Thursday, February 12, 2015

Writing Believable Children, Part 2: Children and Trauma

Now this is a SERIOUS TOPIC. I'm putting that in big block letters so you understand that I mean it and then you'll forgive me when I'm irreverent further on.

Here are two important facts you should know, ultimate truisms, like multiplication tables in 4th grade, memorize these two things and build from there in opposite directions:

1. Children are resilient

2. Children are easily traumatized

It's a conundrum, right????

Wait, I'm going to add a third:

VERY FEW CHILDREN ARE EVER STRUCK MUTE BY TRAUMA. If they were, the world would be a much quieter place, so please, whatever form of trauma you visit on your fictional children, try not to follow the trend of the day. Think, Formulate, Act.

Clearly these children have been traumatized by lack of a table!!! What could cause these strange facial expressions???
Oh. Wait. Someone has a camera!!! :)

Think of what the causative factor/trauma is. Child lost a parent, lost a friend, was kidnapped, was lost, was ignored by parent, abandoned by parent, hurt by relative, bullied, fought cancer, brain surgery, displaced, homeless, foster child, adopted and neglected, molested...Oh, you can really wreak havoc on these little lives, but sometimes simple is best.

In "Waiting Out the Storm" and "Made to Order Family", Skeeter is the bratty youngest of three, her father was a well-regarded man in a small community, but he was also a cheat and a child molester who killed himself. When Skeeter overheard her grandmother say she was "just like her father, trouble from the get-go", she believed it because she was five... by the time she turned seven in a later book, we see why this child has struggled with behavior and we've set her on a path for a better future, but I had to keep her in character, aging her and bringing her to a climactic behavior change, over the length of the stories. She had to mature as the adults fixed their problems, and that made this kid jump off the page and into the readers'... and the hero and heroine's... hearts.

Skeeter, age 5, a pastoral pose! In this story she acts like a spoiled brat, full of herself and demanding. Her father's gone, her mother is drinking and depressed, and I should have had the sweet little thing chased down by rogue sheep on her aunt's sheep farm, but instead I worked to mature her through the next book, so her growth was part of the story's growth. Doing that makes the series evolve more organically for the reader, it's a natural progression.
In Part 1 (Click here to go read Part 1, then come back, pretty please) I said you had to assign your child a personality and then have that child (or children) react to things according to their personality. Real children will rarely act out of character unless they want an extra cookie or ice cream bar. In which case, break the rules because children are adorably devious when it comes to treats.


A. Grievous Loss: Kids react differently to grievous losses than adults do because their world is more immediate. Their concept of time might not be fully developed. That affects their reactions. They may carry things inside a VERY LONG TIME and then it bubbles out when reality hits them upside the head. Or they may get sad and stay on the outside of events such as: work, fun, playtime, choosing to not interact. Or they may be downright stinkin' angry, acting out, barreling into other kids, knocking people down, glaring and staring their way through life. The eager-to-please child will react to grief very differently than the passive-aggressive negative leader and the placid read-a-book-a-day scholar.

B. Fear: This works the same way. Kids can be frightened by things we can't even imagine because they're not real. Like Skeeter in the example above, she understood that her father was a bad man even though she didn't really know what he'd done... But just overhearing her maternal grandmother's cryptic comment told her she was doomed. Damned. Destined to be evil, like her father, and she believed it because everyone had always said, "You look just like your Daddy"...

She'd been unintentionally imprinted from birth and then had to live the imprint.  If a child is afraid, they'll react differently than grown-ups facing the same fear because they measure fear differently. Nightmares... Not going outside... waiting at the bottom of the stairs for mom or dad to come back down... refusing to go upstairs or downstairs on their own... Won't go wait in the car. Won't go to sleep. Won't let the dog out, won't let the cat in. Depending on age, children handle fear with a deep-seeded dose of imagination. If their fear is real, the imagination can magnify it to ridiculous proportions.

C. Divorce: Well, this can go 4000 different ways and usually comes right back to how your protagonist parents have handled the situation. Remember a divorce is like the death of a marriage, but NO ONE GETS BURIED. Therefore the issues can go on and on and on and the child's reaction changes depending on the length of time (eventually, everyone should become more used to the new family dynamic, even if it's left some residual scarring).

