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Old 12-21-2012, 07:24 PM   #1
SheilaJG
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Kids outsmarting grown-ups

I'm pondering a problem with my current WIP, and thought I'd throw this out there. In MG, and especially MG with a mysterious bent, we face a huge hurdle in creating a believable way for our protagonists to discover something, when all the grown-ups around them were unable to.

Some books solve this by making the adults ridiculous - which is fun. Lemony Snicket is very good at this. The kids are the only sane ones in most of his books. In his latest book, the MC's mentor is hilariously inept.

In my story, the protagonist wants to find something that a grown-up has been searching for his entire life. How can I make it believable that he finds it first? He's twelve. I was thinking that he could have some talent that the adult lacks. The thing is guarded by a secret sect of people, and one idea is to have the MC unwittingly befriend one of them. That's all I've got so far. I also played with the idea of him solving a riddle, but that is such a cliche.

Any advice?
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Old 12-21-2012, 07:33 PM   #2
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Kids tend to see the obvious when adults overlook it.

Take the famous example of the stuck semi -

A semi truck tried to go through a tunnel, but the tunnel wasn't as big on the exit end as it was on the entrance, and the truck stuck fast. It couldn't back up and a tow truck couldn't wench it out. Crowds gathered to lament how the blocked tunnel was going to impact traffic, and they were considering having the truck cut apart to get it out when a child asked why they didn't just let the air out of the tires, which would make it several inches shorter.

Kids don't have the cynical view the rest of the world does. They can see things hidden in plain sight when adults overlook them. If your "thing" is out there in the open, it's possible a kid might be able to notice it when an adult wouldn't.
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Old 12-21-2012, 07:42 PM   #3
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He could . . .

Go someplace adults can't because of his size or just the fact that no one notices a kid or because adults obey all rules and signs and boys don't.

Think like a kid, rather than an adult. In other words, the adults might think purely logical while a kid might think in a more non-linear fashion.

Understand a symbol that an adult doesn't.

Have a secret place (such as a cave) that holds some valuable clue.

Steal something that holds a clue (of course, he will have a reason to steal the item in the first place).

Look more closely at things (Agatha Christie used something similar in The Clocks when two neighbor boys find a foreign coin in the backyard where there has been a murder. The boys had a whole collection of odd items they'd found.)

Step off some distance using shorter footsteps than an adult. In other words, twenty paces might be 25 feet to the MC, while it might mean 50 feet to an adult.

Find a hiding place that only a kid would think of.

Climb up somewhere and see something that gives him a clue (no adult bothers to climb up in the top of the tall oak tree or church steeple).

Hear something because kids are naturally nosy.

Have some older person give him a clue because the older person is senile and/or confused and thinks the kid is someone from his own childhood.

Or . . . fifty more things.
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Old 12-21-2012, 11:10 PM   #4
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Cyia - ha ha! That's hilarious. I like the idea of kids seeing things without cynicism. A funny story I tell (a lot) is when I was sitting at breakfast with my 3 or 4 year old, and he pointed outside and said "I see a tree walking." Our neighbors were landscaping, and he couldn't see the worker carrying the tree, because of the fence. Or maybe the tree WAS walking . . . .

Alleycat - you came up with 50 in about 10 seconds, I came up with . . . one. I'm slinking away in shame now.

I guess I was too tied to the idea that a kid would look at all this stuff a grown up has compiled, and suddenly be able to figure it out. But there are so many different ways to approach this problem. Thanks for showing me that!
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Old 12-21-2012, 11:17 PM   #5
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The immediate suggestion that came to mind for me might work, might not. It's essentially:

What if the kid works it out because a third party wants him to (i.e. he's being manipulated/fed the necessary info, because this ultimately serves their own goal)?

Then there'd be some showdowny scene where the kid realises this/confronts the third party.

Just a vague, ill-thought-out idea.
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Old 12-21-2012, 11:24 PM   #6
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Perhaps a clue to the item could be hidden somewhere the protagonist goes more often than the villain, simply out of interest. Say, for random example, if the sect hid a message in an aerospace museum and the kid loves space flight, he might go to look at the rockets after school and notice one day that a panel is out of place or that something's been changed in the Mars display, finding the message that leads him to the item. Meanwhile, the villain, who doesn't see that rocket or display all the time, wouldn't realize anything was different about it.
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Old 12-22-2012, 12:05 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SheilaJG View Post
Cyia - ha ha! That's hilarious. I like the idea of kids seeing things without cynicism. A funny story I tell (a lot) is when I was sitting at breakfast with my 3 or 4 year old, and he pointed outside and said "I see a tree walking." Our neighbors were landscaping, and he couldn't see the worker carrying the tree, because of the fence. Or maybe the tree WAS walking . . . .

