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?
I have two favorite anecdotes about my children’s language. The first was when Helen was four and Sara was three weeks old. Helen had an appointment for her annual check-up and Sara had a terrible diaper rash, so we were on our way to the pediatrician’s office. Helen was anxious and asked question after question about what was going to happen. Eventually she asked whether he would see her first or Sara. I said, “I don’t know—whichever he chooses.” She said, “Oh. It’s his prerogative.” Yes, this really happened.
Time passed. When Sara was four and Helen was eight, I scolded Helen for hitting her sister and sent her to her room. Helen ranted about it not being fair, Sara had grabbed her book. Sara said, “But you hit me. You know the contingencies!”
Truth: I’ve sometimes told these anecdotes for their entertainment value. But I’ve recounted them here for different reasons. First: just because it really happened doesn’t make it believable. If you were to use this dialogue in a scene, you would have to lay the groundwork carefully. Let the reader know the parents are Ph.D.s who never talked baby talk to their children.You might want to let readers know that the father is an English professor and the mother a psychologist.
If you are writing stories for children or scenes involving children, choose your words carefully. There’s help out there. Although this reference is for people writing books for children, it’s a great resource for words children would understand and/or use. The words are grouped by grade level, beginning with kindergarten. It also includes synonyms.
Use the most recent word book you can find. A lot of words enter the language in fifteen years. Keep up.
These particular books start with kindergarten. For younger children, consult Dr. Spock or a good child development textbook. The usual tendency is to have children speaking too old for their years. But writers missing the target of believability ruins their credibility.