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View Full Version : May I borrow your kid for verisimilitude? (On writing realistic children)



KCathy
07-02-2008, 09:12 PM
One of the problems with the novel I'm ditching to completely rewrite from a different perspective was that my child character, an eight-year-old, was poorly written. I don't remember being eight or how I looked at the world, so the character swung from being too childish to being too adult.

I can't just get rid of the character because the story is about her foster father kidnapping her so that she won't be returned to an abusive birth mother.

What can I do? Borrow a child from a friend to get a feel for the age? Change the character's age? Make her a genius so she acts like an adult most of the time? Give her a disease that prevents speech?

CaroGirl
07-02-2008, 09:16 PM
I have an 8 yo girl. What do you want to know?

I guess you could do what we all do, at some point, when researching how to write something, and that's read a published book that includes what you want to know. Find some published novels that feature average 8 yos and see how the writers portray them.

I'd let you borrow mine but I'm not done with her yet. Good luck!

Clarec
07-02-2008, 09:18 PM
Get on a social networking site (Bebo, Facebook) and make random friends with one. Just watch out that you don't appear to be trying to get too friendly!

I can barely remember being 8 and I imagine eight year olds these days might be different anyway. I know that my niece, who's 11, scares the bejesus out of me. I'm sure I wasn't that into boys at her age. If I was her mother, I'd lock her up. But that's another story. My daughter is only two so I have time to construct at cage.

It's good you want to be realistic but I often read children's characters and they aren't that realistic but they are good for the story, if you know what I mean. So maybe as long as the character is not ridiculous, you'd be fine.

Are those your kids in your picture? Very cute :-)

Clare

KCathy
07-02-2008, 09:43 PM
I have an 8 yo girl. What do you want to know?

Ooh, really? Here are a few things that I'd love to know:

- What they do/watch for fun? (Too old for this cartoon? Too young for that game?)
- Do they speak English correctly most of the time, and, if not, what concepts and phonemes are tricky?
- What do they like to eat, especially the picky ones?
- Would they be perceptive enough to notice a parent flirting?
- Would they like to see a parental romance develop/be grossed out/resent it on principle?
- How do they handle long car trips?
- Would they likely be irritated or excited if they had to cut their hair and dye it another color?

That's probably enough (or too much) for now, lol. Thanks for the offer!


Just watch out that you don't appear to be trying to get too friendly!

Exactly! When I thought about that I just couldn't imagine how to approach young girls without freaking out their parents, especially since I'd have to make a new account and therefore wouldn't have any history there.


I often read children's characters and they aren't that realistic but they are good for the story, if you know what I mean.

Good point. I'm hoping for realism, but I'd settle for consistency.


Are those your kids in your picture? Very cute :-)

I was tempted to say that I borrowed them, but I like them too much. Thanks for the compliment!

Seif
07-02-2008, 10:04 PM
Hey, KCathy,

I hope the following information parent-forum.com (UK site used by reearchers, professionals, teachers etc) is helpful. I came across it during my English Language and Linguistics Module.

At the age of 8 the child can:

Can relate rather involved accounts of events, many of which occurred at some time in the past

Complex and compound sentences should be used easily

Should be few lapses in grammatical constrictions-tense, pronouns, plurals

All speech sounds, including consonant blends should be established

Should be reading with considerable ease and now writing simple compositions

Social amenities should be present in his speech in appropriate situations

Control of rate, pitch, and volume are generally well and appropriately established

Can carry on conversation at rather adult level

Follows fairly complex directions with little repetition

Has well developed time and number concepts

Please visit the aforementioned forum for more info as i is very useful for research purposes.

All the best

CaroGirl
07-02-2008, 10:27 PM
What they do/watch for fun? (Too old for this cartoon? Too young for that game?)
~She still really likes to play with her miniature plastic people and doll house, usually when she's alone. She likes to read and is currently enjoying the Black Stallion series. LOVES the monkey bars at the playground and enjoys climbing trees. She likes board games, like Life, Sorry and Clue, and has the maturity and patience to finish a game. She also likes card games like crazy 8s and her father is teaching her Texas Hold'em (ugh). Mine has an older brother, which might influence her tv watching but she's not interested in "baby" cartoons anymore, the ones on the PBS channel. She likes Hanna Montana, and the other Disney fare. Her favourite movies are the Shrek series, Harry Potter and the latest Get Smart.

Do they speak English correctly most of the time, and, if not, what concepts and phonemes are tricky?
~She speaks correctly most of the time. She still makes some errors. I'll let you know if I think of anything specifically.

What do they like to eat, especially the picky ones?
~Mine's not picky at all. She loves everything, especially sushi, and is willing to try anything. When my son was 8 the only veggies he would eat were cucumber and corn. He would have happily lived off bread and cheese.