1. A child used in a tug of war divorce might play both sides to his/her advantage.

2. A child caught in a nasty custody fight might fear the other parent based on nothing more than what they've heard/been led to believe.

3. A child of divorce whose second parent doesn't bother with him/her might feel abandoned, insignificant, unloved, responsible for the divorce, guilty or unlovable.

4. A child of divorce has to learn to deal with multiple variables: Split household, split funding, split allegiance, split time, stepmother, stepfather, step-siblings, half-siblings, new circumstances, new rules, multiple grandparents.

Clearly this wedding/marriage is destined for Happy Ever After!!!
Right there you have enough fodder to add emotional depth to a story. You don't want the child to take over the story, but you deepen the parents/hero's/heroine's emotional investment in both the romance and the conflict.

World events can also affect children. Fear of storms, terror attacks, fire, flood... Young children don't necessarily understand ratios and likelihood, so what they hear can become what the THINK and with their God-given imagination, this can create issues of trust, faith and willingness to try new things.

In an older child (tween/teen) these things can change an outgoing kid into a questioning, untrusting, what's-the-use brat because there are a few years there where EVERYTHING IS ALL ABOUT THEM during adolescence. But isn't that what makes coming-of-age books so memorable?

Pepper me with questions, this is one of my favorite topics EVER, and I've got 2 copies of "Homestead Brides" the delightfully wonderful historical collection with THREE SEEKERS (me, Mary Connealy and Pam Hillman)

 and... 2 copies of my absolutely adorable, wonderful Zondervan novella "All Dressed Up in Love", available on E-formats only and due out in 19 DAYS!!!! (And yes, I want you to read this and love this story because I love this story, and sure, feel free to offer sweet reviews on Amazon or or B&N, wherever, because I hope, hope, hope you love this story. I can't deny how much fun I had writing it!)

Let me know in the comments if you have a preference, (Some of you have already won All Dressed Up in Love but I can't send the download until it releases!!!) and come on in... Coffee's on, and fresh chocolate chip cookies, a KID FAVORITE around the Blodgett/Herne house!






Ruthy Logan Herne loves God, her family, chocolate, dogs and her country and she even kind of likes her chickens.... winter finds her tucked into a writing cave in the snowy plains of upstate New York when she's not wiping cute noses, bottoms and teaching small children to think outside the box, count to high numbers, reach for the stars and play nice! Find her at  and come play and pray with her on facebook!


Mary Cline said...

Thanks Ruthy. These are good things to know and remember whether writing about children, living with them, or just being around them.

CatMom said...

LOVED this post, Ruthy!! I LOVE children too, and you've given great suggestions for making fictional children authentic. :)

What cute kiddos in those photos--made me smile!

Since it's waaay past bedtime, I'll wait and have a choc. chip cookie in the morning with some coffee.
Please put my name in for Homestead Brides (if it's print---don't have an e-reader).

Sleepy hugs, Patti Jo

Mary Preston said...

A great post thank you.

I work with young children. They constantly surprise.

Cindy W. said...

I love kids but wasn't blessed with any so it's always wonderful to read your posts as it gives us an understanding of how kids really are and how we can create 'real' kids in our writing. Thank you for sharing.

I would LOVE to win a copy of Homestead Brides, Thank you for the chance.

Have a blessed day!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Good morning, Seekerville!!!!

Mary Cline, amen to that! We can take the tips and apply them to the little darlings in real life.

Hey, I've got dog crates!!! :)

Shh, don't anyone get in a rumpus, I was kidding!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Patti Jo, we'll save cookies for you, of course.

We are that kind of nice.

And you're in the drawing!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary Preston, ain't that the truth????

I love the surprises, though. They make my day! SO FUNNY!!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cindy, you're in! And you know, when you're not blessed with any of the little darlings, the hard part isn't the normal stages of development, they're researchable.

It's making them right for the time, the weird things that change around them, helmets, scooter, motorized scooters, wheels on shoes, iPod buds in everyone's ear, kids and cell phones, kids with baggy pants, kids with Umbro shorts, girls with Bieber folders, girls with Bruno Mars folders.... It's amazing how quickly things change and what we watch out for so you don't hopelessly outdate your work.

Hence the immersion factor to keep me up to speed!

Rhonda Starnes said...

Great post, Ruthy. I'm bookmarking it for future reference. I've never attempted to write a child into any of my stories, but sometime down the road when I do, I'll be using your advice to make them believable.

