When a writer gets the voice right, it largely goes unnoticed. It’s a “good read” when the language, format, and structure seem more natural than noteworthy.
People often struggle to write from the point of view of a child, keeping the language and thinking consistently child-like. This is especially the case if one doesn’t have young children around spouting examples. One helpful step is to check on the language/vocabulary level by age. And as with everything else, there’s a book for that.
Observing children and copying their behavior and speech patterns into your writing is the most reliable way to ensure authentically childlike characters. However, parents tend to get a bit uneasy when strange adults follow their children around with notepads. Videos online are a much safer method of research.
Less frequently—but equally important—is getting it right when the child is actually doing the writing. Instances might include letters, thank-you notes, notes passed in school, diary entries, etc.
Here for your edification (and enjoyment?) is one example—a short story by a real eight-year-old.
The Panda Thief
Ones there was a family of Pandas. One day they had a baby. They were over joyed with :: but there was a person (not a panda) that wanted a panda more then anything in the worled. She promest that if she got just one panda she wodent hunt them anymore.
Lukuly there was someone who loved pandas so much that she protekted and her name was . . . Nalani! She knew about the theift so she really wanted to proteked them so one nite she made a trap that rodent hert the thift but keep her frome comejng back. And she dided ever again and Nalani said “Thank you for not hunting Pandas in reward I will let you keep one that yo may choose.”
The theft became good and get a punda and folowed her promes and the panda she piked was the newly born baby. The parents were sad for a little but soon got over it and everyone lived hapily ever after!
Things to note:
Language usage is much better than spelling
Spelling is mostly phonetic
Spelling is inconsistent (e.g., thief, theift, thift)
Lack of logic: there was no theft, and they ended up losing a baby panda anyway
Want to give it a try?
The Cat Ones there was a cat who’s oners coulded
Bottom line for writers: it’s easier to write well from a child’s point of view than to write like a child!
Children are incredibly imaginative, and sometimes they are incredibly inventive as well. Children have probably been inventing things forever! I found this information amazing and entertaining—and I hope you do, too. Some bits helpful to writers even surface here and there!
Louis Braille, blind from age 3, learned of and simplified a method of silent communication created for the French military. Braille was born in 1824.
At the age of 15, Chester Greenwood set out to solve the problem of cold ears in winter, created the first earmuffs, and patented the invention 1877 at the age of 19. He improved the design and sold earmuffs for soldiers during the First World War.
Writers note: Earmuffs were his idea but his grandmother sewed the beaver skin pads.
In 1905, at age 11, Frank Epperson accidentally invented popsicles. He left a mixture of soda water powder and water in a glass and left in the stirring stick. After a cold night outside, he had the world’s first popsicle.
Writers note: He didn’t immediately do anything with the idea. In 1922, he served it at a fireman’s ball and the success led him to patent the idea, first under the name Eppsicle, but changed it to Popsicle because that’s what his children called it.
In 1921, at age 15, Philip (Philo) T. Farnsworth diagramed an electronic television system. It transmitted the first image six year later.
In 1922, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier (age 15) unveiled the first version of a snowmobile to his family. It traveled half a mile. He continued to modify it, and by 1959, his efforts had resulted in the Ski-Doo.
At age 16, in 1930, George Nissen came up with the idea for the trampoline. He was struck by circus acrobats bouncing in their catch nets and set out to create something that would allow people to bounce higher. He started with canvas stretched on a metal frame, moved on to nylon, and eventually trademarked “trampoline.” He traveled the world demonstrating the trampoline and promoting his invention. At age 92, he could still do a headstand.
Writers note: Nissen completed the early work on his invention by taking over his parents’ garage for a workshop.
Alternate version: as a teenage gymnast, George Nissen and his coach created a bouncing rig of scrap steel and tire inner tubes to help him get the power and height to do a back somersault.
Writers note: Perhaps one of your characters contests the accepted story of some invention.
As a teenager in 1934, Jerry Siegel got the idea for Superman. His artist friend Joe Shuster made sketches. It took four years to find a publisher.
