Children are probably one among the more difficult character types to write, not because their trajectories are complex but because the way they think about the world is often incomprehensible for adults.
Children have the ability to evaluate perfectly rational premises and appear at stunningly false conclusions. They are vulnerable and heroic, imaginative and sometimes exceedingly dull. Children are often simplified adults and at other times, very nuanced characters. They have limited vocabulary and range of expression and emotion, so they often have ideas that they struggle to put into words.
How do we write children in a text?
Tom Sawyer, planning a harmless, children’s kidnapping ring, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, says:
“Must we always kill the people?’
‘Oh, certainly. It’s best. Some authorities think different, but mostly it’s considered best to kill them — except some that you bring to the cave here, and keep them till they’re ransomed.’
‘Ransomed? What’s that?’
‘I don’t know. But that’s what they do. I’ve seen it in books; and so of course that’s what we’ve got to do.’
‘But how can we do it if we don’t know what it is?’
‘Why, blame it all, we’ve GOT to do it. Don’t I tell you it’s in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what’s in the books, and get things all muddled up?’
‘Oh, that’s all very fine to SAY, Tom Sawyer, but how in the nation are these fellows going to be ran- somed if we don’t know how to do it to them? — that’s the thing I want to get at. Now, what do you reckon it is?’
‘Well, I don’t know. But per’aps if we keep them till they’re ransomed, it means that we keep them till they’re dead. ‘
‘Now, that’s something LIKE. That’ll answer. Why couldn’t you said that before? We’ll keep them till they’re ransomed to death; and a bothersome lot they’ll be, too — eating up everything, and always trying to get loose.’
‘How you talk, Ben Rogers. How can they get loose when there’s a guard over them, ready to shoot them down if they move a peg?’
‘A guard! Well, that IS good. So somebody’s got to set up all night and never get any sleep, just so as to watch them. I think that’s foolishness. Why can’t a body take a club and ransom them as soon as they get here?’
‘Because it ain’t in the books so — that’s why. Now, Ben Rogers, do you want to do things regular, or don’t you? — that’s the idea. Don’t you reckon that the people that made the books knows what’s the correct thing to do? Do you reckon YOU can learn ‘em anything? Not by a good deal. No, sir, we’ll just go on and ransom them in the regular way.”
I think monster stories are best done with young protagonists. What about a child who does not believe that a monster exists because they do not look like one?
The little blue form standing in the kitchen sink snarled at Shreya when she stepped towards it. “I am a monster,” it claimed.
“No, you’re not,” came the reply.
“I am too,” said the monster, its cheeks flushing red, appearing magenta against its blue skin.
“Nuh-uh-uh,” said Shreya, shaking her head vigorously, “You are too small to be a monster.”
At this allegation, the impostor’s eyes watered up, and in a moment he was rolling in the sink, crying, his spindly arms waving about in a frenzied defence of his small proportions. “I am a kid, you see,” he said, once he had regained his composure, which took upwards of a full fifteen minutes.
Write a short entry (max. 1000 words) with a child character. It need not be children’s fiction. The entry must be complete, which means that cliffhangers and rants are a strict no.
A few tips:
Writing a child is an exercise in getting the voice of your character correct. If they are young, they are probably inquisitive with an affinity to the visual appeal of their surroundings. If they are older, they might be thinking about life more intellectually.
Children are complicated. Their age makes them inexperienced, not dumb.
Keep the story simple, so that you can explore the character in a greater depth.
Here are a few prompts to get you started. You can choose to ignore these and write your own ideas.
A child meets a monster in their house but do not believe in its monstrosity because it does not look like a monster from the book the child has.
Kabir thinks that he is a master at spelling difficult words but he often makes mistakes. His English teacher finds an innovative way to burst his bubble.
Children fighting wars, one without guns or blades, in a pre-war nation.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
My Neighbour Totoro by Studio Ghibli
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Swamy and Friends by R. K. Narayan