Dos and Don’ts For Young Characters

by | 27 October 2017 | Writing | 26 comments

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!

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Australian writer, adventurer at heart, beloved daughter of the King of Kings, and believer in at least six impossible things before breakfast. Raised on fairy tales, scraped knees, and makeshift swords, she has yet to outgrow any of them. In her day job, Jane teaches music and freelances as an editor, but by night she crafts daring stories of broken heroes overcoming extraordinary odds.


  1. MiddleEarthMusician

    Hey! Great post. XD I think this is totally true; I get so frustrated when young characters in books are about five years old and still talking and thinking like two year olds. >:-( I would LOVE to see more well written kids in books!!! XD
    (Btw; what did you think of my little kid characters in M:M? Just curious. :-))
    Love the writing posts!!! XD

    • Jane Maree

      Same, that’s exactly how I feel. Realistic characters apply to all ages. 🙂

      In M:M it wasn’t exactly clear how old everyone was (either that or I somehow missed where it told me 😛 ) so I’m not sure how many of them were young. xD The ones I do remember as being young though, didn’t have much of a role in the story, but she was realistic still. *thumbs up* Overall it was fairly good for a first draft. 😀

      Thanks! I’m glad you like them. ^.^

      • MiddleEarthMusician

        Yes! XD
        I told everyone the ages in the first blog post, but it’s been a while. ;-P Kaya and Shayla are the only little ones. Yay! I’m glad she was pretty good. 😀
        I do! 😀

        • Jane Maree

          Haha yes that would explain it. I probably forgot their ages very quickly, knowing me. xP

  2. Quinley

    Awesome post, Jane!:)
    I love the advice you give about young children characters.

    • Jane Maree

      Thank you! It’s very encouraging to know that you like the rambling thoughts that turn into blog posts. 😛

  3. Clare L Farrelly

    Oh I like how you call them kiddos… that is quite adorable. But yes so true, kids are people too!

    • Jane Maree

      Hehe, yes. The word ‘kiddos’ should be used more often, in my opinion. 😉

  4. Jake T.

    *nods* yes yes yes Great post, Jane!

    • Jane Maree

      Thanks, Jake! ^.^

  5. Ralraymee

    Loved the post! 😀 I agree – little kids should be more involved in stories, as long as they’re written well. I haven’t actually seen many stories with little kids in them.

    • Jane Maree

      I haven’t seen many either, but there are a few (Gregor the Overlander, is the first that comes to mind) that I’ve read and enjoyed. I really love the style that small kiddos bring into stories when they’re actually involved. 🙂

  6. Savannah Grace

    YOU QUOTED AIRMAN. *gives this post immediate epic points*

    But other than that – this post was AMAZING. I agree about underestimating what little kids can do – I have some really little siblings, and sometimes they really surprise me with how smart they are. Awesome tips, Jane. 😉

    • Jane Maree

      AHH YES I DID. I love that book so so much. It’s epicness.

      I never fail to be amazed at some of the things my smaller siblings come out with. And some of the words they use that are really long and complex but they know exactly what they mean. They’re amazing small peoples. <3 😛

  7. Krystal

    Oooh, will definitely have to keep this in mind for my smols. *nodnod* Great post!! : D

    Yaaas well written small people are adorable. I’ve written a couple of smols, and definitely planning to do more. *nods* 😛

    • Jane Maree

      Yess smols are precious and you must write many adorable little kiddos and I will read your books. *nodnod*

  8. Catherine @ The Rebelling Muse

    Even classic authors had trouble writing kids in sometimes. I’m in the middle of an audiobook that featured a ten year old girl that “acted” more like she was closer to 6 in the beginning (she improved a little as the story went on though, closer to 8. LOL).

    Great post Jane!


    • Jane Maree

      Haha, I’ve definitely read a book similar to that. It actually made me laugh it was so out of place for the age of the character.

      Thank you! 🙂

  9. Jenna

    great post! came at the right time for me. i think i tend to not make young characters in my book because i didn’t know exactly how to write them. i read this and smacked my forehead. i have younger siblings i could be observing!!!! and friends with younger siblings!!! thanks for the reminder jane!

    • Jane Maree

      Aw, I’m so glad this helped you! That’s really great to hear. Go watch those younger siblings! 😀

  10. Jenna

    i read the first chapter of your book A Sprig of Green on A.W.E.S.O.M.E. can’t wait to read the rest of it! i’m dying to find out when happens next!!!!!!!!

    • Jane Maree

      Awk really? You’re so sweet, Jenna. Thank you so much. <3

  11. Jenna

    you’re welcome! 🙂 i love reading work by writers close to my age

    • Jane Maree

      That’s really cool thing to do. It’s great to be able to encourage fellow writers. 🙂

  12. J.A.Penrose

    Ooooh, a great post Jane! I love all the little kiddos! And I love writing them… ish. It can be hard to get them right, mostly because I am the youngest, but then again, I know your family, so, yay! And all of the little ‘uns at church.
    Oooooh, I now want to try writing something from the POV of a little kid… that could be interesting.
    Also, just figured I’d toss it out there, people need to be careful not to go the other extreme and make kids OVERLY mature and intelligent etc. I have read books with totally normal characters and a kid who was 3 and could sit down and neatly write a decent book. Not a main or important character. They were capable of doing that, and yet still had the super adorable cute factor of not being able to speak well… not-so-great.
    Amazing post again Jane!

    • Jane Maree

      Thanks! I love kiddos in fiction (as well as in real life xP) a heap. You definitely should try a young character POV, at least just in a random scene that doesn’t belong to any story. It’s so fun and unique. I love it. 🙂

      Ah yes, that is another mistake that is possible. In trying to make them realistic, the author’s gone too far over the other way. 😛

      Thank you, again. 😀

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