Mary Curry said...

Good morning, Ruthy.

As a teacher, I've seen so much of what you're describing. Children are pretty special people. No wonder Jesus loves them so!

Happy Thursday. I'm off for some words before I spend the day with "my" children.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Pass the cookies. Great post, Ruthy!!

Mary Hicks said...

Ruth, thanks for a fun and informative post. :-)

I teach three and four-year olds in bible class, and it's more fun than the circus!

Those little rascals can say the most surprising and sometimes insightful things. I love them. :-)

Jackie said...

Hi Ruthy,

What a fun post! I can't wait to read All Dressed Up. I'm going to be on vacation (going to watch AU tennis for a week in SC). So I should have time to read it as soon as it releases! Yay!

Thanks for sharing!

kaybee said...

RUTHY, thanks. I have a quartet of beautiful young girls as secondary characters in "Trail," my Oregon Trail story, and they see both their father and brother die on the Trail. I've been challenged to find a balance between playfulness, honest grief and the shouldering of responsibility that came with children on the Trail. The oldest girl feels it the deepest, as she has to shoulder some of the burden to help her mother. But they do it because that's what families do. I also had fun writing the boy, who was ready for ANYTHING on the trail except the lessons from my schoolteacher heroine.
Snowing here. Wish dead. Only kidding. Getting a lot of writing done while snow-impacted but not much of anything else. Trying to finish preparing "Trail" for submission, contests and conferences so I can have it out of the way and concentrate on a WIP for SPEEDBO.
Also working with my crit partner on another WIP, chapter by chapter, month by month.
Please don't put my name in the drawing. I don't have an e-reader and I just got my copy of Homestead Brides in the mail! I'm trying to save it for my Winter Weekend in March, let's see how long I can hold out. Three Seekers between one set of covers? YESSSS
Kathy Bailey

Sally Shupe said...

Ruth, I love this post! Kids are the best. I've got a sweet, sneaky little boy in the story I'm working on now. He is so cute lol. Thanks for the tips, suggestions, and ideas on how to make the kids authentic to readers!
Please, please, please put me in the drawing for your book All Dressed up in Love. It looks fantastic. I love your books! I get drawn in and time passes. Great books!
I still remember what you'd said the other day (Jan 17) How blessed are we to live in a time when we can carve the niche of our own career? I have written it down and posted it!
Please enjoy the snow for me. I still haven't seen any and am so jealous. I saw where up north was supposed to get another foot or two. Really? They already have 3 or 4 feet. What are they doing with it all? I want a foot or two, too. I haven't made a snowman yet. Have a great day, Seekerville!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Rhonda, absolutely! And e-mail me any time. I've had a ball creating my own brand of romance, with lots of kids, animals, small towns, farms, etc.

My Waterbrook series is based on that concept, I love working in family vogue, and we're surrounded by the sadness of broken families, divorce, military loss, death, etc. So in real world stories, romances are often nothing like what they were with the total escapist of 20-30 years ago.... Nor are they usually the 22 year-olds just getting out of college.

So we evolve as life evolves, I guess! For me it's a natural because I'm immersed, but you know I love helping others!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary Curry your line of work is like mine! You see the microcosm of the broken family, faith renewed, casual romance, amazing devotion, and parents too busy to truly take care of children because their personal lives intervene...

It used to be we could just write about the workaholic dad.... Now the workaholic dad has a girlfriend with three kids and one of them is being brought up on shoplifting charges.


Life is a bit different now! But I love the amazing sweetness and honesty and sensitivity of kids!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina, cookies being passed!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary Hicks, you're welcome, sweet thing! I agree...

You never know what form of honesty you might hear!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jackie, you're welcome!!!

I've got my list all set for when they let me order the novella for others, and I hope you guys love, love, love it!

Have fun with the tennis tournament!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kathy Bailey, you're OUT OF THE DRAWING, LOL!!!!

You're doing exactly the right thing, trying to divide the emotions, base each child's reaction on age and characteristics, and of course, being kids, sometimes they'll be playing and laughing and forget... and then it all comes crashing back and they remember.... and each one will handle that in their own way.

Good for you, I'm so proud of your progress, that's why I love winter!!! Some peace and quiet for writing!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sally Shupe, I'm going back and inserting some snow pictures for you right now!!!

