Monday, March 2, 2009

Pet Peeve: Children in Novels

Don’t get me wrong. I love children. Got two little rug rats of my own. I also have no problem with children as secondary characters in romance novels. Many authors write them very well. However, there are some (two NYT best selling authors immediately come to mind) who either have never had children or their kids are grown and they’ve forgotten how *real* children behave. These authors either portray these kids as child geniuses or have them behave like miniature adults.

Take child example #1: Yes, I’m sure there are little prodigies who can get out a computer manual, read it, UNDERSTAND it, and reformat a hard drive all by themselves at age 10. Heck, I’ve been using a computer for 20 years (10 of those doing web design) and I have a hard time understanding how to reformat my hard drive. I also have an almost 10 year old. She’s been in a computer class in her school since kindergarten. She and her 7 year old brother can both log onto our home computer, Google a bit, and play some harmless online games. That’s all I want them to be able to do at this point. This same fictional child reads the newspaper (mine don’t even read the comics) and drinks wine with her aunt like it’s grape juice. Wine and grape juice are miles apart and unless the child is French, I doubt she’d like the taste of it much less drink more than a sip of it. And what kind of adult allows a 10 yr old to have wine in the first place? Child example #2 was 5 years old, running around on a movie set unsupervised, staying up until 2 am every night with the actors and crew, living on junk food, riding in cars with no car seat and reading on what I consider a 3rd grade level. Paleeese! (For what it’s worth, I liked both novels – it’s just the child characters in them I had problems with.)

Like I said, I’m sure there are some children out there who are computer whiz kids or are far mature for their tender years, but the fact is most aren’t. Most are normal, all-American kids. We as authors need to stay true to our characters – ALL of them. If you don’t have children or it’s been a while since they were the age they are in the novel you’re writing, do your research. Go to the park and watch the kids and how they interact with other kids and adults. Volunteer at a school. Borrow a child for the day. And above all, unless you’re writing a book about a child genius, just let your kids be kids.

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