Kids and more Kids

I’ve been roped into helping judge a writing contest at a local elementary school. It’s 4th and 5th graders, which is right around the time I started writing. Based on my own memories of that time, I expect the entries to be simultaneously cute and bizarre. I don’t think we’ll start seeing material until May, but I’ll make sure to post about it then.

It kind of tempts me to dig up the stories I wrote back then. Then I remember that they were about a tyrannosaur with a predilection for pizza.

I don’t really know kids all that well, which might sound odd based on many of my hobbies and interests. I’m not really around kids much, and I never really know what to do with them when I am. It’s only in the last few months that some of my friends have been popping up preggers. I have a couple of nephews and a niece, but only one is at what I would consider usefully sentient, at the age of nine. Babies don’t really have much to offer, other than seeing how the adults around them react.

So in general I don’t really know how to write kids, which I consider something of a deficiency. I encountered this problem when I wrote “Aftershocks,” which features a young girl. Mostly I just wasn’t sure what age to make her exactly – is X age too old to exhibit this behavior? And physically, would she be able to do what the story needs? And this wasn’t even a character who needed to speak or narrate. I envy those who can really capture a child’s voice believably.

In “Telepath’s Lament,” the space western I’m working on, Chuck’s co-star is Val, a young telepath of about 16-18. I find myself worrying not so much about her voice and behavior – I’ve already written a couple of flash pieces featuring her at a somewhat older age, so I think I have her personality pretty well established. In general I think young people are easier to write once they get into their teens. Or at least, I remember what it’s like to be that age, which makes it easier.

There are a couple of things to watch for, though. By making her young, do I risk inadvertently creating a new Jubilee? (I actually like Jubilee, but lots of people despised the mallrat Kitty Pryde proxy like she was the second coming of Gambit. Whom I also don’t mind.)

Non-geek translation: I don’t want the audience to be annoyed by her. Teenagers are by definition annoying, so I’ll have to be careful.

Something else I’ll have to keep in check is potential sexual tension between her and Chuck. It shouldn’t be there. I’m aiming for him to initially be a father figure, then as she matures it’ll be more of a partnership. It’s impossible to predict how people will read into something, but the last thing I want is to inadvertantly create a creepy situation. It should be easy to avoid, and it’s a lesser concern than the first point, but definitely something to keep in mind as I figure out their banter and the rhythm of their relationship.

Anyone with opinions on writing kids? Not writing for kids, that’s a whole other subject, but actually capturing a realistic child-like voice and manner? Chime in!

2 thoughts on “Kids and more Kids”

  1. I wrote my first story in 6th grade. I was bored in Social Studies and wrote it in my class notebook. It was a sci-fi story about a purple alien, and I felt quite clever because I wrote it in purple ink! 😉

    The most important thing I remember about younger kids is how completely honest they are. The filters of tact don’t really start to work until they get older — at least 9 or 10. The younger they are, the more honest they are, to a fault. They don’t hesitate to say someone has a fat tummy or a weird haircut or whatever comes to mind.

    I always liked Jubilee. Her name was my very first screen name. 🙂

  2. I side with Erin. I’ve been through the pre-teen years three times now — once myself, again with my son and daughter and now with an eleven-year-old grandson.

    Kids talk without filter, when they talk. My grandson rattles, when he’s around people he knows, but with strangers he clams up and is very careful what he says. Also, for most kids, sarcasm doesn’t start until the teen years and they don’t respond to it well, either. Criticism from an adult, any adult, almost always is given a lot more weight than it should, as well.

    Just a thought on the sexual tension thing. You may be missing a bet not putting a touch in there. All the experts say that the dynamic is present in healthy father-daughter relationships.

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