Putting children in a story can be a challenge. Their thought processes need to reflect their age group; their humor or beliefs can't be those of an adult. Most of all, they need to have a role to play, not simply be literary trinkets.
I placed pre-school Jessie in Falling into Place as the companion Grandpa Everett was most comfortable with. Children don't judge, and an adult who is ill-at-ease with other adults can have a chance to shine with a child who loves them.
The most I considered the kidlet question was in creating three-year old twins for the 11th Jolie Gentil book. Lance and Leah don't solve any part of a puzzle, but they do add color and the occasional sense of contemplation. I quickly decided several things:
- Children are better added when they can function somewhat on their own, otherwise the adults have to constantly cater to their needs.
- Two kids can be better than one (if reasonably close in age) because they can amuse one another.
- Kids can limit the danger parents are willing to place themselves in. What sleuth wants to leave a child without a mom or dad? For a mystery, parental caution doesn't always contribute well to suspense.
- Readers have different perspectives on what children of a certain age are capable of. They may pause to think "would a four-year-old really do that?"
I finally went with what my sister and I agreed on. Lance and Leah were just like most of the kids in our family -- toddlers who were smart, funny, and quick to speak. I couldn't bring myself to use 'baby dialect' or limit their vocabularies.
That's not to say I'll never create a shy child who doesn't have conversations with adults at age three. My bottom line is that I have to be comfortable with continuing child characters, far more so than adult personas. And I like the fact that smart child characters can sometimes outsmart me.
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