Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Children Are Characters Too 

By Andi Ward

2002, By Andi Ward

Children are people.  People in fiction are characters. Characters have personalities, lives, hopes, goals, attitudes, and voices. Children certainly do too, and theirs are often more pronounced than adults. Therefore, it seems that children should be easy to write. After all, they don't have much back-story--they haven't lived that long. Their emotions tend to be out there for people to see. Children have few inhibitions about what they will say or what they will do. They are totally unabashed, self-absorbed little people.

They're also scary to portray because they are so raw, uninhibited, and open. Many authors tend to define "uninhibited" by having that character speak whatever the author wants them to say, on whatever subject pleases them, but this is only making the character a mouthpiece for the author's personal views. To be uninhibited is not to expect any consequences for what is said or done. Writing from a child's POV is to forget what it is to be an adult and worry about what everyone else will think about you. To be completely selfish and unashamed of it --to be child-like, not childish.

Children are people, but they are not "comfortable-to-write" adults. They are complex and mystifying, as adults are, but in ways that befuddle many adult writers. Adults see the world through filters they have learned  through their life experiences and through what they have been taught is "proper" by their society. It's extremely hard to drop those filters when writing and when creating characters of any type. It's hard to forget personal bias when viewing a character who has not had the same experiences. This is a talent that all authors must cultivate to create any character, not just the child character.

I have heard that writers who don't have children, or have had no exposure to children, should not write them, because they will never be able to create them properly. I say that is an excuse, a cop-out, not a reason why they shouldn't write children as well as other characters. Consider: What author has full exposure to any character not themselves? Female authors may live with their husbands and sons, but do they truly understand how the male mind and heart works? The same is true for male authors who write female characters. Authors who write stories set in far-flung times, whether historical or speculative, have no true exposure to those character's experiences, thoughts, feelings or society. And if full exposure were a mandatory element for writing a character, then there would never be any non-human characters, whether creatures found on Earth or sentient beings from another planet or dimension. Why should writing child characters be given an excuse that creating no other type of character receives?

In writing children, it is important to remember that they are characters. They may be challenging characters, but they are still characters to be drawn by the author as other characters are.