You wanna know what’s the worst? When I see kids in film, games, or books that are terribly written. Sometimes they’re like weird little robots whose dialogue doesn’t fit the way that they should sound, or they’re too babyish. I get it. I don’t have kids, and I don’t plan on having kids, BUT if you’re going to write a novel about children or with children as the main characters, you BETTER know kids. Unless you’re writing a horror novel, your kids shouldn’t sound like adults in little bodies. As a writer of three successful Middle Grade books, let me give you some insight into how to make your kids not only seem realistic but shine.
How do I write realistic kids?
The best way to write kids is to spend time with kids. If you don’t have physical access to a kid in the age range you need, turn to the internet. By watching how kids interact with each other and with adults, you’ll pick up on their mannerisms, their speech patterns, and any slang that they use. Learning how people talk and act is best done with observation, so get to Youtube and watch some videos of some kids. Now, watching scripted shows of kids is probably not the best idea. If you can (even though it’s kinda creepy) find home videos of peoples’ kids in your age range. You’ll be grateful you did and your readers will thank you, too.
What should I remember when writing children?
Here are my tips for writing kids that hopefully will help you, along with your research.
Kids are REALLY smart.
Despite their age, even children as young as one are incredibly brilliant. Remember that they are problem solvers, are incredibly innovative, and often come up with solutions that adults completely miss. Do your self a favor and don’ dumb down your kids. Especially if you’re writing literature FOR kids, your audience will be reading it and go, “Huh? Why’s the kid in this book so dumb? Why do they sound like that?”
The internet is a great resource for researching teens.
In the era of Tik Tok and Youtube, if you need to research teens that’s the place to do it. Tik Tok and Youtube are loaded with memes that can give you insight into how teens talk and what they think is funny. If you don’t understand the meme, look it up. As much as it might suck, spend some time on their social media. You’ll learn a lot about how they communicate that way!
This is prevalent if you’re writing a character in modern times that’s any younger than you are. If you’re writing a teen in the year 2019 and you don’t know what basic, dope, gucci, and yeet mean, you better get on it. Overusing these slang pieces can be absolutely detrimental to your writing, so use it sparingly and use it appropriately. Don’t have your teen saying “Gucci, bruh,” every fifteen seconds.
Don’t be afraid of adult subject matter.
Especially when writing for YA, include adult subject matter. Young Adults are very well aware of things like porn, swearing, sex, and a whole slew of other stuff. But taboo things aside, kids as young as ten understand domestic abuse, what it means to go to court, and other complex subjects that many parents avoid talking to their kids about. They’re smart enough to understand what the subject matters are, so don’t be afraid of having your kids be aware of a bigger, darker, scarier world.
What are some tips for specific ages of children?
I spend a brief period of time as a rock wall instructor and got hands-on training working with kids aged four to fourteen. This was a great range of kids and allowed me to observe all of them as they naturally were, having fun, being scared, and hanging out with their friends. Here’s what I observed:
Ages 1 – 5:
Kids this age are SMART COOKIES. They learn incredibly fast and can get themselves into all sorts of trouble. They’re problem solvers and will do anything to get what they want. Sometimes they’re hilarious and have tantrums over absolutely nothing. At these ages, they’re very easily startled. If they’re in a group and one kid starts crying, they’ll all start crying for no reason. Also, kids these ages tend to be incredibly weird. We’re talking staring at you while you pee weird, having a tantrum over an invisible hot dog weird. kids this age need constant supervision because they fear nothing. I had a four-year-old student (actually, she was three, but we bent the rules because her mom was a climber), who loved to have her mother harness her up and pull her up to the top of the 30 foot wall. No fear. She’d beg for it over and over. It was her favorite thing EVER. Toddlers, man.
Ages 5 – 8:
Ah, the days of glorious childhood. At this stage, you see girls start to mature faster than boys. The gap begins. A lot of kids at this age are just happy to be kids. They love video games, reading, playing with their friends, and being outside. This age (closer to seven and eight) is when gossip starts to happen. It’s not a lot of gossip, but kids are starting to learn how to spread rumors and be cruel. The “Girls Only” and “Boys Only” clubs start to happen and the gender gap becomes wider. Some kids take note of this, others don’t. They also start to have some rational fears at this stage. They’re not necessarily going to look both ways when crossing the street, but they’re DEFINITELY going to be afraid of a 30-foot rock wall. The kids that are brave are incredibly brave, and the kids that aren’t.
Ages 8 – 12:
This is my favorite age of kid. These kids are wise beyond their years, are witty, funny, caring, compassionate, and incredibly smart. The girls in this age group are much more mature than the boys in most cases. There generally is a solitary intellectual boy in the group who doesn’t understand the humor behind fart noises and saying swear words and finds it incredibly immature. Girls don’t want to hang out with boys at this time because they’re just TOO immature. Boys in this age category tend to want to be the best at everything. They want to run the fastest, have the quickest time on certain routes and are incredibly athletic. They have boundless energy and need to be entertained. Kids in this group are just getting started on Youtube, love video games and memes, and are also introduced to social media at this time.
Ages 12 – 15:
MIDDLE SCHOOL WAS SO WEIRD. It’s weird. Girls in this category are still more mature than boys and many don’t co-mingle. Kids at aged 14 to 15 are decently mature if raised right, and want to be treated as adults. They demand respect and can throw a fit if they don’t get it. These kids have about a million questions and will either get the answers via parents or via Youtube, whichever is willing to give the answers to them. This age is a popular protagonist age in Japan because it’s such an important time in a child’s life where they are still whole-heartedly a kid but are also transitioning into adulthood.
Ages 16 – 18:
This is the last group of kids in the Children’s Lit category. These kids are practically adults (centuries ago they would be considered adults) and should be treated as such. They’re intellectuals, have almost solidified their own beliefs, and are dating, having sex (probably), or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. This doesn’t apply to all kids, but that’s the general rule. Friends they make at this stage in life may end up being friends forever. Boys are still not as mature here and won’t catch up until well into college.
With these guidelines, hopefully writing kids into your works of fiction will be easier. Spend time with children and ask yourself WHY you want to write children’s lit if you don’t like kids. Sure, YA is profitable right now, but if you don’t know them and don’t know how to write for them, maybe you should reconsider what you’re writing. If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll help the best I can!