Friday, May 6, 2016

The Best of the Archives: How to Write Believable Children Part 1

Ruthy note: If I already did this, first... forgive me, because we're all about forgiveness here, right???? (please say "right"!!!)

And if I didn't already do this one, well, it's one of those things I pick up on right away, when someone messes up kids in a contemporary story.

You've got leeway in a historical. But a contemporary, set here and now? Uh, uh. Today's kids are savvier, techier, sometimes snarkier, and often more in touch with the world around us than we give them credit for, and I'm not talking operating the TV remote... :) Think of how the production crew and writers cast "Jonah" in "Sleepless in Seattle".... now that was a well-scripted, well-acted kid. 

Dakota Fanning in just about anything.... same thing.

That's how you want your kids in books to resonate with readers, that's how they should resonate... so here we are with Part 1 of "How to Write Believable Children" and it's still one of my favorite posts.

I blame Keli Gwyn.

First, she's cute and that's just ridiculous, right? I mean how can I compare with that???? Second, she's just so stinkin' nice and I can't even really be MEAN to her. Third, she had a great idea and hey... my idea-o-meter runs out of juice now and again and instead of teaching folks how to do things I YELL AT THEM to do it better.

I find the yelling to be refreshing and oddly effective but every now and again I get inspired to don the teaching hat and play in the instructional pool. (Which means I might drown, so be prepared to save me. Please).

I am surrounded by children, all shapes, sizes, ages, kinds and psyches.

I'm good at writing them because I've been teaching, studying, working with and torturing children for decades. I keep myself submerged in their ever-changing culture and that's a BIG PART of writing modern children successfully, so the reader buys into it. They sound real. They sound like what you'd hear at church/playground/movie theater (minus the swearing!) and that realism layers into your story. 

Rainey McKinney's identical twins Dorrie and Sonya... A different version of them appears on Rainey's book below:

I inroduced the twins on the opening page of "Falling for the Lawman" because they're amazingly adorable and they're talking to a stud-muffin, big, burly New York State trooper... who happens to have bought the house next door and the farm roosters are driving him crazy. He also meets the heroine, but that's a given! The twins, the roosters and "Beansy", the Nigerian dwarf goat smack the reader upside the head with Farm and Fun instantly. Unless, like the hero, you hate farms and were so glad to leave your family farm years ago...

And when the twins "bad girl" mother comes back home in "Falling for the Lawman", of course she... and THEY.... will need their own book, and it's a book I love because I got to fix Aiden, the shy, recalcitrant boy in "Falling for the Lawman" who is destined to become the twins' brother by the end of the story. The trick to keeping the series effective, is to allow the children's spiritual, mental, educational and physical growth to occur naturally.

(Note to all o' youse: Some readers do not like children. They want romance without children. I don't find this bothersome because I sell a lot of books and I love having kids, single parents, families, friends, etc. in my books. But just so youse know, I get the occasional smackdown for having kids in romances.  

And then I think of Kurt Warner, the NFL quarterback who courted the single mother and created a great fairy tale story... and I know I'm on the right track!)

*Something to think about: A deciding factor in my Waterbrook contract was because I layer families/kids/animals/crazy into romance successfully. To quote an editor: "There is nothing romantic about kids, jobs, single-parenting and lack of time. It's exhausting. But you make it work." My Waterbrook romances follow the three Stafford brother cowboys, Colt, Nick and Trey... and with the first book written there are (pauses to count...) six kids, a nest of kittens, farm dogs, cows, guns, old houses and new beginnings... So not much has changed, right???

Here's part of my old family recipe for writing kids!

I think of the joy of the Holy Family and the somber side of raising a King.

I think of The Cosby Show and how they managed to deal with crazy teens using humor. (and by the way, exploding food is never quite as funny in our own kitchens.) I think of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons and the families I work with daily. What happens when they don't deal with problems??? And what's the bratty-kid fallout when they do????

Do not watch kids on TV. Most current TV shows with kids have a bratty, in-your-face element of snark/sarcasm and bad acting. Or they make the children look stupid, and one-dimensional (the smart girl with no depth, the jock guy with no brain, the nerd little brother who's wretchedly awkward)  Caricatures of kids don't work. Blech. I wanna slap 'em already!

