Why the Character Perspective of a Child

The Child’s View, Part I

Words by Rebecca T. Dickinson

A third grade class performed an experiment similar to one in my college Geology lab. The students blew my mind as they scratched a penny on graphite and other rock materials. They then used a nail. Each group recorded its observations. Did the nail leave a scratch, or did the penny? The penny left a mark on the graphite.


Courtesy of Google Images.

It is just as easy to leave an impression on a child. I believe some adults—not all—turn into graphite when a child touches them.

As a writer, I enjoy stories with child, prepubescent or teenage characters. It does not mean my stories or my manuscript, Sons of the Edisto, are children’s literature. When a baby is born, he or she enters it unscathed. No influence bestows itself upon the mind. Experiences that shape the child are sometimes dark or humorous in a way not meant for young readers.

The third grade class; my son skinning his knee for the first time this week; and chew your lipstick’s post First “Chapter” Book inspired me. Children and teenage characters star in my stories. If you read my last post, The Family Owned—the first episode in the Bannister Histories from the Sons of the Edisto prescript, you met Oliver Bannister.

Just like Owen Alston and Oliver’s grandson, JD Bannister, in 1924, each child interacts with the world that surrounds him or her. Many times the characters do not have control over what happens to them.

The same is true in some of the books I remember reading as a child such as The Outsiders. In the eighth grade, I read a book about a homeless boy who lived inside a hole within a subway tunnel. He nourished himself with ketchup on crackers. The owner of a subway restaurant gave the boy food when he worked. I do not remember the title, but I remember the story left a mark on me.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my favorite books. It is about a German orphan girl during World War II and the turmoil in her life. She cannot control the world around her, but she does make choices that form who she becomes.

Formation of the Person

Children characters are exciting to create for multiple reasons. A child is still developing his or her personality. Children also possess more intelligence than we, as adults, realize.

How do you write a story about a mother who struggles to become pregnant, is told she cannot, and then tries adoption from a child’s perspective?

My story, The Only Child, is the most autobiographical of any story I’ve written. The following scene is something I remember as a five-year-old:

The frightened look on Ilene’s face reminded Katie of the times she entered her parents’ bedroom when her mother struggled to have a baby. The bedroom looked like a witch’s chamber from one of the fairy tales Katie and her father read. The only laughter came from I Love Lucy reruns on television. Tears came to her eyes when she saw her father gently apply a needle into Ilene’s arm. When Katie asked why he had to hurt Mommy, he said that it was medicine the doctor gave him to help a baby grow in her belly.

© March 2011-Current, R.T. Dickinson

Now maybe I have not succeeded yet. I’m still editing this particular story, but character development is influenced by what a writer understands and that which intrigues him or her.

I hope to share more about character development. What do you find intrigues you about your characters or the characters you enjoy in books?

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4 thoughts on “Why the Character Perspective of a Child

  1. Fiercely Yours March 3, 2012 at 10:40 PM Reply

    I never broke down the characters I have liked by age. Now that I reflect on this I tend to lean toward the mischievous boy, tomboy girl, and the protector. From Huckleberry Finn to Scout. Plus children allow us to feel innocent again and sometimes punch us with anguish like in Radio Flyer.

    • rtd14 March 6, 2012 at 7:41 PM Reply

      You are right. I think there is a difficulty in understanding the difference between writing for children and then writing a story about children for adults to relive either their memories or the memories of someone else. Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. Aly Hughes March 8, 2012 at 10:04 PM Reply

    It’s very interesting to think on how different a story is by the age of the person it’s happening to. It will always be unique whether you’re writing through the eyes of a child, or a teenager, a young adult, adult, or older person. It seems like everything changes from how they react, to the words or phrases they use, and what concepts they can understand.

    I usually write from a teen/young adult viewpoint, but then again that’s where I am in my life so it’s what I relate to best right now! I have written short stories or memories in stories, from a child’s point of view, and I like to draw on inspiration from the kids I used to babysit to help get myself into that kind of mindset. There’s so much more room for growth and expansion in writing children, which I love.

    However, one thing I do enjoy about writing adults is that they have so much history behind their characters. I love their hidden stories, the ones people would never guess. It adds a certain mystery and intrigue to them, I think. Perhaps my parents perpetuated this with their mysterious pasts that they have hidden so well from my brothers and I! Although as we grow older my parents are slowly starting to tell stories of their younger, much wilder years. It’s all very exciting to learn new things and stories about people you thought you knew already. I think that’s why I enjoy books like Water For Elephants, where it switches from the main character Jacob when he’s in a nursing home, to his younger self, when he was in the circus.

    Great post! :)

    • rtd14 March 9, 2012 at 4:04 PM Reply

      Thank you very much for sharing, and for your well-thought out reply. Water for Elephants is an excellent choice. It is amazing how different books make us think about characters and the way in which we write them. Books, to me, are the best teachers for aspiring writers like us. It is a challenge for me to read as much as I want to with work and my son. Thanks :)

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