In 1962, 5-year-old Robert Patch used shoe boxes and bottle caps to make a vehicle the could be a dump truck, a flatbed, or a box truck. His father happened to be a patent attorney and applied for a patent in his son’s name. At the time the patent was granted, Patch was 6, the youngest patent holder ever at that time.
Abbey Fleck was inspired to create Makin’ Bacon at age 8. She and her dad created the prototype and patented their idea in 1993. It has been enormously lucrative.
Writers note: She had the idea, her father helped and supported her to make it happen, and her grandfather took out a loan to pay for the first 100,000 units.
In 1994, K-K Gregory (age 10) invented Wristies. These are fingerless fuzzy sleeves for the hands and forearms, worn under mittens. She tested them on her Girl Scout troop. Her mother worked hard with K-K to get the business going.
Writers note: At an early age she met with patent attorneys, shopped fabrics, and wrote license and sales agreements. After 16 years exploring options, she returned to business and is CEO of her company.
In 1996, on a trip to Hawaii, Richie Stachowski (age 10) lamented that he couldn’t talk to others underwater. Back home, he researched aquatic acoustics, worked on prototypes, and came up with the Water Talkie. Besides the people at the public pool who allowed him to test there, his mother helped him set up a company for inventing toys. Toys ‘R’ Us ordered 50,000 units. At age 13 he sold his company for a ton of money. Again, the kid inventor was seminal but not alone!
Kelly Reinhart (age 6) invented the Thigh Pack when her parents challenged their children, on a rainy afternoon, to draw a picture of an invention, promising to make a prototype of the winning idea. Inspired by holsters worn by cowboys, Kelly’s idea was a thigh-pack for kids to carry around their video games. They tried them with other children, refined the prototype, and patented it in 1998. The company Kelly started, T-Pak, sold nearly a million dollars’ worth of Thigh Packs and discussed possible military applications with the Pentagon before selling it in 2001.
Writers note: In 2002, she started a not-profit to teach kids how to become inventors. Maybe you have a character who learned from Kelly?
At age 11, Cassidy Goldstein invented a Crayon Holder, which she patented in 2002. This invention was intended to allow kids to continue to use broken, short crayons.
Writers note: The unintended consequence was to help kids with poor fine-motor skills handle crayons. Consider the unintended consequences of the invention of plastics.
Sarah Buckel, age 14, invented magnetic locker wallpaper in 2006. She asked her father, COO at MagnaCard to make magnetic wallpaper for her so she could decorate her school locker and not have to scrape off the decorations at the end of the year. He ran with the idea, Sarah helping with patterns and age-appropriate accessories.
Writers note: Like many of the inventors described here, Sarah’s father’s faith in his daughter’s idea significantly contributed to the success of the invention.
HartMain (age13) gottheideaforManCansin2010. His sister was selling typical scented candles at a school fundraiser. Main teased that she should try more “manly” scents.
Writers note: His parents encouraged him to move beyond the tease. Hart used $100 from his newspaper route and came up with scents like Coffee, New Mitt, Bacon, and Fresh Cut Grass to add to his candles.
Another note: Hart uses relabeled Campbell Soup cans, after donating the contents to soup kitchens across Ohio.
In 2014, 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee, created a Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms set. Although Braille printers were available for $2,000, his printer cost $200.
Also in 2014, Alicia Chavez at age 14, in response to news stories of children who died with accidentally left in hot cars, came up with the idea of the Hot Seat. It’s basically a small cushion that the child sits on in a car seat that connects to the parent’s smartphone. If the smartphone moves more than 20 feet from the car and the child is still in the seat, it sounds an alarm.
Students at the Melania Morales Special Education Center in Nicaragua created their own language, a form of manual sign language entirely independent of any other language system. Before the establishment of a school specifically for deaf students in the 1980s, Nicaragua had no system of sign language; children were taught to read lips. Students created their own system to communicate with each other, with the youngest children generating most of the grammatical systems.
Bottom line: kids continue to invent. Why not one of your characters?
