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Altitude and Attitude

Recently I’ve had ICL students set at the wrong “altitude” in relationship to their main character. They’ve talked about “little arm,” “tiny mouth,” “short body,” and more. That’s adult-size looking down to see child-size. When we are in a child’s viewpoint, arms, mouths or bodies of kids are viewed as the right size unless part of plot/character issues. In that case the main character likely views his shortness, skinniness or cuteness as a flaw, not a simple description of who he is.

So this got me to thinking. We’re so used to seeing the world at the adult height that it is easy to forget what it looks like from kid height. Recently I experienced a direct example. My six year old grandson looked up at me and said, “you have hairs in your nose.” After struggling with that brief moment of being offended, I said, “yes.” Then I told him everyone did. I explained the purpose of those hairs. Of course, later I checked the mirror to see if, gasp, I needed to trim my nose hairs.

These both have reminded me that I need to think about what my young main character is seeing from her altitude. I may have to walk around on my knees a while to see what the world looks like from that height. I need to dig back and remember when I had to look up at every adult. I need to remember how I had to use a chair to reach the upper cabinets in the kitchen, and sometimes even climbed up on the countertop. I need to pay more attention to kids who are the age of my main character and see the things they have to deal with in an adult sized world and convey that in my writing.

The other thing I sometimes see students do is write with the wrong “attitude.” As an adult we think it is funny or cute when kids do certain things. Unless they are trying to be funny, often what they are doing is very serious business. The two year old pretending to go to work on his ride-upon car is practicing what he’s seen a parent do. The four year old ballerina believes she dances beautifully. At that age anything is possible. The six year old asking about nose hairs is not trying to offend, he’s being honest. Let’s not taint those experiences with adult reality and attitude in our writing.

My adult daughter let me read her sixth grade diary. She wrote about boys, boys, boys, her friends, and her older sister. She wrote about stuff that happened at school. We, her parents, were only mentioned once. That was when her fish died and she said we laughed. I look back and can’t remember laughing. I don’t know why we would have laughed. Whether we did or not isn’t the point. She felt we didn’t care or didn’t care enough. To her that little fish dying was important. Callous parent me, I can’t even remember what kind of fish it was. In my defense, I do remember her winning it at a Vacation Bible School and remember what she named it. But to that sixth grade girl the life and death of that fish was an important event.

I need to convey the child attitude in my writing. I need to share child concerns, questions and experiences as honestly as I can to make my stories more believable to my child audience.

I plan to be checking my altitude and attitude often as I write. How about you?


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 24th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
What a great reminder. Thanks Susan!
Nov. 25th, 2009 03:50 am (UTC)
Thanks, Sue! Kids are more observant than adults most of the time. Funny how we learn to lie in order cover up that honesty. Great post!
Nov. 30th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
Awesome article, Sue!
Nov. 30th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
Mar. 17th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
trend concern
I am very concerned about the trend in children's lit that so strives to "empower the child" that any adult figure is viewed as stupid, dorky, or just plain dumb. I have a B.S. in Early Childhood Ed. and have taught for 14 years. I agree it is good for a child to be able to solve many of their own problems. As parents, we sometimes "helicopter" over them and swoop in to "fix it" simply because children take a little longer to process the problem and we are in a hurry. However, I would be very concerned if my child did not come to me or my husband with a problem such as bullying. I don't want to wait for the process to take place before I act. Children end up dead because they felt powerless to change their situation.
Parents, teachers and pastors are supposed to be sources of advice, love and yes, sometimes even action. Children do not run this world--adults do. For a child to be brainwashed into thinking anything other than that is criminal. It is always a good thing to seek advice and counsel from someone older and wiser than oneself. I hope editors of children's lit understand the difference between "empowering" a child and creating a tiny tyrant with no respect for authority figures.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )