How To Write Children Characters:Part 4 Dialogue

If you have spent any time around children you’ve noticed they talk differently to adults, they are less guarded, open, simplistic, curious, think they can do anything and are incredibly honest. Though a persons environment does shape them I find these main characteristics are present in all children even the demonic ones and there are key characteristics many children share.

When writing believable dialogue for regular non little hell raiser’s or evil children stay away from baby talk. These children need to legible to the reader and having them cute to the point of raw sugar on sugar will drive away the reader from the story, if they are going to be your main character or be present for multiple scenes through the book. A majority of children or at least the one’s I know don’t speak babyish and while some have lisps or have trouble pronouncing certain words the content they spew is unabashed almost to the point of rudeness because a majority of children don’t understand what is and what isn’t appropriate to say around different types of company because they have yet to understand shame or embarrassment. Take for example Greg from over the garden wall a story all about finding your way home, he is without shame and is often the source of embarrassment for Wirt with his childish nature and openness spliced with his can do attitude.

While Greg to me doesn’t truly ask uncomfortable question I find those who have seen something unknown to them will tread onto this path. Looking into a book called lost and found, a story by all accounts is about death and those who have been left behind. We have young children and adults all dealing with this and it goes on how each person deals with it but for the moment we are going to focus on Millie the little girl in the story and how she asks about death to her Mother and Father;

“He’s gone to a better place,” her mother shouted at her while vacuuming the lounge room.

“A better place?”

“What? Yes, Heaven, love, hasn’t you heard of it? Don’t they teach you anything in that bloody school? Lift your legs! It’s Doggy Heaven, where there are eternal dog biscuits and they can poop wherever they please. Okay, legs down. I said, legs down! And they poop, I don’t know, dog biscuits, so all they do is poop and eat dog biscuits, and run around and eat the other dog’s poop. Which are actually dog biscuits.”

Millie took a moment. “Why would they waste time here, then?”

“What? Well, they, um, have to earn it. They have to stay here until they get voted over to a better place. Like Doggy Survivor.”

“So is Rambo on another planet?”

“Well, yes. Sort of. I mean-you really haven’t heard of heaven? How God sits up in the clouds and Satan’s all underground and everything?”

“Can I get to Rambo’s new planet?”

“Her mother switched off the vacuum cleaner and looked squarely at Millie. “Only if you have a spaceship. Do you have a spaceship?”

Millie looked at her feet. “No.”

“Well, you can’t get to Rambo’s new planet then.”

Then we go to the Father with Millie asking about death;

“You see, Squirt, there’s heaven, and there’s hell. Hell is where they send all the bad people, like criminals and con artists and parking inspectors. And heaven is where they send all the good people like you and me and that nice blonde from masterchief.”

“What happens when you get there?”

“In Heaven, you hang out with god and Jimi Hendricks, and you get to eat doughnuts whenever you want. In hell, you have to, uh…do the Macarena. Forever. To that Grease Megamix.”

“Where do you go if you’re good and bad?”

“What I don’t know. Ikea?”

“Will you help me build a spaceship?”

“Hang on Squirt. Can we finish this next ad break?”

With this exposition we can clearly see how curious the child is while also being incredibly naïve and not picking up the tells of her Father and Mother not wanting to discuss the matter of death, but because her curiosity was not stated by them she asks other people as well, peers on the play ground, to the cashiers at the shops, she has no restraint as much children do. She has a question and it must be answered and because no one sit’s her down and explains death properly she keeps on trying to find an answer because everyone besides the boy on the playground is respectively treating her with kid gloves.

When disecting her speech it is simplistic as it should be. Children have yet to munch on a thesaurus but hearing a child speak so simply and open can get old slowly, sort of like a kid kicking your seat for a two hour plane ride sure the first 15 minutes your fine but then a hour drags by and your ready to murder him, so the best course of action would be to have her talk a lot in her head and with this you can up the language.

