Authors Answer 29 – Tapping the Inner Child

There are many books from the point of view or featuring children and teenagers.  But children and teenagers don’t write those books. Adults do. This week’s question comes from aclmohle.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 29: How do adult authors write from the point of view of children/teenagers so well?

Paul B. Spence

You’re assuming that they do write well from that viewpoint, which I haven’t seen be the case, most of the time. However, at least you can say, well, they were kids once, right?

S. R. Carrillo

I think it’s all a matter of remembering, very well, even while realizing how ridiculous it all was, the experience of being younger, feeling trapped, thinking you know everything, fancying yourself invincible… It’s easy to tell when an adult is trying too hard – recall the shittiness and freedom of being a teenager to write like one well. Otherwise… it’ll show.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

This question actually surprised me a bit because, honestly, I find that many authors do a terrible job of writing from the point of view of younger generations. Maybe I just haven’t read the right books, but I find that a lot of time you can tell that an author doesn’t remember what being a kid or teenager was actually like.

And that’s the key, I think, to being able to successfully write a character from a younger generation. You have to be able to genuinely remember what it was like. For instance, I was teased a lot as a kid, and I can still recall how much that bothered me, even though I constantly tried to tell myself it didn’t. I remember how obsessed I could get with a certain actor or a particular TV show. I can remember the relief of seeing a good grade on a test, the heart-pounding terror of talking to a crush, the strange, insistent belief that I was fat and ugly even though I was truly neither. A lot of people block that stuff out or forget about it as they “grow up”, but I’m one of those people who managed to get more mature while not really “growing up” at all, and I think that’s how you have to be in order to accurately write a kid or teen. Although, since I’ve never really written a kid character, you’ll have to take my word for it. 😛

D. T. Nova

Everyone was a child once, so I think that when it comes to writing characters different from ourselves, there are other differences that could be more of a challenge than adults writing children.

But additionally, two traits that are very good for writers in general are imagination (which is often considered childlike) and a good memory.

Jean Davis

Adult authors were once children and then angsty teenagers. We remember what it was like, what we wanted, what we were scared of and how we felt about others. Those of us who have children or are close to someone else’s children, get a refresher course in all those things. We spend much of our day worrying about them, picking up after them, nagging, caring for, feeding… yeah, they should earn their keep a little by providing some fodder for our fiction.

Caren Rich

Writing from the perspective of children requires the author to put himself in the position of the child.  It helps to have children around to see how they react to the world, but I imagine the same can be done by remembering their childhood.  There are a few, rare people who have never grown up.  It’s easy for them to take on the roll of a child. The hardest thing would be to balance the illusion we have of children with the reality.  They are much smarter than most people give them credit for.

Amy Morris-Jones

I can’t speak for other authors, but I think there’s a part of me who will always be an awkward teenager. Even as an adult, I’ve experienced moments of discomfort and wanted to fit in better—which is what I remember so well from those teen years. It doesn’t take much to channel that!

Elizabeth Rhodes

We were all teenagers once, weren’t we?  And some authors have teenage children of their own.  I don’t have that luxury (or curse, depending on your view) but thanks to the internet authors in the future will be able to see how they thought and behaved as teens.

H. Anthe Davis

I don’t know how well I do it, but I try.  For younger characters, I’ve looked up the stages of children’s mental and emotional development and then tried to pitch the character’s ‘voice’ to that level; I also bother my friends who have children, because I don’t, so therefore I don’t know how capable kids are at certain ages.  When it comes to teens, I try to remember being one — heh — and also to remember how my friends, brother and cousins acted at that age.  The brain isn’t finished forming until 25 or so, so at some stages teens are operating at a cognitive deficit while their brains are furiously rewiring.  It’s an interesting subject of study.

Jay Dee Archer

First of all, I don’t think all authors write from the point of view of children or teenagers well.  The problem is that they are adults, and they’re thinking like adults too much. They make the teenagers and children think like adults. Some teenagers do think like adults, which is okay, but for children, it’s very unrealistic.

With that said, those who do write from this point of view either have a good memory of their own childhood or they’re very observant. I have a three-year-old daughter, so I understand how she behaves at this stage of her life, so I think I can be pretty confident about the behaviour and language ability of that age. But what goes on in her mind? How does she think? That’s another matter.  I have a good memory of what being a teenager was like. I can remember what being ten was like. But the earlier I go, the more difficult it is.

For someone who has had little contact with children, I don’t think they’d do very well. But for those who have children, they have an advantage. It all comes down to experience and memory, I think.

How about you?

Why do you think some authors can write from the point of view of children and teenagers well? What’s their secret? Let us know in the comments below.

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19 thoughts on “Authors Answer 29 – Tapping the Inner Child”

  1. When I first saw this question, I thought, “WHICH children or teenagers?” Is a child only well-written if that character is flat average for children of that age? (If that’s the case, I was “badly written” in real life. *shrug*) Or is there room for individual differences, and if so, how much?

    I have no children. (Adopted fur-kids don’t count for this — sorry, kitties.) On the other hand, I DO have a degree in education; I am not unfamiliar with the wide range of ways humans between the ages of 5 and 18 think and behave. As a reader, I’ve noticed a lamentable tendency for authors to default to “typical” when it comes to teenage characters. (Behavior and attitudes that are fine for teenagers here-and-now would realistically get those characters killed in the dystopias they are so often found in. Totally ruins the plausibility of a story to have a kid go off on their because they’re mad at Mom and Dad for not letting them hang out with their friends while there’s a zombie attack going on…)

    1. Nothing like a brooding teenager wandering the streets during a zombie attack. I guess to be truly faithful to teenage behaviour, you need to look at how they grew up in the world they’re in. The time period is also important. Teenagers a few hundred years ago were working and parents.

  2. Harper Lee did a great job. I think you have to have some pretty vivid memories of childhood, or be around a lot of children a great deal of the time, to write in a believable child’s voice. I think adults completely underestimate how wise and intuitive children really are. They see so much more than we realize.

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird was great. Scout seemed so real to me. Too bad I was not interested in reading novels at the time I read it in school. I need to read it again.

      1. It is such a great book, because I think she got the ‘voice’ of Scout just right. Also like ‘Lord of the Flies” – the dialogue is great!!!

  3. This wouldn’t work with children, but for the teen viewpoint, I would have several teens act as readers during the editing process. They would quickly pinpoint things that didn’t ring true.

    1. That’s a great idea! My first novel on Ariadne involves a lot of teenagers and kids. I should see if I could get a teenaged beta reader or two.

      1. Cool! I wrote a short story based on a real incident at a local high school a few years ago and had my teenaged daughter read it. She was able to help me make the dialogue sound like current teens, which is not something I could do on my own. I hope you will be able to find teen readers to help you out, although I realize it would be much more extensive with a novel.

        1. Yeah, and I’m sure it would be more difficult to find teenagers to be beta readers. Though early 20s may be okay. They’d have a better memory of being a teenager than I do.

            1. You’re right. I can guide how culture changes, and even the roles of children and teenagers can change. They’ll be in a frontier situation, so they may have to grow up faster.

    2. That sounds like a great idea for any contemporary or almost-contemporary fiction.

      I did something a little bit like that myself, talking to ordinary university students to make sure one of the characters in “that novel” is believable in his backstory.

  4. Reblogged this on No Page Left Blank and commented:
    It’s been a while since I remembered to share an Authors Answer post, so please feel free to visit Jay’s site and read back through them!! Today is #29, in which the authors and I talk about how adults can write from the viewpoint of children.

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