Think real kids. Stages of development. There's a reason we use terms like "terrible twos" and the "bratty eights" and "touchy tweens", etc.

So here's the basic rundown:

BABIES ROCK. They draw an audience! Check out "Loving the Lawman", the book that got me on the bestseller's list!!!

They cry, mess their diapers, burp, smile, toothless grins, belly laughs, fever spots, teething, they smell amazing even when they're smelly because then you change them and they smell good again!

Toddlers become more unique and should be treated that way. Their intrinsic personalities are showing. The daredevil... the introvert. The puzzle solver. The diva. The optimist. The sharer. The watcher. The screamer....

Like a chrysalis, this evolves not into a butterfly, but into a more defined and reasonable version of the toddler... (this is good to remember when working a series, that the kid who's 3 in one book will be a little different if they're 4 or 5 in the final book).

Preschoolers explore everything either visually, manually, orally, physically. :)

They question adults, they grasp concepts and relativity and they're curious on a much higher level than MOST of their two-year old counterparts. Some have speech quirks, some have shut-downs, some have incredibly obnoxious-but-cute "me-first" natures (I call these types "little Ruthys" for good reason!), some are downright brats (Skeeter who is an enduring character in both "Waiting out the Storm" and "Made to Order Family") and some are reclusive by nature or lack of nurture. Just like an adult character, it's clutch to keep the kid in character. Brats don't morph overnight. Extroverts are born, not taught. Shyness should always be in upwardly mobile degrees to sound real. If a child is too shy and doesn't improve, you've stagnated the kid.

Don't do that!!!! Stop yourself and run back into that manuscript and fix the kid to show they're on a path toward maturity and independence, at least slightly!

Orphaned brothers Todd and Tyler are little lost souls until their Aunt Haley takes them in,  but  the two boys are distinctly different in this top-selling story... All they want is a home and a forever family, people to love and cherish them. That's exactly what these two sweet fellows find in Allegany County.
But here's a caveat: Intelligence matters. 

Kids with great retention will handle things differently than a child who struggles to recognize letters/numbers/colors. THEN... personality quirks enter the foray just like they do with your grown-up characters. So if Jamie is a four-year-old boy, bright for his age, outgoing and boisterous whose parents have split up and his father is out of the picture, Jamie is going to behave/act based on his personality/mental acuity/birth order and then he's going to REACT to how the grown ups around him handle things.

And that opens up a whole new kettle of fish!

I could say more (of course!!!) but we'll do that in Part 2 next month, and don't cringe... it's unbecoming! Besides, if you want to improve your skills at writing children it's either listen to the Ruthinator... or open your own daycare.

Honestly, reading about it is so much easier!!!!

And since we're talking kids today, and because that first cowboy book is for sale at retailers across the nation.... and online at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Christian

Let's take a peek at the second cowboy cover... because like Cathryn told you yesterday, a great cover is a wonderful thing to have!

Oh. Oh. Oh....


Cowboy Nick Stafford and his precious daughter.... 

I am over the moon! This one goes on sale October 15th!!!!! But big brother Colt's story is on sale now, and it will make my editors and publishers and me very happy if you run out and buy it! 

Thank you!

"Ruthy" aka Ruth Logan Herne is living her dream of being a published author, she can't hardly believe this is all real, and she wakes up each and every morning absolutely delighted with what's happened in her life... She'd write for free (and did for a very long time!) but she's absolutely delighted to be working with multiple publishers, writing sweet stories of romance, second chances, new beginnings and often with cute kids, dogs, goats, cows, horses and kittens! Check her out at, on facebook as (you guessed it!) Ruth Logan Herne and @ruthloganherne on twitter! She's also cooking at the Yankee Belle Cafe every single Thursday, and she'd love to have you stop by there and see what's happening!

Comments have been turned off for today so that Ruthy.... with her editing hat firmly in place.... and everyone else, can enjoy a day of doing what we do best... Write!