagonist who will compare directly in the same work to 2 other (adult) protagonists. They will each need to hold their own in the reader's mind, earning their screen time.

For that reason I would not begin with her 'handicaps' as a little girl, but create a 'full' character with all the usual trimmings (wants and needs, something holding them back, an inciting incident).

Assuming all 3 interact (the other 2 are her parents maybe) it might help to create a character chart how each protagonist effects the other 2 when they are present. You may discover some new dynamics by comparing the ensemble that would not be an obvious trait for a child.

Girls vs boys (around age 6)

Again, character first because anything in this section is a huge generalization.

Boys Girls
compete with each other synchronize with each other
constant physical activity constant social commentary
compulsive: "I did it because" obsessive: "I know it because"
single winner group consensus
elaborate toy car smash-ups elaborate doll psycho-drama
Crying because fell out of tree crying because insulted
Fights Drama
Look what I can do (skill) Look at me (talent)
winning the trophy getting into the best group

At age 6, the genders have more in common than different, but they are already heavily gendered in society.

Both roleplay with human avatars, but girls have 'dolls' and boys have 'action figures' – their construction strongly informs how a child is intended to interact (change their clothes or launch from an ejector seat). Girls get EasyBake™ ovens and boys get chemistry sets: similar tasks but different implied social roles. Both genders will experiment outside the box, and both are as likely to pretend to invent radio-active poisons that are fed to their stuffed animals in a macabre murder fantasy.

The gender-isms in their environment are really just set-dressing; it's valid to write her as a boy if that is easier and then surround her with a mix of appropriate (and inappropriate) toys.

Moving past gender, there will be a lot of cultural norms thrown at them, but they won't have bought into it. Every child will have 'wrong' toys, 'wrong' clothes, and a few 'wrong' tastes that are inconsequential to their personality, but basically a thing they are still young enough to get away with.

Child vs adult

At roughly 8-12, kids begin radical social development where they start to become 'aware' and can compare what they personally have to what others have – by 13 this is cemented and their social peers are far more important than family.

But rewind to age 6, they are on the high-functioning end of blissful ignorance.

Kids have weirdly lucid adult moments, but like AI there are huge gaps in logic that make you question if they understand anything or are just faking it. In real life their world is smaller, but to them it's still big and they understand it reasonably well. The Dunning-Kruger effect is strong. They don't assume there is any adult-stuff they don't yet understand, instead they will just patch-over the gaps with things they do know, and dismiss what they don't find interesting.

In adults we talk about fight or flight as a pro-active defense mechanism, but in kids it's more common to freeze – likely an evolutionary behavior that works to keep them alive. When in danger, kids will hide. It's probably the most common game they play. Kids will have a different mental map of their environment to an adult. You will have the chance to re-invent your location through this protagonist. At 6 they are starting to outgrow this, but still small enough to fit in their best places. If a 6-year-old needed to hide, they would be uniquely expert at not being found.

Try to find other ways to empower this protagonist by giving her different patterns to the adults. Give her an interior life, and her own agency and consequences that fit the genre.

"Give me a child of 7 and I will show you the man." ― Aristotle

Find the British documentary called 7 Up. It interviews 7-year-olds (in 1964) asking them basic questions about their lives and opinions. (The documentary continued to interview them every 7 years as they grew up.)

There is a section where they're asked about having a love interest. 2 boys recount a game of chasing and kissing (one enjoys when the girls scream, the other seems to prefer when the girls chase back), a group of girls are able to state which of them is the most attractive, and also which boys like which girls (apparently having already paired everyone off), a third boy dryly brags about his girlfriend in Africa and another 2 in Switzerland, a forth is worried his future wife might feed him vegetables, another boy looks shocked and refuses to answer 'those types of questions' – it is hilarious! And they are all different.

Again the take-away is that they are characters first, but at a special age where they are maybe the purest version of themselves. They are guileless little adults with all the sophisticated emotions and fallibility, already strong opinion of how things 'are' (or 'ought to be'), but with big gaps in understanding how things become that way.