Note: Unless otherwise specified, the photographs below are for illustration purposes only and are not connected to the case studies provided. Examples and links to specific adoption agencies are provided for reference and not as an endorsement or condemnation of any particular agency.
The concept of adoption has a generally positive aura. Indeed, it’s easy to find articles like Why Adopt? 23 Reasons to Adopt a Child (amerianadoptions.com). But frankly my experience of adoptions via family and friends is a mixed bag.
The good news for writers: good, bad, or unclear outcome, adoptions are fertile ground for characters and plots.
Case 1: Desire to Adopt a Stepchild
When my husband and I married, he was a widower with a three-year-old daughter. I (foolishly) thought that by that marriage, I became his daughter’s mother. Wrong! To be her legal parent, I had to adopt her. We lived in Upstate New York, and at the time a child with a living biological parent could be adopted only if the biological parent gave up his/her parental rights. The upshot was that my hubs signed away his parental rights and then we both adopted her!
This was an incredibly successful adoption. I told my parents, my husband’s parents, AND our daughter’s maternal grandmother that any and all of our children had to be treated equally. We subsequently had two more daughters. Words like step-mother, half-sister, etc., never crossed anyone’s lips—and I don’t think crossed anyone’s mind. When her elementary school class made family trees, hers had three branches: her biological mother, her father, and me.
Writers note: consider such a case that did not go so well.
Case 2 A, B & C: Desire to Help a Friend or Family Member Who Isn’t in a Position to Raise a Child
2A – the biological mother of two children was murdered, and neither of the fathers was known. The maternal grandmother and her husband adopted the grandchildren. Although a financial burden, no one seemed to regret the decision.
2B – the biological parents of the child were drug addicts. The paternal grandmother went to court to get custody and eventually adopted the grandson, who grew up to be an admirable and ambitious young man.
2C – the biological parents were unmarried teenagers, not financially viable, and not psychologically well balanced enough to care for a special needs child. The paternal grandmother first won custody and then adopted her. The adopted daughter struggled through special education classes, therapy, and at age eighteen, vocational training for a sheltered work environment. The child/young adult was a constant and severe stress on the paternal grandmother and her husband’s marriage.
Writers note: consider that a biological father came forward in A; consider how the relationship between the biological parent and the grandparent might evolve in cases B & C.
Case 3 A & B: Desire to Give a Child Born in Another Country a Chance to Thrive
3A – the adoptive father had been a U.S. soldier who served in Viet Nam. He and his wife had three children (sons) but wanted to adopt a Vietnamese orphan. In the event, the Vietnamese orphans were so weak and sickly that the international agencies weren’t placing them. They suggested adopting a Korean orphan, and that is what they did. As adults, the children have good relationships. Although differing in political perspectives, the adoptive parents and daughter are emotionally close.
3B – the parents decided to adopt a child from a country where the majority of the population is of a different race, practices a different religion, and speaks a different language. The boy was four years old when he was adopted. The relationship between the parents and the child never settled into a comfortable family pattern. When he turned eighteen, the adopted child returned to the country of his birth and changed his name back to the one he’d had in the orphanage. The parents have not seen him since and have only occasional online contact.
Case 4 A & B: Desire to Choose the Child’s Gender
4A – a Caucasian couple had two sons. Wishing for a daughter, they conceived several times over the years but all of those pregnancies ended in miscarriages. They chose to adopt a mixed race (Irish and African American) baby daughter. The adoption was simply a part of the family structure. The child and her biological mother saw each other occasionally. The birth mother being known, there was quite a bit of info available about health issues, for example. The adoptive parents made a conscious effort to expose their daughter to African American culture and experiences.
Writers note: count the ways this might go awry as the adopted daughter goes through teenage rebellion, or is the only non-white face at family gatherings. What if one or both sons marry women who are more or less racist?