Would they be perceptive enough to notice a parent flirting?
~Probably not, unless it was very obvious.

Would they like to see a parental romance develop/be grossed out/resent it on principle?
~She would probably be grossed out to see adults being romantic, especially her parents.

How do they handle long car trips?
~Pretty well. She can read now, and doesn't get carsick, so that helps pass the time. She also will play hand-held video games and even play pretend with a doll or stuffed toy for part of the ride.

Would they likely be irritated or excited if they had to cut their hair and dye it another color?
~My daughter hates looking after her hair and would probably be ecstatic if I let her cut it all off. I'm not sure about colouring it. I'd have to ask her.

Hope this helps. Remember that this is just one little girl with an individual personality and set of interests.

Let me know if I can help further.

FennelGiraffe
07-02-2008, 10:30 PM
Shake down your friend network for someone who has an eight-year-old and offer to babysit.
Shake down your friend network for a third grade teacher.
Go to your local library and volunteer to read stories to groups of kids
Go to your local park & recreation department and volunteer to assist with their summer programs
Hang out at your community swimming pool and strike up conversations with moms, while observing their kids.
Volunteer to help the third grade Sunday School teacher at your church.
Not so useful right now, but during the school year, go to your local elementary school and volunteer. Sometimes they need people to sit one-on-one with a child and listen to them read out loud. Sometimes they need people to help in the library. If you don't want to make an ongoing commitment, almost any teacher will welcome someone who can give a talk to their class (surely you have something you can offer to talk about).

Mr Flibble
07-02-2008, 11:04 PM
What they do/watch for fun? (Too old for this cartoon? Too young for that game?)
My daughter -- Sponge Bob. Anything that she thinks is 'rude' makes her crack up. Still plays dolls. Likes to tidy for fun / play games re looking after people.

- Do they speak English correctly most of the time, and, if not, what concepts and phonemes are tricky? Mostly, but odd participles trip her up. It was worser. I eated it.

- What do they like to eat, especially the picky ones? Mines v picky, but lasagne, spaghetti, bangers and mash all go down well.


- Would they be perceptive enough to notice a parent flirting? Possbily. SHE flirts all the time.


- Would they like to see a parental romance develop/be grossed out/resent it on principle? She'd like it ( provided there was no Daddy for her to feel bad for) If I was a single Mum she'd be matchmaking for me.


- How do they handle long car trips? She throws up. I get a mild sedative from the doc's for the journey.

- Would they likely be irritated or excited if they had to cut their hair and dye it another color? Mortified! ( Unless she could dye it a cool colour like pink)

Danger Jane
07-03-2008, 12:34 AM
Ooh, really? Here are a few things that I'd love to know:

- What they do/watch for fun? (Too old for this cartoon? Too young for that game?)
- Do they speak English correctly most of the time, and, if not, what concepts and phonemes are tricky?
- What do they like to eat, especially the picky ones?
- Would they be perceptive enough to notice a parent flirting?
- Would they like to see a parental romance develop/be grossed out/resent it on principle?
- How do they handle long car trips?
- Would they likely be irritated or excited if they had to cut their hair and dye it another color?


I have a nine-year-old sister, so I can help, probably.

She watches Discovery Kids, Animal Planet, and Nickelodeon, mostly Spongebob. Apparently she still watches Thomas the Tank Engine when no one's home but her and my dad. She loves video games, especially Zelda. Also she loves to play in the sandbox with her plastic animals. ETA: If I walk down the basement when she's watching Discovery Kids, she changes the channel immediately.

Her English is fine. She used to say "F" for "TH" but that's been gone for a while.

She's an incredibly picky eater. For a while she only ate crackers and rice and milk. Now she'll eat pretty normally, but no chicken--it's her favorite animal. She's fine with beef and pork, however.

She'd definitely notice parents flirting, because my other younger sister and I are 17 and 18, so she's grown-up in some ways.

I'm not sure on the parental romance thing. She doesn't mind my parents hugging or anything, but "movie kisses" get the typical kid reaction from her: "YECH! DID THEY HAVE TO DO THAT?"

Long car trips, she's fine. Just give her a 7 inch DVD player/TV and some game boy games--and maybe hook up the GameCube to it--and she's perfectly fine for two days straight.

She's recently becoming less of a tomboyish little kid, so she would probably be upset at a haircut unless it was pretty, and she likes to think she's the only "blonde" one in the family, even though she hasn't been blonde since she was three, so dye would probably get her down, too. But that's just my weird sister, of course.

Hope this helps.

Shweta
07-03-2008, 12:36 AM
I'm gonna move this over into story research. Meanwhile, have you considered poking people in Children's Writing? I realize you're not writing a kids' book, but they probably have ideas on how to get that sort of POV right.