Alleycat - you came up with 50 in about 10 seconds, I came up with . . . one. I'm slinking away in shame now.

I guess I was too tied to the idea that a kid would look at all this stuff a grown up has compiled, and suddenly be able to figure it out. But there are so many different ways to approach this problem. Thanks for showing me that!
Go through your list of stuff the grown-up has compiled, and figure what a twelve-year-old would see differently, or misunderstand. Also, who (what sort of person) hid the 'something'? What might they have in common with your MC that would make them both see something in the same way?
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Old 12-22-2012, 12:54 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SheilaJG View Post
I guess I was too tied to the idea that a kid would look at all this stuff a grown up has compiled, and suddenly be able to figure it out. But there are so many different ways to approach this problem. Thanks for showing me that!
If you want to stick to that general idea, what about some sort of kids game or activity (traditional or modern) that the MC knows and that enables him to put it all together. For example only, there used to be these pictures where you were suppose to figure how what was different between two very similar pictures (the rabbit doesn't have a cottontail in one picture but does in the other, etc). Perhaps the MC sees the differences between two things in the story because he is so good at this game.
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Old 12-22-2012, 12:55 AM   #9
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School's another consideration. Most grown-ups have forgotten the lessons they learned in primary and secondary school, but for the kid, they're fresh in his mind - like the little girl who cleared a beach before a tsunami because they'd just studied them in science and she recognized the signs.

If the "thing" or its hiding place has something to do with a recent or current school lesson, then the kid would be hyper-sensitive to it.
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Old 12-22-2012, 02:52 AM   #10
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Corussa - I love that kind of thinking. I've read a couple of books with that little twist, too. Right now I'm reading Iron Hearted Violet and in the first half of the book the MC found something because the evil guy wanted her to. Or like Harry Potter in the Goblet of Overly Elaborate Bad Guy Plans, I mean, Fire. The manipulated MC, that's a good idea.

Arachne, Frimble, Alleycat and Cyia - thank you so much for the suggestions. It's funny, I live with kids who remind me everyday of the things I've learned and forgotten. Those are great points. Thanks!
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Old 12-22-2012, 03:17 AM   #11
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i used to know a teenager who would climb up in the movable shelves in the library, the push button kind in the depths of a college library, and ride around on them. good way to find sekrit clues in sekrit books! or maybe a kid could hear a really old folk tale from a grandparent or other unheeded old person.

the adult book i just read had the adult get flustered and ask a 4 year old, "how would you find a needle in a haystack?" the girl answered, "i would ask the hays," and that was how he had an epiphany to solve his problem.
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Old 12-22-2012, 09:08 AM   #12
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I remember being given a weird test by a teacher when I was in sixth grade. It had all sorts of weird questions, like, "How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?" The answer to that question: "Just shove it in." The idea of the test was that I had certain assumptions about things, like the size of a typical refrigerator, that played into my answers. If said refrigerator was giraffe-sized, you could very well just stick the giraffe in without having to, say, chop it up into pieces and stick the pieces in (which is what I imagine my answer had been).

Also it's very possible that you could just have a precocious child, though perhaps that is less believable. But if you set a precedent for it, maybe that would be more believable. I remember that when I was younger, I was often underestimated, and that the things I pondered as a child are things people are still impressed with today (I had a lot of free time and was very philosophical. I think the fact that I didn't have many friends and had a difficult family life added to all of this. You end up being more contemplative, just because you stew about things more and you have more time to stew about them).

I think children are more open-minded, more able to consider fantastical possibilities. They have less assumptions about the world, and what assumptions they have, they are more willing to bend. For instance, I'm an epistemological solipsist. I believe that it is possible that this reality does not exist as we know it, that I could just be dreaming it all up, that I might not even be human but a brain in a vat or, really, anything. If you're interested, you can read up on it on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism
But anyway, I feel like it is easier to open kids up to this possibility through story and play than explain this to some adults, that kids are more willing to consider the possibility and that some adults would merely cast aside this philosophical idea as being ridiculous.

Lastly, here's a particular quote I enjoy: "It is not right if I am wrong. But if I am young, and right, what does age matter?" by Haemon in Antigone (a play written by Sophocles)
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