One of the things in some books that really peeves me is young characters written unrealistically. It seems that 90% of the time that small kiddos appear in YA fiction, they’re either completely flat characters just there to look cute, or they’re completely unrealistic for their age group.
As an older sister of two boys and one little girl, I’ve had nine years of experience with small people. I’ve had personal experience every day and—while all kids definitely aren’t the same—there is a definite measure of knowledge that can be gathered about all kids that age, just by observing one or two.
Don’t make them completely helpless
My three year-old sister is really, really smart. She can say incredibly long words and understand what they mean. She has several short books completely memorised and she can recite them while turning the pages (even though she can’t read yet). She can come up with amazing stories of all sorts. She can tell jokes. She can trip over and just pick herself up and keep running, not burst into tears.
So many times in books I’ve read the ‘small sibling’ is completely helpless. They’re four years old but big sis is feeding them their food because they can’t do it themselves. They can hardly talk beyond broken words. It bothers me because none of the kids in my life (at home, at church, in the scripture class I teach at school) are helpless. Some of them can speak better than others—yes. Some of them are faster, stronger—obviously. They’re just small humans. They have incredible minds, and often that gets forgotten in books.
Give them personality
Little kiddos aren’t just blank cardboard cutouts. The same things apply to them as to teen and adult characters. Each little person has a unique personality. They say things a certain way, they have little physical quirks, they have their unique sense of humour. Going back to my little sister again, she has a great well of humour in her that’s really coming out and sometimes she has me laughing so hard by what she says or does or just how she stands when she says it.
If you want a young character, he or she should have just as much personality as your other characters.
Give them a reason to be in the story
Young characters shouldn’t just be there to look cute. Though the cuteness factor is an added bonus. 😛 You can’t just put them in your story just to make the readers go “aww so cute.” If you’re going to include a smaller sibling (for example) into the story, give them a part to play in the thematic development of the main character. They should have a role in the theme and/or plot just like any other character.
Observe the smalls around you
Within limits, of course. Don’t be creepy. 😉 Younger siblings can be handy. Or, if you don’t have any, watch the kids at church or at school or just down the street when you’re doing the grocery shopping or whatever you do.
See how they act. See all the different personalities they each have. Then apply what you see.
“No, Conor. You are Captain Crow, and I am the princess hostage.”
“There is no princess hostage,” declared Conor firmly.
“Of course there is,” said Isabella belligerently. “There is because I say there is, and I am an actual princess, whereas you were born in a balloon.”
Isabella intended this as an insult, but to Conor being born in a balloon was about the finest place to be born.
“Thank you,” he said, grinning.
“That’s not a good thing,” squealed Isabella. “Doctor John says that your lungs were probably crushed by the alti-tood.”
“My lungs’re better than yours. See!” And Conor hooted at the sky to show just how healthy his lungs were.
– Airman, Eoin Colfer
There are so many interesting aspects a young character can bring into a story when they’re written well. Whether they have a POV section of their own, or if they’re just shown from the main character’s eyes, they bring a lightness to the story that other characters simply can’t.
Personally, I’d like to see more well written youngsters in YA novels. How about you?
Do you like novels with well written small characters? Have you ever tried writing one yourself? Let’s chat together!