Writing Child Characters

If you write a child character, how do you write him or her? Do you fall into the trap of writing children as stereotypical adult constructions (sugary sweet, for example)? Do you write children as basically smaller versions of adult characters? Do you write by perceiving children through an adult lens? Having worked with children at play for most of my adult life, I’m in a good position to write a child character as real.

The reality is that there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ child, so why write that stereotypical perception of the norm? Children are complex, just as adults are. Any adult character written as a stereotype would quickly be seen as two-dimensional. Children aren’t sugary-sweet, typically belligerent, excessively demanding all the time, or any other extreme such as these. Children are multi-dimensional.

When writing the many dimensions of a child character, the writer should give consideration to plenty of other factors that affect that child: the space they’re in; the affect of adults on them; the lighting; the noise; the weather; the season; darkness; the scale of things. The list goes on. The phase of the moon has also been noted to affect a child, in some empirical quarters. Think of what will affect the moods, the play, and the interactions of your child character.

Children are humans, of course (though I sometimes wonder if some adults realise this), and are, as such, subject to similar emotions to those of adults. However, children should not be written as simply mini-versions of adults. Children have their own ways of communicating, their own rules and moralities, their own ethics. Adults pollute these emergent sensibilities. Children written poorly are those tainted by this adult pollution.

Children’s communications aren’t just about words: adults’ ways of speaking should be avoided from child characters’ mouths, but so should child characters not exhibit the same sorts of adult body language or gestures. Observe a three year old, for example, and how they might wipe the hair from their forehead with the whole of their palm. Even mimicry of adult actions has its own interpretative flavour. Morality and ethics have similar ways of being transformed.

If a child character is written, it’s all too easy to write that child with a moral compass, for example, that’s just a skewed version of an adult’s. This is what many adults do when they perceive real children: they see the child and their actions through the adult lens. We have all been children. To write a child character, think back to yourself as a child. Think of it as a form of method acting!

If we don’t see what the child does from their perspective, we won’t see that child clearly. The child character won’t read true. Adult lenses are clouded by expectations. I once talked with a group of four and five year olds at play. We were discussing a certain adult’s age. One child guessed forty-two. Younger, I said. Forty-one? Younger, I said. Forty-nothing? Even younger. She looked at me and said: Nothing is less than forty-zero. My expectation was that she’d know about thirties and twenties if she knew about numbers in the forties.

When writing child characters, just as when writing adult characters, we need to make sure we write them as true and real. Children are complex, emotional, funny, angry: in fact, many of the things that we have inside us as adults are also in children. That said, they’re not just shrunk-down versions of us: children deserve to be written as themselves. When we can come to terms with this, we can discard our adult lenses and see the world from the child’s perspective, truly. After all, you used to be a child, so you once knew what it was like. Write your children fully, carefully and well.
Note: this article was first published at www.writersdock.com under a pen name.

A Manifesto for Writing

So you write? What is it that you write? By this I don’t mean simply ‘which genre?’ or ‘which story lines or characters?’ I mean to ask what is it that you write into everything? You are your words and your words are you. What’s your philosophy?

A few years ago, I was reading Jack Kerouac and came across his Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials. I was inspired. Love him or hate him, Kerouac pressed my buttons enough for me to want to write down myself, my processes, my thinking on writing, what I write (or try to write) in everything I produce.

So, a simple question to you: what’s your writing manifesto, your technique? Inspire yourself, my fellow writer. You are stardust.
From Manifesto One (2002) — the  elements that, I find, are still true for me today. (Frankly, I’m surprised and pleased that there are so many that still drive my thinking and writing):

Be mindful of the moments: like atoms, they make up everything
A kiss is never to be taken lightly — so write it in everything
Take space to breathe
Writing is a rush
All words are right, in some way
Never let those dreams go — dreams make us sad and whole, broken and missing, lost
Be in love with love
All love is valid — it all weighs in the same: bank it
Let your lostloves and neverfounds sink you somedays — it’s OK
Read and re-read your words; love them and cherish them like gems of light
Never, on no account, ever burn or throw away your words
All words are right — know this
You are an artist — despite what may be said
Art is a way of living
Treat your notebooks like relics
Write your words in any manner that suits your mood
Be confident in knowing what illuminates you
Share your moments of beauty with those who know what moments of beauty are
Manifesto Two (2012 additions)

Beauty is in ache and stretch, in lament and love
Nothing is ever finished
We, and our stories, are comprised of layers and glass
Everything connects
All stories are true
Note: this article was first published at www.writersdock.com under a pen name.

What is Literature?

Literature: that thorny old beast which, in the eye of the beholder, may settle its skirts in beautiful arrangement at our feet or high up in an ivory tower.

A literary affair is fraught with emotions. You see, many would have it that all writing is literary: all writing is composed of words. We all come to our views on words by different routes though. I am rather taken by a line attributed to James Thurber who, to paraphrase, lamented his contemporary state of written affairs with use of the word ‘obliterature’. Cyril Connolly, critic, suggested that a work of literature is likely to be read more than once (as compared to journalism, which needed just the one perusal).

What is it that the literary piece is? This is not a question that can be fully answered here. This is not a question that can be fully answered, even if given enough monkeys and their own typewriters. What we are able to draw upon though is a reading of a substantial body of work, and the thoughts of other writers. We read and we write. We develop that most elusive of concepts: style.

Martin Amis suggested that the substance of a piece cannot just have ‘style’ applied to it; style has to be embedded into the writing (though Truman Capote was scathing of Jack Kerouac’s style: he stated it not to be writing but typing).

In the end there are probably more questions than answers. However, life would be insufferably dull if it were all simply black and white. Questions provoke thinking. Thinking creates the possibility of beauty. Is all literature beautiful?

Perhaps, as Evelyn Waugh asserted, literature is simply the appropriate use of language.
Note: this article was first published at www.writersdock.com under a pen name.

In Appreciation

Writing the book was, in some ways, the ‘easy’ part of this e-publishing journey I’ve been on! The writing, the editing, the re-writing, the re-editing, the peer reviewing, etc., took a while, but the next stage was a frustrating one. Formatting my writing so that it worked when uploading to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) cost me many hours of trial and error.

Of course, I should have turned to the worldwide web, for help, sooner than I did! The things we learn on the way (despite our bloody-mindedness!)

So, I asked and I am very much appreciative of the prompt support given by Jason Matthews in the US. I didn’t know Jason at all, but I found his site and he answered my questions quickly and as best he could.

I haven’t read any of Jason’s books, nor do I know anything more about him apart from what I’ve read on his site. (So that’s my caveat: you make your own choices!) However, I promised myself that, when I finally got to the point of pulling it all together with my own book, I’d give credit where it’s due. So, thank you, Jason. You are appreciated.