4B – a couple had two daughters. After eight years of repeated pregnancies and miscarriages, the wife had a medically necessary hysterectomy. The husband wanted a son “to carry on the family name.” They didn’t want to wait two years to adopt an infant and so applied to adopt a ten-year-old boy. A month younger than the elder daughter, he was in the same class in school as the younger daughter because his biological parents had never enrolled him in school. There was a “trial year” before the adoption could be finalized. It quickly became apparent that the boy shared no interests with the husband, nor his need for achievement. The wife resented the burden of a third child while her health was so fragile, and was fearful that the boy would replace the daughters in her husband’s affection. The daughters acted to protect the boy from their mother. The boy’s attitude was “hunker down and get by,” because the home he’d been adopted into was much better than his previous situation. At the end of the year, both the couple and the boy agreed to finalize the adoption. In the meantime, the boy had been in school for a year under his birth name. When the husband asked whether the boy wanted to change his name, the boy said he didn’t care, that he wouldn’t be any more a member of the family one way than the other. His name wasn’t changed.
Writers note: what are the long-term implications???
Case 5 A & B: Due to Infertility or Other Reasons, a Parent Cannot Have a Biological Child
5A – After several years of marriage and extensive fertility treatments, a couple was unable to conceive. They decided to adopt. The adoption wasn’t easy because of the adoptive parents’ ages. They decided to adopt a brother and a sister together, although they’d been told that the children were developmentally behind their ages. The adoptive mother was a psychologist and attributed that developmental lag to their early lives. As the children grew, the boy appeared to be average or a little below in intelligence. The girl suffered microcephaly. The marriage failed. The children remained with the adoptive mother. As the boy developed, she couldn’t handle him and ended up paying a lot of money to enroll him in a military school. As the girl grew, she became ever more aggressive and defiant and was expelled from school. The mother tried therapy, including residential therapy. The girl was living in a residential facility and was on her way to see a psychiatrist (as she had requested), when she said she didn’t want to go to that hospital, jumped from the back of the van, broke her neck and died immediately. The boy married and had a child and had a relationship better than ever with the adoptive mother.
5B – the adoptive mother was a single woman who wanted a child but had no desire to give birth or to involve an unnecessary man. She adopted an infant from South America and raised the girl to be Catholic, fluent in Spanish, and knowledgeable of her native country’s history and culture, in accordance with the biological mother’s wishes. The girl grew up surrounded and supported by her adopted mother’s parents and siblings. She did well at home and in school until about halfway through high school. Then, she got involved with drugs, was in and out of abusive relationships, had three children by unknown fathers, and is now serving time while her adoptive mother has custody of the children.
Writers note: where/how might these events have developed differently?
Case 6 A & B: The Couple “Just Wants To”
These two will be treated together because they are related. The women are sisters, the twelfth and thirteenth children in the family. They were exceptionally close growing up. For unknown reasons, neither had a child and they and their husbands each adopted a son. The older sister’s adoption was a great success. The son thrived, both academically and professionally, married and had a daughter they named after his adoptive mother. The younger sister’s adopted son was a ne’er-do-well. He was sporadically employed, had many brushes with the law, driver’s license revoked, time in jail, drank heavily, tapped his mother for financial support, and in the view of the extended family, exploited her financially to her detriment. She never rejected him. And that was a source of tension and distance between the formerly close sisters.
Writers note: fertile ground here! Throw in Parkinson’s or some equally debilitating disease? Why not have children of their own, when all their older sisters had done so?
The actual process of adoption varies widely among agencies and countries. However, there are some fairly consistent requirements:
The adoptive parent(s) must demonstrate financial stability, a permanent home, psychological maturity, etc.
If the adopting parents are married, there is usually a minimum amount of time they must have been married before being allowed to adopt.
If there are other children in the home, there is sometimes a requirement that a minimum number of years separate the biological children from the adopted children.
Many adoption agencies recommend not adopting a child who is older than the oldest biological child so that birth order is not disrupted.
The youngest child in the home is often required to be at least two or three years old before the adopted child will be placed.
Parent(s) must be at least eighteen years older than the adopted child.
Most adoption agencies perform home visits and individual interviews with each member of the family. Some require character references from friends or employers.
Because of the different needs of adopted children, especially older adopted children, many agencies require prospective adoptive families to attend training seminars.