Sally Shupe said...

Awww! I love those snow pictures! Thank you so much! And those kids look like they are having so much fun! 7 feet tall? That is a big pile! Lots of exclamations because I am so happy. It's almost like being there. Thank you!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great post Ruthy. Yep. You know your kiddos smile

Thanks for sharing.

Myra Johnson said...

Wow, Ruthy, so insightful! Thank you!

Cindy Regnier said...

I learned long ago that stories with children make them irresistible. One of my favorite kids of "yours" is Jake in Yuletide Hearts. While a very minor character, his need of a father and his adoration for Matt seem to make the whole romance kind of pivot around him. Very well done Ruthy! Fantastic post. Keep traumatizing those little innocents. You do it so well. Please put my name in for either of the books. I want them both!

Marianne Barkman said...

Love this post! When my friend's son was in kindergarten they learnt about staying safe. They talked about it for a few days because it was important. And then, they reviewed it. He just knew someone was out there to get him because his teacher and talked about it so much. When he was in Grade 1 we realized that he just had an amazing ability to remember...I would love the Ebook, RUTHY. Thank you.

Wilani Wahl said...

Ruthy, I Love this post! I love Children. My allergies have flared up since I returned from Sunny Florida. Last night in Cubbies, the kids kept asking me where my cough drops were so I ended up popping one in my mouth.

Hopefully the cough will still allow me to be productive with my writing today.

I would love to be entered in both drawings. I am wanting to add both to my library.

Have a great and productive day everyone.

Connie Queen said...

When you talked about fear I couldn't help but think about when I was about 5-6 and was afraid to take a bath. We had a cracked window in our bathroom and a big ol' mimosa tree that swayed just outside. So scary.
I would run the water (in case my mom was listening), sit there for what seemed like a long time, then let the water out and come out of the bathroom like I was clean.

Nothing happened to make me frightened, I just didn't want to get undressed that tree w/its bare branches towering outside.

Thanks for the post!

Julie Lessman said...

Okay, RUTHY, you deferred to me yesterday on "kisses," so I bow before you now on children -- you know your stuff, girlfriend!!

OH. MY. GOODNESS!! Love, love, LOVE the wedding pic of the little folk all dressed up!! Soooo reminds me of a wedding the neighborhood kids and me had WAY back when (practically into the prior century!!), so that pic really did a heart twist on me.

I have to admit, some of my favorite books I've written have been the ones with cute and precocious kiddos in them, so you are definitely onto something here. In fact, I'm reading a Rita Regency entrant right now with a six-year-old-going-on-60 highly literate young lady, and honestly, I'm ready right now to give this book a 10 based on that little girl alone -- marvelously done, making the hero ALL the hotter when he loves and protects her.

Great post, Ruth!


Audra Harders said...

Dr. Ruth is in the office! What a great post on children and why they react as they do. Where were you 22 years ago when my son was born and my daughter declared "I never asked for a baby brother."????

Oy, I could've used your parenting wisdom then, but instead will use your child psyche prowess now.

Ruthy, you just answered a couple of big questions I have been unable to justify in my current heroine. Why does she dislike the hero so much? She gave me all the typical reasons and they sounded good, but didn't resonate through the book.

NOW, I'll dig deeper into her childhood (see? pull out the psyche couch and offer her a hot beverage) and flesh out exactly what about her father's accident when she was 17 made her so distrustful - nay downright hateful - of bullriders now that she's 28??

Whew, glad that conundrum is off my plate : )

Love the kids-n-snow pics, Ruthy. I do believe you've had enough of the white stuff...please quit hoarding it all and blow it westward : )

DebH said...

What's not to love with this post? cute kid pix, cookies, cute kid pix, excellent advice, cute kid pix, tons o' wisdom about littles, and did I mention cute kid pix?

I've got my own little research bundle with my five year old. I'm discovering, hopefully, how God's wired him so I can help him when life trauma heads his way. He does surprise his daddy with comments that seem to come from way out of left field, but if I really pay attention, I can figure out where his brain has been lurking.

I love children and am so happy that the Lord saw fit to bless me with one. This here post is a MUST keeper for my future stories.

Is it selfish of me to want to be in the draw for BOTH books? I really, really (to the power of infinity) want either one.

Awesome post Ruthy! You're inspiring in so many ways.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sally Shupe, who needs a free book or books if Ruthy comes through with pictures???? LOL!

I'm so glad you like them! Yes, when Jossie and Xavier climb the mountains, it's so funny because they're little! And they're way up high!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Well, Myra.... laughing! I do what I can!!!!

Sandra, they do smile! We're just two fries short of a happy meal around here, so smiling is a good thing!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Cindy, I love Jake, too! And "Shadow Jesus".... and Hank and the gang, and how that whole thing ended with the bank error....


Thank you so much for remembering it! For those of you who haven't read it (and you can, of course, by going RIGHT HERE TO BUY YULETIDE HEARTS!!! )
Jake is the son of Callie, and their family construction business fell on hard times in the crash post 2008... and they ended up having to work for the new owner, a U.S. marine/former bad boy named Matt Cavanaugh, one of the hottest/coolest heroes of all time.

No brag.

Just fact.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Wilani, you're in!

Oh, I'm praying for your quick return to health. And the cough to relax. But yes, work while coughing, it's best to keep people at bay and tissues by your side.

Hot Jello water is good, too.

Hang in there, my friend!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Julie, a wise woman knows her frailties.... and you pack more heat into a page than I do in a book, so I give credit where due!!!! :)

I'm thrilled the kid thing caught on because honestly, I never thought of it as a thing.... it was just what I see/saw, experience being surrounded by young families daily and life!

I think it's also good for writers to get themselves out of seclusion as much as possible. It's way toooooo easy to fall into the "this is the way it is" trap that stales writing.

Because areas/romances/children/ vary, right? Thank you, my friend!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

CONNIE QUEEN, that's so real it's real!!!!

That's exactly how kids can be. It doesn't have to make sense.

There doesn't have to be a traumatizing incident.

They're just weird!

That is a perfect story!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Audra, when we were chatting on line over the weekend, Missy said something to me that made so much sense, that it triggered a stronger plotline in the work-in-progress... I didn't need more destruction! I just needed to reach in and emotionalize what was already there, so it carried itself through.

That's so true.

When I took a Life Space Intervention course years ago, they taught us to help kids look for their "buttons"... what worries them, what sets them off? And then, why do we let it?

That's always been a big help to me, to look back and say why????? But sometimes I forget, too!

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, wonderful insights into writing children. Even writing our hero and heroines since they once were children, and thanks to us, often traumatized in some way.

Love the adorable kid pictures!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Deb H., right back at you!!!!

Guppy is adorable, and I love the left field comments, (and I love that baseball season is ALMOST HERE!!!!! BUT I MUST INVENT MY JETER SIGHTINGS!!! ) and it's rewarding to me when the children in the story get fixed... or the parents discover the kid ain't the one broken! :)

Kids can be scene stealers and equalizers.

Amazing how that happens!

Mary Connealy said...

I had a child mute because of terror in Gingham Mountain.

But it's historical.

I think in the olden days children were far more often struck mute by terror.

I think I read that somewhere.

Pretty sure it's true.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hey, the cookies are getting low, so I've brought homemade Valentine Love Cakes.....

We're making them for moms and dads because we love moms and dads SO MUCH!!!!!!

Sally Shupe said...

Oh, but Ruthy, I want it all. And if I do ever get that big snowfall I'm praying for, I'll need your book to read while I can't go to work and after I build a snowman lol.

Sandy Smith said...

Great post, Ruthy. As a substitute teacher, I am around children of all ages all the time. That really does help when it comes time to write about children. I would love to be entered into your drawing for either the Homestead Brides or your novella for kindle. I would enjoy either!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sally Shupe!!!! "Do you want to build a snowman? Do you want to come and play? I never see you anymore! Come out the door! It's like you've gone away!!!!"


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sandy Smith, darling, you're in! We workers with children must stand strong together, or die separately.

Or something like that.

You are entered, my dear!!!!

Jan Drexler said...

Where were these posts a year ago?

In my September release, "A Home for His Family," (LIH)...

please excuse the shameless plug :)

...I have a family of three children whose parents were killed in a house fire six months before the story opens. The youngest doesn't speak, but I chose to portray it as her refusing to interact rather than being struck mute.

Although I'm sure that's how some readers will interpret the situation.