KCathy
07-03-2008, 12:45 AM
Thanks, Shweta. For some reason I was thinking this would end up being a discussion of how to fake a child's POV or get around it, and it turned out to actually be research on 8-year-olds, lol. That's great!

Thanks, everyone. This stuff is incredibly helpful!

Shweta
07-03-2008, 12:51 AM
Thanks, Shweta. For some reason I was thinking this would end up being a discussion of how to fake a child's POV or get around it, and it turned out to actually be research on 8-year-olds, lol.

Totally cool :) The way it's going, it's more of a story research question, but yeah, it could totally have gone the other way.

It's a great thread!

Something I noticed when I was a grand old fourteen -- my eight-year-old cousins could talk like they were my peers -- they had the sentence structure down and a pretty large vocabulary -- but I managed to totally traumatize one by talking about my history class (we were studying WWI), to the point where she dreamed that her family of stuffed animals was all turning on one another in war.

So they can seem older and more capable than they are, around 8-11. In my experience.

Keyan
07-04-2008, 06:31 AM
Ooh, really? Here are a few things that I'd love to know:

- What they do/watch for fun? (Too old for this cartoon? Too young for that game?)


Pretty sensitive to peer pressure, so they would watch watch/ play whatever was cool. Mine, left to herself, would read/ watch from about the 5 year age-group stuff (Sesame Street) right through to Star Trek.

She loved doing handicraft projects of various kinds. Painting ceramics, cut-and-paste, weaving lanyards. Making things with her hands.



- Do they speak English correctly most of the time, and, if not, what concepts and phonemes are tricky?

Mine spoke perfect English, though with speech patterns influenced more by peers than by family.



- What do they like to eat, especially the picky ones?

Anything. It's very individual. You can pick any set of foods you want and make the kid fanatic about them. Mine had a few favorites, but was quite willing to experiment. She loved fruit of all kinds.



- Would they be perceptive enough to notice a parent flirting?

Not too likely. Unless a peer noticed and pointed it out.



- Would they like to see a parental romance develop/be grossed out/resent it on principle?

At that age, mine still had a great deal of faith in the parents. We hadn't yet become completely fallible! So they would "go along" with it.



- How do they handle long car trips?

Mine did ok, but we tried to stop reasonably often. Preferably at a McDonalds with a play area.



- Would they likely be irritated or excited if they had to cut their hair and dye it another color?

By age 8 they're individuals, and so either reaction is plausible - depends on what you want. Mine kept wanting to grow her hair, so she didn't want us to cut it. She probably would have been interested in dying it, but we never did that. Other kids might feel quite differently.

I think the key thing is whether your MC is in on the ruse. If she is, then she'd probably find it exciting. If she isn't, she'd wonder why her foster dad wanted to change her hair.

PattiTheWicked
07-04-2008, 07:09 AM
Ooh, really? Here are a few things that I'd love to know:

- What they do/watch for fun? (Too old for this cartoon? Too young for that game?)

I have a pair of eight year olds. The boy likes to ride his skateboard, play video games, and engage in really imaginative play that mostly involves dinosaurs, exploring, and blowing stuff up. The girl likes to play computer games, watch anything that has to do with teenage pop stars (Hannah Montana, etc), and singing and dancing, preferably with an audience.


Do they speak English correctly most of the time, and, if not, what concepts and phonemes are tricky?

Their speech is excellent, and even though they just finished 2nd grade, they both read at a 5th grade level and have amazing vocabularies. There are a few words they seem to not be able to wrap their brains around, though, usually involving past tense -- runned instead of ran, that sort of thing.


What do they like to eat, especially the picky ones?

My boy eats pretty much anything you put in front of him, the girl prefers beige food like fries, pasta and chicken. They both eat salads, although she likes hers with just "leaves and some dressing please".


Would they be perceptive enough to notice a parent flirting?

My son wouldn't, but my daughter has commented to me, after seeing me talk with a couple of male friends, "Mommy, you think he's cuuuuuuuute!"


Would they like to see a parental romance develop/be grossed out/resent it on principle?

Adults kissing is just gross, especially if it's your mom and dad. Now, I also have a 16 year old, and when I got together with my husband, my now-teen was about 4, and we had a lot of issues, mostly revolving around the fact that she suddenly had to share my affection wtih someone else.


How do they handle long car trips?

We just drove to Maine and back, two days each way. Kept them busy with books, travel games, Mad Libs, songs, and when all else failed, I plugged in my laptop and they watched movies in the back seat.

Oh, and we counted cows and played the license plate game.


Would they likely be irritated or excited if they had to cut their hair and dye it another color?

The eight year olds HATE to get their hair cut, but they're always happy with the way it looks when I'm done with it. My girlie wants to color her hair pink, which I told her she can do when she's a little older.