Character Development: Children and Animals

Is there any storytelling device or character type that you try to avoid? What is it about that individual or thing that bothers you or what makes it difficult? I try to be diverse in my writing with characters of different ages (well except for one category) and I love to play around with different time periods. But, there are two things that I try to avoid in my writing: creating characters that are children and pets.

What is it about children that makes them so hard to write? For me, it’s the worry that they will appear too smart or too young for their age. It’s so hard to gauge what is right and believable. Yes, I could go out and talk to a friend with kids of the coordinating age or I could interact with them. I enjoy being around children. But, there’s something incredibly intimidating about writing about children and I don’t feel that talking to a friend would help me much. I always think about Ender’s Game and how people questioned the intelligence of the children for their age. But, Orson Scott Card was writing about geniuses! Really, they could be whatever he wanted, right? I mean, we hear about child prodigies graduating from college at 11 and completing PhDs by the time they’re 17! SO, why do some people view Card’s child-aged geniuses as not believable?

For me, I think it’s the fact that someone questioned an author of Card’s caliber (controversies around him aside). I wouldn’t think that someone as established, prolific and well-known as Orson Scott Card would have people who question what he’s written. But, perhaps it’s me that’s the issue and not the critics. People have opinions about everything and sometimes their critics are warranted. I probably should just push past those thoughts of inadequacy. I have beta readers after all. I can always ask them if they feel the child was responding in an age-appropriate manner.

Animals are another tough topic for me. When I read other people’s writing that includes animals and pets, I don’t find it bothersome or out of place. But, in my own writing, it feels random or too specifically placed. For example, sometimes it feels like, OH I forgot about the pet, so I better put in a quick action so the reader knows that said cat or dog or whatever is still in the picture and an active (or passive) part of whatever is going on. Quick question: Do your animals have a character breakdown? Do you create a personality for them? I have dogs, so of course I know they have personalities. But, does a dog character who doesn’t speak need a personality?

I can definitely think of scenarios where animals would have a backstory and a personality. Jay Kristoff is an author who I think creates really interesting animal (or fantastical beasts) characters. And, it makes sense that he fleshes them out because they talk or have telepathy and play major roles in his stories.

As writers, we often face unknowns in our work and we’re always trying new things. Sometimes they pan out and sometimes not. The world can be a harsh critic, but as long as we’re growing and learning (and writing with good intent and doing our homework!), we can pick and choose what critique we accept and what we let roll off our shoulders. As I move into my next project, if there comes a need for animals or children, I’d like to step my toe into the water and see where it goes. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have some success!

Is there a character type, plot scenario or other thing that you balk at when it comes to your writing? How have/will you move past it? Please share your experiences in the comments!