But five-year-olds can be extremely stubborn in their beliefs, and my little Lucy believed that if she didn't acknowledge the tragedy, it didn't exist.

I love writing my stories with children in them. Even when the protagonists aren't widows/widowers/adoptive uncles, the children sneak in there as little brothers and sisters!

Put my name in the cat dish for All Dressed Up!

Meghan Carver said...

Great points about writing children, Ruthy! I think I'm so busy trying to make a good childhood for my own six, helping them grow up to be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves, that when I write children, I try to shield them as well. I'd cry for them otherwise! But maybe that's a good thing. Note to self: it's make-believe!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jan, you know selective mutism happens. I know it happens. But boy, it seemed for a while that every trauma known to man resulted in selective mutism!

And I forgot that you used that, or I might have been more discreet. :)

I need a lesson in discreet. Where is Tina when I need to be slapped upside the head????

She could have saved me from myself! :)

Yes, you're in.

All Dressed Up in Love is absolutely charming.

I might be biased. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Meghan, lift the shields. Use your anti-force-field shield breaker downer and get rid of the shields!!!!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sally Shupe! Thank you for the Valentine!!!!

What a fun surprise!!!!! I'm grinning with my big teeth!

Jan Drexler said...

If you were discreet, would we even recognize you???


Tina Radcliffe said...

Am I the only one who asks kids how old they are in public? Then I have to explain to them or their parents why I'm asking.

Sally Shupe said...

If I lived anywhere close, I would so be there, Ruth lol. You have no idea. You are welcome for the Valentine! I'm glad you like it. I have decided with everything going online, nobody writes letters any more or sends cards, other than e-cards. It's a lot more fun than getting bills and junk in the mail. Just recently I came across letters from my dad, postcards from my great-aunt when she went on vacation somewhere on the coast of Maine (in the mid 70's), and letters and Valentines from my grandmother from the 80's. With everything being emailed and online, what will people find of their ancestors years from now? I even have a few books with my great-grandmother's signature in them.

Jeanne T said...

First, can I just say, WOW. A seven-feet tall snow pile? I knew NY got snow, but . . . Hope you're mostly dug out by now. :)

Ruthy, I loved this post. You show so many different ways to layer children in stories. I'm still absorbing all that you shared.

Here's a question for you: I have a child character who's 3 1/2; his dad died when he was 1 1/2. How might that have affected him? Obviously, he won't remember his father, except perhaps in pictures his mom shows him. Will there be other effects?

And please, put my name in the cat dish for either drawing. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jan Drexler, LOL!!!!!.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina, I annoy... oops... ASK people all the time about things.

I'm good at kids and ages, but everything else is OPEN FORUM.

I have embarrassed my family a few times.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jeanne, that's a great question and the reality is that memory is usually forming after age 1, BUT.... most of us don't have conscious memories much before age 5.

Now the difference is that if there's a parent working to keep the memory alive, then the three-year-old will know that picture on the wall is Daddy, but he might not have a clue what that means.... Except that his friend Braden has a daddy, and his cousin Tiffany has a daddy, and his mommy cries sometimes when she looks at the picture.

So the longing isn't for the daddy he lost that he can't remember, it's for the emptiness of not having something that makes his friends and cousins happy. Does that make sense?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sally Shupe, I love how you think!!!! And you're right, of course!

Debby Giusti said...

Ruthy, great points about children and how they react. Love the pics. Oh my, that snow! 7 feet! YIKES!

Liked your mention of the child who overheard being just like dad. Agreeing with you that false statements can prove harmful for years and even carryover to adulthood. It's what Michael Hauge calls the wound that keeps folks locked in their make-believe worlds instead of living life in their true essence. Of course, those wounds are healed in our stories.

Sunny, but windy in Georgia. And the temp is dropping. Brrr!

Sherida Stewart said...

Thanks for the points to keep in mind when writing about children, Ruthy. As a kindergarten and special-needs preschool teacher, I saw many different reactions in children.

In your earlier post, you mentioned authentic childhood speech. My hubby and I took care of our four- and two-year old grandchildren for nine days last month. (Fabulously exhausting!) I had forgotten the cute two-year-olds phrases, so I took notes. However, I need another research trip to complete my notes!

I've won the Homestead Brides collection, so Please put my name in the car dish for ! Thank you!

