Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Authors Put Kids in Books

I love the sense of humor many children have. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes adults smile because of a child's literal interpretation of the world. I still remember a niece asking to see the frog I said I had in my throat.

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?"
The last point came up several times in my critique group as they read Underground in Ocean Alley. Consensus seemed to be that the three-year olds were way too verbal. That led to several discussions with my family members. 

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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