Whenever I spend time with children I find myself totally fascinated with how they think. It makes me excited about the idea of including children as characters in my fiction writing. Trying to write from a child’s point of view – getting the voice and actions right – and by right I mean authentic, is a big challenge.
We were listening to that Train song the other day in the van – Drive By – in the chorus there is a line where the guy sings – if they don’t like it, sue me. Emma piped up from the back seat – “Why don’t they like a smoothie, Grandma? I like a smoothie.” You couldn’t even make this kind of stuff up – no one would believe you.
Kids are like sponges – they’re always listening and they’re always processing and they’re always putting one and one together to sometimes get two and other times to get three or four or five. You just never know.
My eight-year-old niece has an absolute passion for horses. When she was here at the lake this summer she developed a very imaginative game where she pulled a blow-up boat back and forth through the water pretending it was a horse named Rebecca. I was amazed as I sat on the beach soaking up the sun, to hear her run through a fairly extensive catalogue of horse knowledge. She put that pretend horse through its paces day after day, talking out loud to herself the whole time. “Oh darn. Wait. I forgot to cinch your saddle, we’ll have to go back and start all over again.” Amazing.
Way back in the dark ages when I was doing my first child psych course – through distant education at a little community college – I was given the assignment of taping a two-year old child’s conversation. I was then to transcribe the tape and analyze it. The child I happened to be assigned was kind enough to give me a tidbit of language that helped me write an A+ paper. I’ve never forgotten what she said. She leaned into a toy box and pulled out a Raggedy Anne doll and pointed at the hair and said, “Red, red like blood.” I’m amazed to this day that a child that age could use language to wield such a powerful metaphor.
Four-year-old Emma is still working on her juggling skills. The other day she threw the balls on the floor and said, “These aren’t the right kind of balls. When Daddy does it he has the right kind.” For her, juggling is a skill inherent in the objects one uses – not in the hands of the juggler. Interesting – right? Kids interpret things in very unique ways.
If you really listen to kids you’ll find they do a lot of their thinking and processing out loud. It strikes me that a character that walks around freely telling the world what he or she is thinking and how they got to that point in their thought process, could be handy.
I have an idea for a character who is a boy detective and another who is the four-year-old girl he has roped in as his sidekick – he sends her to ask people questions and stand around listening to conversations. Of course this can lead to some comic misunderstandings as she is likely to hear in the way Emma heard the singer of Drive By say he didn’t like a smoothie. But there’s room for more than humour. Speaking truths in a child’s voice can have a poignancy we would be hard-pressed to achieve from an adult character’s point of view.
I’ll leave you with a snippet of conversation between two characters I am working on right now – a ten-year-old boy and his father:
“Father Jack said God has a big plan and my mom dying is part of that plan. He said we can’t figure out a plan as big as God’s plan.” Robbie paused to dig a small rock out with the toe of his shoe and reached down to look closely at it. After a moment he threw the rock out towards the waves. “But I’ve been thinking about that – Buddy Larue was out on the Jodie Lynn that day, too, and he told me it could have easily been him who died and not my mom. He could have been the one close to the wheel-house and stuck in there instead of her.” Robbie narrowed his eyes and said under his breath, “I don’t think Father Jack knows jack shit about God’s big plan.” He shrugged his thin shoulders and continued to stare out at the water.
“Well – a priest’s got a habit of acting like he knows what’s going on with God – I wouldn’t take it for the gospel, either. We got to get moving – you ready?” Robbie nodded and they both got up and headed for the truck.