Sherida Stewart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherida Stewart said...


The last part of my comment disappeared. Sorry.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Debby, yes, that's it exactly. Wounds and dark ideas fester. How sad that science has proven that negative memories imprint more deeply than positive ones.

The studies were actually to try and spur better memory skills for the aged, but the findings showed that a sharp negative accompanying what you want to remember helps... :( Well, who wants a life filled with sharp negatives????

Letting go of baggage is so much harder to do than to say!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sherida, you're tossed into the All Dressed Up in Love cat dish! :)

I wish I'd started writing down Brodyisms about 18 months ago. Brody comes out with the cutest, most succinct natural sayings. We've decided he might be a priest or minister, he's got a heart of gold and is a true servant.... but when he rationalizes how he helps people, he makes the cutest messed up points ever!

Yes, research trip needed, LOL!

Helen Gray said...

I'm late to the party.

But I made fresh coffee!

I already won Homestead Brides last week, yeah, yeah, yeah!

I ruined my day. I got out all the tax stuff (for us and two sons), sorted it and printed forms.

But I wrote the last chapter of a book last night. Just got to think on an epilogue and write it.

Mary Connealy said...

I once won a prize at a baby shower for knowing the name Maurice Sendak.

Valri said...

I love books that have children in them! It really shows if the writer has done his/her homework about kids, depending on the storyline. Whether it's a child in crisis or children in various situations, I love to see them in books! Thanks for your post, Ruthy! Always love hearing from you!

Vince said...

Hi Ruth:

Will there be a “Children Part III”?

I’d be interested in the many novelistic ways child characters can be used in a story. For example, how Mark Twain used children to show the foibles of adults and to show things that he might not be allowed to show adults doing at that time.

Children can also foreshadow the later actions of adults. Children can be acting out the ‘hidden child’ of an adult’s past and thus demonstrate in real time what is holding an adult character back in the present. I like it when the behavior of the child is perfect for her as a child but in addition tells a different adult story to grownup readers. For example, Mark Twain, at first, insisted that “Tom Sawyer” was not a children’s book and he did not want the story marketed as such.

And lastly, I’d like to see what you have to say on making the ‘Second Childhood’ real.

A good friend of my wife, who taught kindergarten and worked part time in a nursing home, said that all the personality types in her kindergarten class were represented in the nursing home and they were there in the same proportions! (They were the same people!)

You could have the grandparents acting out in the same way appropriate to them as the little kids are acting and allow all these actions to foreshadow the plot path as well as the hero or heroine’s ARC. (I like to make things more complicated for Tina.) :)

In other words, I’d be interested in how to use the little brats in ways that transform cuteness into layers of literary richness.

I just got an email telling me that “The Homestead Brides” was mailed today from the Christian Bookstore. I also am getting a copy of “The Lighthouse Brides” because I love lighthouses. There are millions like me. Always put a lighthouse on your cover if at all possible.

In any event, I’d like to win “All Dressed Up in Love”. (I hope that bride got a discount because there sure is a lot of lace and fabric missing from that dress.) :)


P.S. Mary had some very good Mark Twainesque kids in ”Gingham Mountain” where the kids in the classroom mirrored the future actions of the adults and also in “Petticoat Ranch” where all the daughters foreshadowed the women’s liberation movement by about 100 years.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, you're so right about Mary's kids in those books. I loved 'em! The daughters were tough because mom expected them to toughen up and that was one of my favorite things about Petticoat Ranch! High expectations for the rug rats! Belle Tanner made me smile that way, too!

The mix from kindergarten to nursing home doesn't surprise me at all. I've got a book I haven't had time to get back to yet, hopefully I can do it next fall.... it shows this wonderfully and it's a fantasy, fun, faithful, C.S. Lewis kind of story, Vince... but it shows what you said, that the mix as youngsters holds true in the oldsters! Not too many understand that, do they?

I love having adults delve deeper into themselves or challenge themselves because they need to save a child or help a child. It's the "Aslan" kind of sacrificial love from Narnia. That always makes me smile.

I love that you bought Homestead Brides!!!! Now, Vince, you'll have to tell me what you think of Prairie Promises, but I'm going to warn you: I love it! Romance in a soddy, Vince!!!! It was so much fun to write and I can still see Jack O'Donnell riding up to that soddy and hearing nothing but the click of a trigger, gettin' ready.

