Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Altitude and Attitude – Adult or Child?

kid & cannonI’ve had writing students set at the wrong “altitude” in relationship to their main character. They’ve talked about “little arm,” “tiny mouth,” “short body,” and more. That’s adult-size looking down to see child-size. When we are in a child’s viewpoint, arms, mouths or bodies of kids are viewed as the right size unless part of plot/character issues. In that case the main character likely views his shortness, skinniness or cuteness as a flaw, not a simple description of who he is.
So this got me thinking. We’re so used to seeing the world at the adult height that it is easy to forget what it looks like from kid height. I experienced a direct example when my then six-year-old grandson looked up at me and said, “You have hairs in your nose.” After struggling with that brief moment of being offended, I said, “yes.” Then I told him everyone did. I explained the purpose of those hairs. Of course, later I checked the mirror to see if, gasp, I needed to trim my nose hairs.
These both have reminded me that I need to think about what my young main character is seeing from her altitude. I may have to walk around on my knees a while to see what the world looks like from that height. I need to dig back and remember when I had to look up at every adult. I need to remember how I had to use a chair to reach the upper cabinets in the kitchen, and sometimes even climbed up on the countertop. I need to pay more attention to kids who are the age of my main character and see the things they have to deal with in an adult sized world and convey that in my writing.
I also sometimes see students write with the wrong “attitude.” As an adult we think it is funny or cute when kids do certain things. Unless they are trying to be funny, often what they are doing is very serious business. The two-year-old pretending to go to work on his ride-upon car is practicing what he’s seen a parent do. The four-year-old ballerina believes she dances beautifully. At that age anything is possible. The six-year-old asking about nose hairs was not trying to offend, he was being honest and talking about what he saw. The kid in this picture is exploring the cannon by sticking his head inside. Let’s not taint those experiences with adult reality and attitude in our writing.
My adult daughter let me read her sixth grade diary. She wrote about boys, boys, boys, her friends, and her older sister. She wrote about stuff that happened at school. We, her parents, were only mentioned once. That was when her fish died and she said we laughed. I can’t remember laughing. I don’t know why we would have laughed. Whether we did or not isn’t the point. She felt we didn’t care or didn’t care enough. To her that little fish dying was important. Callous parent me, I’m not even positive what kind of fish it was. In my defense, I do remember her winning it at a Vacation Bible School and remember what she named it. But to that sixth grade girl the life and death of her fish was an important event.
I need to convey the same child attitude in my writing. I need to share child concerns, questions and experiences as honestly as I can to make my stories more believable to my child audience.
I plan to be checking my altitude and attitude often as I write. How about you?
picture courtesy of seneca77 on