This Week’s Distractions: May 15

Part 7 in an infinite series…

Dudes, WordPress informs me this is my 100th post! Surely some celebration is in order…

image from Melaleuca Freedom Celebration. (Photo: Business Wire)

image from Melaleuca Freedom Celebration. (Photo: Business Wire)

DISTRACTION  This was the last full week of school for either of my kids. Between early release days and the Memorial holiday weekend, the end of the year is trickling quickly away. Every summer, I resolve to link screen time to chores for my kids. I’ve yet to find a system that works for more than a week or two. This year, I downloaded the Chores & Allowance Bot app, and I’ve spent a good deal of time setting it up, listing, assigning, and valuing chores. Littlest Kiddo seems intrigued… The Tall One is less than impressed. I’ll keep you posted.

PROGRESS  So, hey, this was a pretty productive week. Turns out, the combined chapter 58 is long enough to split into 2, so hero and heroine’s POV of the event now have their own chapters. Which also means I GOT TWO CHAPTERS FINISHED INSTEAD OF ONE. Yippy skippy!

Adios until next week. And happy Armed Forces Day (May 16)!

Writing Believable Kids

Last month, for Mother’s Day, I wrote a blog about how parents affect characters. Today, in honor of Father’s Day, my focus is from the opposite generational direction: how to create convincing fictional kids. This is a difficult thing to pull off, in my opinion, but I’m here to share some tips.

We’ve all heard kids say and do some amazing things. Sometimes it’s inadvertently hilarious. Other times, astonishingly profound. But as a mom of two young ones, I can tell you (or remind you) these sorts of exchanges are few and far between. The vast majority of kid-speak is confusing, unintelligible, and utterly mundane. And their behavior, especially in the presence of a parent, is regularly embarrassing and inappropriate.

From a writer’s point of view, truly accurate kid dialogue would be useless. But it’s dangerous to drift too far the other way, making kid characters into mini adult philosophers. Make the kids too perfect, and you risk alienating readers who are also parents. They’ll wonder if the author’s ever been around a real kid.

Authors have got to find a balance between “real” kid talk and behavior with something that will serve to move the story along. Here are some points to keep in mind when writing children.

  • Kids are incredibly impulsive. And sneaky. And stubborn. If they want something, even if it’s against the rules (especially when it’s against the rules?), they usually risk it. Then instinctively hide and/or lie about it after they’re caught. Yes, even the “good” ones do this!
  • Kids launch conversations about topics that seem to strike from out of the blue. They ramble, veering off on barely related tangents. It’s difficult to follow their train of thought, and forget about teasing any logic from their argument (or using any of your own as a counter-argument).
  • Kids frequently use the wrong words. They have a hard time explaining how they feel, what they mean. They have a limited vocabulary. An adult who’s listening needs to do a good amount of deciphering to understand.
  • Kids have a pretty self-absorbed world view. While they certainly can feel empathy and act upon it, such is not generally their first reaction. [See this “How Babies Work” article on Slate.com for more background. It’s specifically about toddlers, but the psychology and developmental information applies to older children as well.]

Need a quick tutorial/reminder on how kids think and sound? Check out any of these recent AT&T “It’s Not Complicated” ad campaign videos for some great examples. (Warning—watching too many or too often becomes super-annoying, especially to parents of young kids, who live with this 24-7.) According to the article, the kids’ dialogue is improvisational—not scripted, and I’m inclined to believe it.