A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Children and Families

Here’s something to know: if you can’t write about children, don’t. Children are extremely complex creatures. Though everyone has been one, some have them, some work with them, and others are barely not them, they’re still some of the most difficult people to portray realistically.

  I see it all the time, even in ‘real’ novels by ‘real’ authors. Children, especially when in groups tend to be sort of…wrong. Sometimes it can be hard to put your finger on, other times you know exactly what the author did wrong.

  Let’s talk about some common issues that I can often spot. Here’s a big one to start off with: Children don’t always say the right things at the right time. That should be pretty obvious. In fact, who does? But what I’m actually referring to is a different kind of “right thing” than you might be thinking of.

  Authors do this all the time. I can’t stand it. You’ve got you’re couple standing there talking along until Mr. White Smile-Nice Hair says something unrealistic to Miss Love Interest. About this point Adorable Child with Bouncing Curls says “Why is your face all red, Miss Lovey?”

  Mwaaaa!!! (Do you like that expression of disgust?) Have you ever known a kid to notice when somebody was blushing? They don’t do it. No, I’m not saying kids don’t notice details or recognize shifts of emotions, they certainly do. But why would a kid ask such a silly question, even if, for some reason, they were carefully watching the color-saturation of Miss Lovey’s face?

  Oh, and that’s another thing, unless they’re under three years old, and really can’t pronounce somebody’s name, children don’t make up nicknames for people. The only reason a kid would call somebody a nickname is if they heard other people calling them that. Got it?

  Children don’t try to be cute. They just are. This is a place where age comes in to play a lot, though. This rule isn’t very strict, but if you have a moment where a kid is trying to be cute, keep it fairly isolated. In spite of what we my think, the motives behind children’s actions are not often to be cute.

  Children will do all kinds of things to get attention. Being cute is just one of them, small ones go up and hang on adults and say things over and over. Often start making mischief or showing off when there’s company in the house.

  Keep in mind that an awful lot can change from year to year in a child’s life in reference to their behavior. Be familiar with the age group you’re writing about. Also, aside from being a child, children are also individuals. Don’t forget to map out their character just as much as you would any other. Think about where they’ve been and where they’re going in their development into a grown person. Don’t make them into little adults, but think about their hopes and fears at the present time in reference to how those will manifest themselves in the future.

  One final note, if you must write a story about a large family, don’t be lazy. Every sibling is going to be unique. Don’t let them blur together. Don’t make their relationships fake or stereotypical. Invent based on experience. Build off of your own experiences growing up, or watching other children close to you grow up. Every family is different. Some have problems with sibling rivalry, some don’t. Some are very demonstratively affectionate, some aren’t. Some definitely split into “the boys” and “the girls” others mix and match in their choices of playmates. Make your fictional family different and entertaining, but keep them relatable. It’s great when someone accomplishes this in a book. Shoot for it.  


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