As my daughter was reading a chapter book featuring a young elementary school girl as the main character, I began thinking about how the dialogue was worse than how a child of that age actually spoke. For example, instead of ‘I ran.’ the child said ‘I runned.’ This occurred throughout the book. I understand that it was written for children and any child reading it would get a kick out of it. In fact, my daughter loved reading it
In my novel, The Protector, I have a preschooler (Josh), who is Sydney Valentine’s nephew. I chose to have Josh speak with proper grammar, rather than in the manner I mentioned above. I showed, via behavior, that this was a child.
Below, I’ve included a few lines from a scene between Sydney, who was injured, and Josh. Sydney’s sister was there as well.
I bent to pick him up and a sharp pain ripped through my back. “Crap!” I shot back up, rubbing the sore point.
“Aunt Syd said a potty word!” Josh pointed accusingly at me.
I gazed at him. He reminded me of Mac when we were kids. She was such a tattletale. “What did I say?”
“I’m not allowed to say it.” He looked up at Mac. “Right?” Mac’s eyebrows had risen high on her forehead, but her eyes smiled. “Mommy!” Josh tugged on Mac’s jeans. “Aunt Syd said a potty word!”
“You’re right. I did.” I eased down on one knee beside him. “What should be my punishment?”
Here’s another one where Sydney visited Mac after Mac’s injury. Josh showed Sydney a drawing he’d made on his mom’s cast. How many times have you incorrectly guessed what a child drew? I’ve blown it a few times! In fact, I was shown a drawing of the characters in The Little Mermaid last weekend and I only recognized a mermaid in the drawing, but I didn’t realize she was THE mermaid. I got the pouty mouth in response. Oh, well. My excuse was that the mermaid’s hair was green—not the same color as Ariel’s. My daughter told me she didn’t have the correct color crayon. I should’ve pointed out that she would have had the correct color if she hadn’t removed the paper labels, then soaked the crayons in water to make paint. But, I let it go. How kind of me, right? Okay, back to Josh…
In this next scene Josh’s reaction was typical. He felt proud of the drawing, then momentarily disappointed that his artwork was unrecognizable by Aunt Syd. Like a child who had things to do and places to be, he quickly recovered and left the room, undoubtedly to seek another adventure.
Josh, who’d been sitting on the floor near the TV, hopped up and bounded across the room. “Aunt Syd! Look what I wrote on Mommy’s cast.” He pointed to his name. The ‘J’ was backwards.
“That’s nice, Josh. Good job!” I put my palm up for a high-five and he leapt up and slapped it.
“Mommy, show Aunt Syd my drawing!” He tried to lift Mac’s arm, but she had to help with the maneuvering. “Look!” He pointed to something that looked like a truck to me.
“It’s a dump truck. I love it.” I smiled.
He poked his bottom lip out and scowled at me. “It’s a turtle.” I turned my head sideways. “Oh! Yes, it is. I see that now.” I didn’t, but I put him on my lap and squeezed him. “And you drew a pretty flower next to him.”
He scowled again. “That’s a butterfly.” He scooted from my lap and hopped like a bunny into the family room to join Mike.
I don’t think we have to make children sound child-like in their speech when we write fiction. They simply have to behave as children do.
Are the children in your books formal and mature? Do you make them child-like? Perhaps you have a hybrid approach to their speaking and behavior. Of course, if being formal and mature is part of who they are and it’s important to the plot, then it fits. Go with it! Otherwise, I believe what they do should tell us they’re children, not their grammar when verbalizing their thoughts. Maybe it’s a personal preference. What do you think?