Child narrators can be a problem.
Children don’t yet have the experience or self-awareness to understand what’s going on around them. So if you write intimately from their point of view, using only language and concepts that they would have available to them, it’s sometimes hard to convey what’s really happening. Granted, you can describe events in enough detail so that your readers may understand things that the child narrator might not. There are times that approach can come in handy – if, say, you want to filter harsh realities through an innocent consciousness. But it’s tricky to do this without having your child pay more attention than is plausible. We tend not to pay a lot of attention to events that are going over our heads.
Children aren’t fully aware of what’s going on inside of them, either. If the child’s state of mind is important to the story, you can sometimes use a more sophisticated language than your child narrator has available to them to capture exactly how they feel. This approach works best if you keep the narrative voice consistent — if you use the more sophisticated voice from the beginning of the story and stick with it throughout. This gives your readers a chance to adjust to what you’re doing. But, again, working in a narrative voice that’s separate from your character’s voice requires considerable skill.
Splitting the difference between these two approaches, as this morning’s sample does – writing most of the narrative in the child’s voice, but slipping into a more mature language from time to time — almost never works. Readers adjust to a child’s view of the world, and suddenly that view turns more adult. The shifts jar readers, who aren’t confident they can settle into the child’s view of the world.
So I’ve edited this to keep Malcom’s voice more solidly his own. I’ve tended toward shorter paragraphs and kept the language simple. And the power of the piece comes through. Even though Malcom isn’t aware of the dynamic between his older sister and his mother, readers can see it. And Malcom’s situation is certainly dramatic. Even more so since he doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Twitch Chapter One, Surrey, England, 1833
The others were right. It was
– the devil made him blink and scrunch his face. A and it was getting worse. [Read more…]