(Un)Realistic young character dialogue

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(Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Guardian » 08 Jan 2011, 18:02

I have a seven years old character in my WIP, who is a logical and pragmatic, intelligent and very talented character (My heroine in her childhood). Yet, two of my betas pointed out that her reaction, the dialogue below is highly unrealistic for a seven years old girl (I cut most of the surrounding descriptions, to focus on the essence.).

“What have you dreamt about this time, little one?” she (her mother) asked.
My dreams are my fantasies, mother,” defiant and secretive the little girl said even though her soul yearned to share her strange, vivid dream with her, but not now, maybe later.
Grace looked around the large room. The wooden bed on the other side was empty.
Has Aurora awakened already?” She turned to her mother.

The bold parts are the problematic ones in the eyes of my two readers. As one of them written...
"This does not sound like something a seven year-old would say."

Now, do I remember correctly that Alice in "Alice in Wonderland" was seven years old and that character had spoken on a similar, intelligent manner? My question is, does it sounds realistic for a seven years old (almost eight) character or not? Or does this dialogue sounds odd only in the 21st century (While this sort of dialogue was realistic in the 19th.)?
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Watcher55 » 08 Jan 2011, 18:36

I think a better question would be: does this sound like this seven year old? Do the adults who interact with her talk this way? Is it obvious that she is well read? Is she exposed to other seven year olds or is she the youngest?

We don't usually think of seven year olds using the words she uses, but I know one (he solved one of my riddles).
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Guardian » 08 Jan 2011, 18:43

I think a better question would be: does this sound like this seven year old?

Yes. She is also learning a lot of phrases and sentences from her educated father (It's presented few lines after this one, where her mother is mentioning it.). So this style, this manner has a background, but as this dialogue sequence is appearing first, and not that one, here the readers had a problem with it (Plus this is one of the first sentences of this character.).

As two of my beta readers mentioned this, I thought it's better if I meditate on these lines.
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Bryan Russell/Ink » 08 Jan 2011, 19:03

I agree that it should be more about this particular seven-year-old rather than some generic seven-year-old in the abstract. But I think what might be tripping the readers is less the apparent intelligence and word choice of the child, but the rather archaic and formal tone. The use of "mother", the sort of prissy use of "awakened". Contemporary adults rarely speak like that, let alone children. It's not so much a matter of intelligence as tone and rhythm. Now, having said that, it might be perfectly right for this particular child. Maybe she talks like that. I mean, my daughter correctly uses Latin phrases like "per se". She's five. So, really it's all about works, and particularly what works for this character. But be careful of trying to convey intelligence by using a formal tone, as the two are not necessarily connected.

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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Watcher55 » 08 Jan 2011, 19:10

I guess the next question would be, what is it about her that you would expect from a seven year old?

“What have you dreamt about this time, little one?” she (her mother) asked.
“My dreams are my fantasies, mother,” defiant and secretive the little girl said even though her soul yearned to share her strange, vivid dream with her, but not now, maybe later.Grace looked around the large room. The wooden bed on the other side was empty.
“Has Aurora awakened already?” She turned to her mother.


A seven year old has seven year old motives. They don't usually think about maybe later. They think about telling someone safe, like an imaginary friend, or a pet. Grown ups usually have to finesse such information.
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby cheekychook » 08 Jan 2011, 19:15

Totally agree---it's all about what's "right" for THIS child to say. Would a typical seven-year-old speak that way? No. But I don't think that has anything to do with whether or not your seven-year-old character can get away with this.

Did your readers object to these lines because they seemed out of character within the context of this character? In other words are these the only lines that stood out to them as not being "like a seven-year-old child would speak" or does she speak like this through the book and they had a problem with her speech whenever she spoke?

Incidentally, I have two kids, both of whom have always been extremely precious language-wise, but in very different ways from one another. As long as the tone/wording/etc fit your character and you are consistent with the voice/language use of that character, I think you're fine.

Glad you asked this question, by the way. I think this may be one of the examples of how beta readers sometimes point out "problems" that aren't really problems at all. Unless a problem a reader identifies is something you can quickly say "oh yeah, geez, I didn't realize that" to it's always wise to get multiple opinions before making changes.
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby cheekychook » 08 Jan 2011, 19:20

FYI

“Let’s consider your age to begin with—how old are you?” asked the White Queen.
“I’m seven and a half exactly,” said Alice.

