Just hit 100 pages on my first draft of Herbert. Having a blast!
The other morning as I went for a run, I watched some teen girl walking across the street. They were loud and obnoxious. They were flailing and prancing around in their tight jeans and high boots. Hair all fussed up, mouths full of gum, lips fat with gloss. They ruled the world.
I had deja vu right in that moment, or I time traveled, or something. That is totally me, I thought.
Okay 12, 13 years ago. But I saw my teen self so clearly at that moment, and some of my hard repressed teen emotions seeped into my heart. Oh, ugh, I thought. Why can’t I just erase that period from memory and maybe the decade before that too?
I think many adults look back on their teen years, and maybe even much of childhood, with a sort of horror, and hope to distance themselves from the memories as much as possible. I know I often do. Yet as I watched those teen girls, I was suddenly aware of how much I want and need to still know that girl I once was. I want to understand her feelings and thoughts.
As irrational and dramatic as children and teens may seem, I do remember my feelings were very real. Everything was big. Everything I felt was important, and I just wanted to be heard and understood. My feelings and thoughts made complete sense to me, even if I couldn’t explain them to anyone else. And that is why I think writing for teens and children is so important. They deserve a voice too, one that accurately reflects their feelings and also one that can positively influence their malleable psyche.
How do we do that? How can adults do justice to the voices of children? What do writers do to get there?
Memory can help, but memory does not always accurately reflect past events or even present feeling. It can be like reaching through water to grab something that you see very clearly only to find that the object was not where you grabbed. It was two feet away.
Having my own children is helpful, too. I am constantly observing their world and point-of-view, but it is still limiting because I can’t fully see into their minds and know what they’re thinking, and they’re not always articulate enough to be able to tell me. For me, I find the most helpful and really only way to accurately portray a child is to actually be a child again, at least in my mind and heart.
And I do that…how?
I’ve kept journals from the time I was eight. I have somewhere around a dozen (rather large and thick) journals full of my experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Some of my entries are hilarious, some of them I would like to burn, some things I have no memory of, but the experiences were important enough to me in that moment that I wrote them down. It was an outlet for me then, but now it is a time-travel back to the world of my childhood. I read them, and suddenly I remember exactly what it was like to be eight and lock myself in the bathroom so my brother wouldn’t punch me in the nose, or to be fourteen and have such a huge crush I was sure the boy was “the one.” (Yeah, he wasn’t.) I also think, subconsciously, I didn’t want to let myself forget those feelings. Maybe I was just telling my future adult-self not to forget the girl she used to be. It helps me to not dismiss the seemingly irrational mentality of other kids and this informs my writing a great deal. How can I write about kids if I forget what it was like to be one?
If you write from the teen or child point-of-view, what do you do to make sure the point-of-view is authentic and age appropriate? Or even if you’re writing from the adult point-of-view, how do you write a character whose life experience is very different from your own?
p.s. My husband would have me add that I have the benefit of being married to an over-grown five-year-old, who will forever allow me to see into the heart and mind of little boys. Thank you dear.