Guides for raising adopted children and helping them adjust can be also be found online.
Summary: in my experience, adoption typically isn’t about helping a mother who (for whatever reason) must give up a child. Nor is it about giving a loving home to a child (stranger) who needs it. As a writer, consider the motives of the the adult(s) seeking to adopt. And consider all the ways those motives might be frustrated.
When someone says something that isn’t true, it’s a lie—except when it isn’t!For writers, any untruth can be a tool for building character, plot, tone, etc. I can think of three situations when an untruth isn’t a lie.
1) The person telling the untruth is incapable of discerning what the truth is. Very young children will often lie because there is no real difference between fantasy and reality in their mind. The cardboard box really did become a rocket ship. A mermaid and a kracken really did come to play in the bathtub.
Depending on the age of the child, this may extend to what seems to adults to be attempts to get out of trouble or deflect blame. Because a child’s sense of reality is not concrete, what an adult sees as a lie a child may simply see as very effective wishful thinking.
Children may also respond with the first answer to come into their mind that they think an adult wants to hear. This is true both for extremely young children who simply try to give an answer they think the adult wants to hear and for children who have trouble concentrating or remembering, such as those with ADD or ADHD.
Dr. Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees lying as an indicator of developmental status. I’ll skip the research methodology and simply cite the findings. When asked whether they had peeked behind a screen: of those who had peeked, 30% of two-year-olds, 50% of three-year olds, and about 80% of eight-year-olds lied about it.
2) The person telling the untruth suffers some form of dementia. For example, an obvious case would be a woman in a memory care facility who tells visiting relatives that she baked a chocolate cake and everyone at the party said how good it was, and Paul Newman came in through the window and danced with her.
Another version, often harder to detect, is the person who has temporal confusion. For example, a man who says that his son came to see him yesterday and it was actually last week. (Think false alibi!)
3) The speaker believes something is true that isn’t. In other words, the speaker is mistaken. It could be a misunderstanding of something seen, read or heard—but it could also be that the speaker was intentionally deceived so that s/he would spread a lie.
Which brings us to real lies as opposed to untruths: to make an untrue statement with the intention to deceive. But writers, go beyond the direct lie and use, half-truths, exaggerations, or pertinent omissions.
Not a rare behavior for people or characters. Indeed, Kendra Cherry writing on verywellmind.com pointed out that actual research about lying is relatively recent, and data replications are hard to come by, but some surveys suggest that as many as 96% of people admit to lying at least sometimes.
In 1996, Bella DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, published the results of a study in which 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 kept a diary of all the falsehoods they told over the course of a week. She found that most people lie at least once or twice every day! Over the course of a week, people lied in approximately 20% of social interactions lasting 10 minutes or more. They deceived about 30% of those they interacted with one-on-one.
Although she didn’t find gender differences in number of lies, there were relationship differences. Parents and teens interactions are often deceitful: “College students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations.”
Little white lies. These lies are typically meant to do some good—or at least do no harm. For example, complimenting a friend’s shirt when you really think it looks dreadful. Coming late to a meeting and saying you were held up by an accident on the interstate when you really overslept.
Although pretty much everyone is told from a young age that it’s always best to tell the truth, the fact is that telling the truth (about oversleeping, for example) may be punished (for example, by a poor performance review). Thus, society often encourages or even rewards lying.
Some lies may serve as a social lubricant. DePaulo (above) found that 25% of lies were “fake positives” intending to make the other person feel better about someone or something. These were 10 to 20 times more common than lies in which people pretend to like someone or something less than they actually do (fake negatives).
But beware: according to Wanda Thibodeaux on Inc.com, telling lies to spare someone’s feelings is not good in the long run. Yes, we do take the liar’s intention into account, but it also raises doubts about whether a person willing to lie to us actually has our best interests at heart. These lies can cause doubt, uncertainty, suspicion, and trust issues.
White lies made up to excuse being late, unprepared, unwilling to do something, etc. bring into question a character’s ultimate trustworthiness.