I find with a lot of fictional characters not just children that they seem much more smarter in their own heads than the way they talk but when doing this for a child this should rarely be done in first person unless your absolutely sure of your writing prowess and instead should be written from third person instead of first. In the book Lost and Found the author writes in third perspective of Millie our incredibly young child character who must be at least 4 or 5 depending on who you ask. Here’s a quick excerpt from the book as we are introduced to her:

Millie’s dog, Rambo, was her Very First Dead Thing. She found him by the side of the road on a morning when the sky seemed to be falling, fog circling his broken shape like a ghost. His jaw and eyes were wide open, as if mid-bark. His left hind leg pointed in a direction it normally didn’t. The fog lifted around them, the clouds gathered in the sky, and she wondered if he was turning into rain.

The way that it’s written is in the birds eye view of a child. The wording is simplistic and not yet understanding the world in it’s entirety but does not annoy the reader because she’s not asking about death or other questions she’s just processing the situation that has been presented to her.  The base of children characters is showing that they are still developing their personality and they way they go about comphrending things must be done in a model they can fit within their narrative and as we know children have yet to fully understand the gravity of reality in essence they are almost living in a dream world.

Going to an older age when you write dialogue for a regular 12 to 13 year old there structure what I have perviously taught you bends but does not break. As a child grows up they lose touches of there naivety become a little less trusting of people, where you could probably lure a child into your van with candy or a puppy it would be a little harder to do that with a 12 year old in general. They still think they can do anything just look at the child characters from Naruto. Their speech has been upgraged but not by much unless they read the dictionary or very wordy and would speak far more intelligent in their head to how they sound. Very straightforward but not to the point of disrespect. By this time they learn shame to a certain degree knowing what is acceptable to talk about and what isn’t around certain company in and out of the house but this all has a tendency to fly out the window when a subject they are interested in surfaces and they get so excited they forget themselves and ask questions verging on, annoying, rude and finally uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end.

Think Anne With An E a series based on Anne of Green Gables about an orphan being taken in by a brother and sister and her life with them. When the new teacher Miss Stacy comes to town Anne instantly became enamoured with the new teacher and when she’s talking to Gilbert Anne s listening in on the conversation and when she hears husband Anne asks about him and the teacher replies she is a widower and Anne goes,

“Oh how tragical.” She say’s this while smiling and her voice is filled with this certain joy.

Anne’s response is plain inappropriate, when you hear someone’s husband has passed away you go I’m sorry for your lose or nothing at all but because we know that Anne is enamoured by this teacher along with love, marriage, heart break, she let’s her mouth talk away from her brain. Her actions demonstrate impulsiveness when she clearly knew better but she couldn’t help her self and did that impulsive act and I find most of them do this as well, at least those who are the main character.

Looking at Riko from Made In Abyss on the surface she seems naïve about going down into the Abyss because she might never be able to return but she understands the ramifications but her curiosity over powers the viewer and we see her as naïve because her not caring about the danger but that isn’t the case she cares about it but is just too excited about being in the abyss and exploring every nook and cranny that fear comes last to her.  She’s also incredibly impulsive at times when her excitement gets the better of her and forgets her training as a delver, such as moving when Reg was knocked out and instead of staying put she starts moving around with and as dead weight is handled it’s not that easy to move around and keep him safe.

Hearing her speak about the Abyss and her excitement of being inside of it reminds me of how I talk about anime to people online, it’s a topic that fascinates me and sometimes my passion leads me the wrong way because my feelings take control and leading me into precarious situations that are disastrous on so many occasions. When a person loves a object they have a tendency to let go of their self control as people get older the stronger the hold of this tendency we grab but children don’t have such a filter built inward yet and even as we age we tend to forget it when excitement overcomes us despite what we have learned in our early childhood.

Children’s dialogue in essence is shaped by the people and their environment such as how trusting they are, how they treat others and how they view death is what the writer must put into them but overall regular children do share some noticeable key traits that are apparent in all that I have witnessed. I hope with this lesson in writing you are able to form your child character’s dialogue in a manner most readable to the audience and with what I have imparted on you, I hope your journey is a marvellous one in crafting dialogue.

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