Someone asked me how to write realistic dialogue or narrative for a thirteen year old character without sounding too advanced. (I tried posting the question, but it ended up messing up the rest of my post. Technology, RIGHT?)

Thanks for giving me a blog post idea for today!

I know most of you who follow this blog probably write and/or read YA, so you generally write young characters, but it can be harder to write characters younger than fourteen. Most of us remember being a teenager (or maybe you’re currently a teenager), so it’s much easier to write a character between the ages of 14-19. A thirteen year old character, on the other hand, can be difficult.

I’m no expert, but my novel coming out is the story of a few thirteen year olds and I just finished an upper middle grade novel revolving around a character who just turned thirteen and entered his teenage years. The most important thing to remember is that a 12 or 13 year old character can be just as smart, if not smarter, than an older teenage character. Thirteen year olds in real life are usually in 8th grade or getting ready to enter high school. Kids definitely know what’s going on around them and they can be super intuitive. If you have any cousins or relatives around that age, you know how smart they can be.

If you think your language might be too advanced, think about what type of novel your writing. Is it for the YA, MG, or adult genre? I just finished the Chuck Palaniuk book Damned, which revolved around a thirteen year old girl named Madison. She is incredibly smart and adult, almost to the point of being unrealistic. This is a book for adults, however, and would never be marketed for young adults. You have to remember your audience and establish what you’re going to market your book as before you start writing it. Also is there a reason why your main character is smart? Was she or she raised having to find things out on his or her own? Did he or she have a troublesome childhood? Is he or she a prodigy of some sort?

It helps to read a lot of different stories with young characters as the protagonist. Ender’s Game, for example, features characters as young as five years old doing incredible things. It never felt unbelievable because the situation in the book called for it. Don’t be afraid to make your characters too smart if you give a credible reason for it. Young readers aren’t dumb and they will probably be able to understand, if not learn from your novel. A lot of kids read above their grade level and if you’re writing for an older age group it won’t matter.

When I’m having trouble pinpointing how a young character should sound, I like to watch a few good movies with kids around the age I want to write about. I love watching The Goonies or even Super 8 for inspiration. Stand by Me is also a good way to see smart and troubled young characters. Stephen King is good for that.

Again, it’s important that you know and write for your intended audience. You need to figure out if you’re writing a MG, YA, or adult novel and then plan accordingly. An MG main character might not use such advanced vocabulary and you might have to make adjustments, but a YA or adult novel will certainly allow for you to be creative.

-Kris Noel

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