Tell me what you think when you've read it, you know I love your opinion!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Vince LOL, thank you!

I had a LOT of kids in The Homestead Brides. They were fun.

Chill N said...

Remember a divorce is like the death of a marriage, but NO ONE GETS BURIED

Thank heavens I had put down my cup of tea before I read that, Ruthy!

I don't think I've ever written a story that didn't include children. I can learn a ton about a character (in very little time) based on how they respond to kids.

Thanks for another day-brightening post.

Nancy C

Pam Hillman said...

Good stuff. Can I throw my name in the cat dish for chocolate chip cookies????? :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Great post, Ruthy! Lots of helpful tips to keep in mind when writing about kids dealing with tough stuff. Thanks!

Vince said...

Hi Ruth:

I ordered the print version of “The Homestead Brides” because with nine novellas it makes it so much easier to jump from story to story and to quickly determine how long each story is. Kindle is a little like reading into the unknown. Last night a novella ended at 80% because the author had so much material after the ending. I was so unready for the story to end. It was disappointing that all the different possible endings I had imaged the story could take never were given an opportunity to transpire! It was like an unexpected divorce.

Okay, I am going to read “Prairie Brides” first. However, you have given it so much advance buildup that if it is not up there with “The Great Gatsby” or “The Old Man and the Sea”, I might be let down. : ) We’ll see.

BWT Have you ever been in a real ‘Soddy’? There is a museum in Oklahoma which has preserved an original ‘Soddy’ and all the household items that were in it. This house will surely make you appreciate the “The Pioneer Woman” monument in Ponca City. That monument is none too little.
You can read about the ‘Soddy’ here:


Victoria W. said...

A wonderful post! It was really helpful. I'm not around a lot of children, but I started writing this story around a little girl, but then I realized how little I knew about them! It's been so long since I had to change my little sisters diapers. lol. So, these two posts really helped and inspired me to go back and write more!

Thank you! Can't wait to read more!

Deanna Stevens said...

Wonderful info on writing about children, I read many books but I guess not so many have children as the focus.. Those cookies look so good, I'm off to get some coffee to go with..
please put me in the dish for Homestead Brides please.

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Great post, Ruthy! I LOVE seeing all your cute kiddo posts on Facebook. :)

librarypat said...

I like stories that incorporate children. They add so many dimensions to the story. They bring people together, drive them crazy, break their hearts, and make their lives worth living.
Thank you for the writer's perspective which works for life in general.

Melissa Sugar said...

Thanks for sharing your two very insightful post about writing fictional child characters. I gained a lot of knowledge from reading both posts. As a prosecutor, I worked with children often, far too often. Unfortunately, the children I came into contact with were either victims of abuse (Physical and or sexual) or the children were witnesses to abuse in the family. When I wasn't working with children who were actual victims of abuse, more times than not, I interviewed children who witnessed dad kill mom, or mom attack dad or mom and dad (or mom's boyfriend) committing a criminal act upon another member of the family. I can tell you that these events traumatized children beyond what most of us would believe.

I read the two things we were told to memorize or learn. I have to disagree, to a point. Yes, children are resilient, but they are not as resilient as we give them credit for. Children may not always act out or show signs that they are not accepting or bouncing back from a certain situation, but that doesn't mean that they have learned to accept or cope with the changing situation. Children who appear resilient, often don't show outward signs of how deeply the event, change, situation or trauma affected them until many years later. It's far too complicated for me to go into, but I learned from my many years of working with children that they are not nearly as resilient as the experts have claimed.

I suppose that children who don't experience something that necessitates them visiting a courthouse and possibly being called upon to testify in court, children who suffer through a divorce, for example, may be able to carry on, in time without scars. However, in my experience, even in the most acrimonious and amiable divorces, children still suffer. They may be pliable, but kids can only be stretched so far and be expected to bounce back.

You shared some very interesting points and it is obvious that you know the topic well. Thanks for sharing. In my current work of fiction, I've been struggling with a child character and trying to make him appear more believable, after going through hell and back. It never even occurred to me that I should think back and concentrate on the behaviors I witnessed while working with kids experiencing such trauma. Sometimes, we overlook the obvious. Thanks for the reminder. This was an excellent two part article, full of valuable information for writing fictional child characters.