Also, telling little white lies can desensitize the liar, making it easier to tell bigger/more serious lies.
People lie for the same reason they do everything else: a lie is the best perceived alternative at the time. Thus, lies are a means to an end, and those ends can be broadly grouped into four overlapping categories; to get what they want, to take the easy way out, to avoid criticism, to build a positive self-image. The likelihood of lying increases when someone is “pushed into a corner” or needs to react quickly.
1) To get what they want. This could be almost anything. In relationships, it might be to attract a partner, to hide cheating, to get a partner to agree to sex, to avoid an argument—and these are just a few possibilities.
In the workplace, lying to get ahead, discredit the competition, get even with a colleague, take credit for someone else’s work, cover up procrastination, avoid being fired, etc.
In any relationship, people lie for quick financial gain, to avoid taking responsibility or unwanted chores, to be liked/popular, or nearly any other objective that the liar sees as more important (at the moment) than the truth.
2) To take the easy way out. This overlaps with the good Little White Lies above, not wanting to deal with hurt feelings, for example. It also includes plagiarizing and making up data in a research project.
3) To avoid criticism. When people aren’t comfortable with some aspect of their behavior, character, or past they are prone to deceive in any of the ways mentioned above (lie, half-truths, exaggerations, intentional omissions). Closely related to inflate one’s image, to cover up for a mistake, or to excuse doing something wrong.
4) To build a positive self-image. Basically, this is lying to oneself. The liar wants something to be true and pretends that it is until eventually s/he believes it. Making excuses for behavior or thoughts or wishes that at some level are unacceptable to the self.
Other reasons people lie
One lie has led to another, especially good for writers. (Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.—Walter Scott)
To be malicious and hurt other people
To take control of a situation
To hide a disorder such as an eating disorder, compulsive gambling, alcoholism, etc., which goes beyond avoiding criticism
It is integral to certain occupations
Pathological lying. A person who feels compelled to lie, and will do so with no apparent benefit to self or others is a pathological liar. This is often part of a diagnosis of a mental health disorder:
Antisocial personality/sociopathy (no regard for right or wrong, no remorse, often become criminals)
Borderline personality (varying moods and behavior, often impulsive, conducive to unstable relationships)
Factitious disorders (acting as if s/he has a physical or mental illness but does not)
The severity and frequency of lying, and the reasons for lying are what point to a psychological problem.
How to tell when someone is lying. (As summarized by Kendra Cherry, above.)
Folk wisdom is wrong. It says that liars tend to fidget, squirm, avoid eye contact or have shifty eyes when lying. Research indicates that these are virtually useless as indicators. (Looking away, for example, is more likely to indicate the person is trying to access long term memory.)
Some of the most accurate (although still weak) indicators of lying:
Being vague, offering few details
Repeating questions before answering them
Speaking in sentence fragments
Failing to provide specific details when a story is challenged
Grooming behavior, such as playing with hair or pressing fingers to lips
More active ways to uncover lies
Ask the person to tell the story in reverse. Increasing the mental load makes lying more difficult—although telling a lie is more mentally taxing than telling the truth anyway.
Trust your instincts. We may have an unconscious, intuitive response to lying that gets drowned out if we spend too much time focusing on the non-verbals stereotypically associated with lying.
Consider an individual’s tells
Successful card players learn to hide when they are bluffing and to identify what the other players do when they have good or bad hands. The same might be true for your characters. Does she blush? Does he stutter? Does he rub his chin? Does she bounce her knee? Does your character have a poker face? And if so, is s/he on the side of good or evil (so to speak).
Bonus info about lying
The closer the liar is to the deceived, the more likely the lies are to be an altruistic (fake positive) one
Women are especially likely to stretch the truth to spare someone’s feelings
Men are more prone to lying about themselves: conversations between two guys contain about eight times as many self-oriented lies as they do falsehoods about other people
Bottom line for writers:
Lying is rampant, so there ought to be at least a little of it in your story
Lying can abet virtually any goal
Lies can be of virtually any size or seriousness
Pay attention to age, relationship, and gender differences