2
  • 4
    imma piggyback off this incredibly sexist answer to point out this: many children (of either sex) have a good understanding of the concept of social norms and are good people-pleasers by nature (learning about the world) and nurture (pleasing those in authority). What a child tells adults can be very different from what she or he actually thinks. Writing from a 6-year-old girl POV, you have to portray her as she really is, under the sexist veneer. Feb 11 at 13:39
  • 8
    @aniline : the answer would be sexist if it stated "all girls are..." or "all boys are..." especially if done in a way to paint one of the groups as overall inferior to the other, or if it inferred that by being a girl or a boy, it would be impossible for the character to do something or behave a certain way. Just observing general trends which are true for the vast majority of the population does not make it sexist.
    – vsz
    Feb 11 at 17:49
13

I have a few ideas, gleaned from writing exercises that imposed this:

Starting with, avoid misspellings and anything that would be cutsey-wotsey when it comes to dialogue and narrative voice. In dialogue, because it gets really old really fast. And in narrative voice, because the private unfiltered thoughts of people should be sincere and not feigned.

The next is vocabulary. You might consider explicitly selecting the character's vocabulary. Start with an age appropriate grade school vocab-list. You can intentionally mis-define a few so that the character uses them incorrectly but consistently.

Then, write from an experiential and self-centered perspective and not from an idea-abstract perspective. Children's awareness of others is limited, and the world revolves around them.

Similarly, children's abstract reasoning has not yet manifested, so keep things concrete.

Lastly, children are imitative. Echo some of the behaviors and phraseology of the child's parents/caregivers/friends in their dialogue and narrative voice.

6
  • 7
    If I remember anything about writing from when I was about 6 years old, it was that I very much tended to write rather short, matter-of-fact sentences that started with "I did...", "Then she did...", "Then something happened", "And then..." etc. I remember that even back then, I did realize that there is too much repetition in how I start a (written) sentence and that my pool of sentence structures to choose from was rather limited. From this perspective, I propose to add "limited and slightly repetitive sentence structures" to the "limited vocabulary" point of this answer.
    – orithena
    Feb 10 at 15:16
  • 9
    children's abstract reasoning has not yet manifested, so keep things concrete ironically, I think this is the most important point in the answer, specially considering what OP said about tending to use long sentences and words. When writing like a child, you first need to trim down the idea down to how a child would see it considering the limits to their reasoning and knowledge, THEN you need to find out which words a 6-year-old kid would use to say that idea.
    – Josh Part
    Feb 10 at 15:50
  • 2
    @JoshPart (mine's 8 now but) 6 is a really interesting age for this. The reasoning is developing fast, so there's some room for development and/or inconsistency over the course of the story.
    – Chris H
    Feb 11 at 12:07
  • 1
    @orithena of course there's variability between countries but in the UK, at 6, they're already being trained to expand on their range of sentence structures in writing as well as in speech. It's a useful tool, especially to provide contrast between characters, but I reckon it's possible to overdo it
    – Chris H
    Feb 11 at 12:09
  • @ChrisH I understand you saying that they're "in the process of being trained to..." at age 6. Which means that they'd still tend to use a limited set of sentence structures, especially when compared with adults. So I don't see your point differing too much from mine, except that you explicitely spell out that it might be possible to overdo it.
    – orithena
    Feb 11 at 12:18
2

If you want to write like a little kid, spent a great deal of time talking to little kids. That's all there is to it.

Sorry to point this out and in terms of Writing, the Question as Posted amounts to a statement of why you won't be able to do it.

If you Asked the same thing somewhere like Psychology, that might be different but in SE Writing, basically, your own wording ruled yourself out.

You won't like this yet to all who care, it matters that "How to Write Like a Little Kid" showed one way to do exactly that, while the adult style would be "How to write like a little kid"

1

A good place to start is to find some writing samples. If she’s supposed to be ahead of her grade level, these can be a year or two older.

-1

Some suggestions:

As @edl suggested, limit the vocabulary. Prefer short simple words, perhaps with a misplaced longer word here and there.

Use short simple sentences. The exception would be if she was excited. Then you could have her rattle off long, convoluted, breathless sentences full of pauses, but no stops.

As others have said, don't be cutesy, that's not really how kids speak.,

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.