WWW: Playing Children

>> Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hey, I'm back. I know you all missed me.

Although not feeling quite 100%, I do feel much better than I did this weekend, thanks for asking.

So, to jump in, have you ever dealt with teenagers? I know, what does this have to do with writing. Between my younger husband and my daughter, I feel inundated with teenagers and youthful thinking. Truth is, of course, that teenagers and children don't speak the same language as the rest of us. Actually, very few people speak like me and when I was a teenager, I didn't speak like one (at least, Lord, I hope not).

And that's the point. Authors will often throw children into a novel for comic relief or entertainment or warmth with no idea how children talk or act. It's not genuine.

For that reason, it comes of clumsy, it doesn't read right. Sadly, this can also be true of young adult fiction where adults put adult conversation in the mouth of children. (Note that you can put adult conversation in the mouth of a child; after all, I spoke that way. However, if all your kids talk like that or your child is seven, you'll sound stupid.) Given my own weirdnesses, this is particularly challenging for me and I usually have to have at least one over-elocuted individual so I don't go insane. But I have to watch myself or I'll have to many. You can also allow for differences in people who have English as a second language --depending on the method, they might speak a pidgin or, more likely, "textbook" English where, again, the child will speak with a precision not normally found among those who speak the native tongue. Seriously. But idioms and terminology normal in their own language can get transferred in a way that sounds odd.

Of course, if you make it sound too good, and everyone sounds like a teenager. If you think, as an adult, that's easy to read, try it. You might change your mind.

However, when an author is an expert, when they really capture to tone, the thought processes (however whacked), the syntax of a child, it is very compelling in a book. For example, Stephen King (who has some traits I don't care for) writes children with amazing accuracy. He has a real gift, in my opinion, in capturing the way they look at the world and talk, the way they think and interact. How they prioritize, how they think, what scares them and how they react to adults feels frighteningly accurate.

I am not that good yet, but I've been working on it. After all, I have a plethora of the younger set in my household and this is the chance to try to capture some of that thinking when I have so little of childhood I remember. Here's a sample from my current work in progress.

"I still don't see why I had to be bungied to the damn wall," Laren muttered. Again.

Rem laughed, which, Xander figured, was the best defense for Laren's constant griping. Not that Xander would give Laren the satisfaction of laughter. Rem might be strapped to the matte silver wall with them, but his position between them was more than symbolic. Xander pressed a hand against the flexible webbing holding them in place. Really, the only downside to hanging with Rem was that Laren was likely to be there, too. Rem had spotty taste in best friends.

"I mean," Laren said to the silence. "They couldn't find me some kinda seat?"

Xander spoke softly, but derisively, "They were short three jumpseats, remember?"

"And we had to be the ones to give them up?" Laren said.

Rem winked, grinning and nudging Laren's side. "Danai offered to make room on her seat for you."

"Very funny, Rem. Oh, ha ha! Danai is ten years old and thinks she wants to be kissed. I ain't gonna be the one to do it first," Laren protested.

"So, you volunteered to be out here. Why sweat it?" Rem said.
So, have you ever tried to capture the thinking of children? Give it a try!


  • Bob Johnson

    Having read your work in progress, I think you are a natural putting into words what kids are thinking, you made it believable for me.

  • Today.com Exiles

    and you did a great job with K'Ti (nope, still not done; sorry)

    Voice was one of the best things about Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, I thought... Proulx did SUCH a good job of her adolescent boys

  • Today.com Exiles

    oops! damn... wrong browser... flit, of course :)

  • Writer Lady

    If you're unsure of the text, ask a child to read it and tell you what they think.


  • Stephanie B

    Wow, thanks, Bob.

    I guessed as much, flit.

  • Stephanie B


    I have a teenager, a five year old that doesn't talk, and a one year old.

    If you think a teenager will give you a straight answer, you don't have one. Either that, or mine's a sarcastic expert in lawyerese to keep from actually saying anything.

    However, I'm not sure it would work anyway. I mean, I've encouraged her to read the novel since it's for her age group or thereabouts, but she doesn't want to read anything her MOM wrote. I want to know, but I'm not holding my breath.

    But, do we really all appreciate how we sound, our own syntax, our own speech patterns, or, when faced with it, are we a little shocked?

    It ought to be able to pass the test of reading out loud and sounding genuine to you and kids.

  • Shakespeare

    You should tell her somebody else wrote it... that cool sister of yours, or somebody just as cool...

    I write predominantly YA stuff, but it means I tend to use words I probably shouldn't, even while I'm teaching. I use "dude" and "cool" ALL the time... and my kids have picked up "dude" for pretty much everything. Richard likes it better than my grad school speak, though. I'm sure he never wants me to go back to that. He had to keep asking me what everything meant.

  • Stephanie B

    She doesn't SAY she doesn't want to read it. She says, "Sure. Give me the file."

    Then she says, "It's too hard to read it on the computer. Print it out for me."

    Then she says, "Hey, I lost this page and then Roxy got to it and I meant to get to it and I'm planning on reading it, but it's kind of awkward. I'll just read it when it gets published."


  • Relax Max

    I'm glad you are back and feeling better. I know I didn't miss you but the feeling is the same as if I had so perhaps I did. :)

    I have never written fiction (on purpose, anyway) and I doubt I could ever do so without really sounding stilted and hokey, even without characters who are children. But I know I like what little of yours you have chosen to post lately.

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