How to Write from a Kid’s POV
By Fayette Fox
There’s a wonderful tradition of novels for adults written from kids’ points of view. Think “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Poisonwood Bible,” and “Room”. For these books to work, they need compelling stories and child narrators whose voices ring true.
My novel, “The Deception Artist” is told from the perspective of Ivy, an eight-year-old with a vivid imagination, who lies so people will like her. Literary fiction for adults, it’s set in the Bay Area during the recession of the 1980s. Basically, I lifted the time and place from my own childhood and used it as a backdrop for my fictional characters and crafted plot.
During the five years I spent writing my novel, I worked hard to get Ivy’s voice right. Reviewers and readers seem to universally love Ivy, so I must be on to something.
Here are my best tips to help you write convincingly from a kid’s point of view.
Remember to Play and Play to Remember – Our first permanent memories form around age three, but as adults we seem to remember wildly different amounts of our childhoods. Personally, I remember a lot from being a kid and I believe that’s helped me create authentic child characters. You can try and trigger memories by looking at old photos. Talk with people about their childhoods. Do things you used to do as a kid. Blow bubbles in your milk, make chalk drawings on the sidewalk, sculpt with Play-Doh, build a pillow fort. Be silly and see what happens. Also spend time around kids. When I was writing my novel, I arranged to spend a day observing a third grade class at a local elementary school.
Vocab Test – In my novel I used simple language for Ivy’s thoughts, and went even simpler for her spoken words. Inevitably, some big words are going to sneak into your writing. As you revise, weed out words your character wouldn’t know. Obviously this has to do with their age and who they are a character. A five-year-old who lives in an 11’x11’ shed will have a different vocabulary from a 14-year-old American on a missionary trip in the Belgian Congo.
Treat Your Character with Respect – Your child narrator will probably have worries that look very different from your own, but they are real for them. Treating your character with respect means meeting them where they are, and acknowledging their emotions. If you think they’re being silly, your readers will too. And worse, they might not want to read about them.
Remember the Emotion – Part of childhood is a sense of powerlessness and not understanding a lot of what’s going on around you. In my novel, Ivy feels upset hearing her parents fighting and worries they might divorce. Additionally, kids are often obsessed with fairness. This can light a fire in their belly, making them to fight for their beliefs. Ivy’s brother, Brice, a budding animal rights activist, risks getting grounded by refusing to eat veal.
Kid Logic – When Brice is sick in the hospital, Ivy wants to move into his room because he’s not using it and it’s a waste of a good room. When their dad loses his job, Ivy cuts holes in all her new clothes so her mom won’t be able to return them. In my novel there’s a lot of humor and bittersweet moments around kid logic. As you get to know your child protagonist, imagine how they make sense of their world. These “discoveries” will help your character come to life.
Kids are Observant – Their worlds are smaller and they notice things we might not even see. I remember taking great pleasure poking around logs for bugs and lizards. Kids also absorb obscure facts at school, we might have forgotten. These details will help your character feel real.
Read Your Work Out Loud – Okay, this is actually important for all writing, but I think it’s especially key when you’re writing from a kid’s point of view. Listen to the sounds and the rhythm of your words. If you’re not sure it’s right, spend time around a friend’s kids. Take notes on how they talk and behave.
Good luck and let me know how that pillow fort turns out!
Fayette Fox will appear at Village House of Books on July 25th from 1:00pm-3:00pm. Join us for a meet ‘n’ greet and a chance to chat with Fayette about her novel and writing!
Photo of Fayette taken by Dusty Olson.
Fayette is a professional freelance writer. Her novel, “The Deception Artist” was published in North America in March by Roaring Forties Press, after initially being published in the UK in 2013 by Myriad Editions. The book was shortlisted for Amazon Rising Stars and the First Book Award ebooks by Sainsbury’s.
Fayette is the Co-Founder of My Love Ninja, a boutique OkCupid profile makeover service. She is a former commissioning editor for Lonely Planet Publications. She holds an MA in Publishing from the London College of Communication and a BA in Creative Writing from Hampshire College. Fayette has trekked the Nepalese Himalayas, taught sex-ed to teenage girls in India, harvested pumpkins on an organic farm in the Netherlands, radio-tracked echidnas in Australia, and been attacked by a giant, Japanese centipede. (She survived.) You can learn more on her website here.