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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Guardian » 08 Jan 2011, 19:29

Watcher55 wrote:A seven year old has seven year old motives. They don't usually think about maybe later. They think about telling someone safe, like an imaginary friend, or a pet. Grown ups usually have to finesse such information.

Here the character is willing to share the dream with her mother, just later (She has a reason. She is a pretty good artist and she is drawing a part from her dream to show it to her mother. Children are usually express themselves better with draws then with words.).

they had a problem with her speech whenever she spoke?

Just with these two lines. Later, I believe they got used to the character and her "strange and interesting" style.

“Let’s consider your age to begin with—how old are you?” asked the White Queen.
“I’m seven and a half exactly,” said Alice.

Ha-hah! That's "Through the Looking Glass". In Alice in Wonderland, she is just seven. Uh... if my rusty memory serves me well. :)

Did your readers object to these lines because they seemed out of character within the context of this character? In other words are these the only lines that stood out to them as not being "like a seven-year-old child would speak" or does she speak like this through the book and they had a problem with her speech whenever she spoke?

Yes. She is speaking on this way or in a similar manner all over (Where she is a child). Later, where she is an adult, she has a bit different style (Mannered, sometimes distant and icy, but she is also cheeky. Then this style is also changing as the character is changing throughout the story.).

I think this may be one of the examples of how beta readers sometimes point out "problems" that aren't really problems at all. Unless a problem a reader identifies is something you can quickly say "oh yeah, geez, I didn't realize that" to it's always wise to get multiple opinions before making changes.

Actually these beta readers gave me very valuable and really good advices (I'm rewriting the first chapters, because one of them is explained something very well and she was right.). But these two lines were the ones where I stopped and I had doubts. I simply couldn't decide that this is a true problem or not.
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby cheekychook » 08 Jan 2011, 19:51

Even the very best of betas will occasionally question or point out "errors" that are not truly a problem.

If these lines really particularly stood out and the rest of the dialogue seemed fine to both readers then that would indicate that for some reason these lines are coming across as different. Do you have other readers who didn't have an issue with these lines? If so I'd ask them to look at those specific lines and see what they think. Sometimes there are lines that someone in my critique group doesn't like and I'll point them out to others who've already read that part of my work and ask what they think---sometimes they realize on closer inspection that yeah, something is off, and other times they explain why they thought it was fine---either way other opinions become helpful if you (as the writer) can't decide.

Good luck.
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Guardian » 08 Jan 2011, 20:01

Do you have other readers who didn't have an issue with these lines?

2 out of 14 had this problem. But as I'd like to write this WIP to different people with quite different tastes, I'm rewriting the beginning to make these two people happy too, because they also had valid and really good points (And this rewrite can be done without losing the other twelve.). This is just a final fine tuning for this WIP, but if with this final rewrite I can get a bit wider audience later, or even just one or two more readers, especially if I can keep the integrity of the original idea while the whole stuff can be better because of these notes and observations, I rather meditate on every little comment over and over again (Especially as these kind people also put lots of hours to read and made a hard work to analyze this novel.). This was the only point where I stopped and couldn't decide.

Good luck.

Thanks. :)
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Sommer Leigh » 08 Jan 2011, 21:04

I would consider contacting your other beta readers and asking them this question. It is possible they noticed it too but didn't point it out. Without context and knowing the characters at all, I find the dialogue awkward because I can't imagine a seven year old calling their mother "mother" or using the word "awakened" instead of "woke up."
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Guardian » 09 Jan 2011, 06:51

I find the dialogue awkward because I can't imagine a seven year old calling their mother "mother"

I've heard it few times from my seven years old sis, especially when she was defiant. I used this trait here.

or using the word "awakened" instead of "woke up."

But here I already can see the difference. Thanks for writing up these two words together in one sentence. Awakened is presumably sounds way too formal in this context.

Thanks Sommer!
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby shadow » 09 Jan 2011, 07:31

Guardian, like the others said, I think that it is really dependent on the situation because ussually a seven year old may not be well spoken, but then that depends on how she is raised. Personally, I don't remember much from being seven years old (10 years ago! :OOO) Holy! But, I think that if you just make her a little LESS adultish it might help you out and help the readers feel like she IS a seven year old. Good Luck :)
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby Guardian » 09 Jan 2011, 07:38

but then that depends on how she is raised.

This was the primary reason why I created the dialogues on this way, to present she has a really good background and she was raised well.

a little LESS adultish it might help you out and help the readers feel like she IS a seven year old.

Less adultish could be good, but sometimes children are acting like their parents, especially if they want to be like them. This is what I wanted to highlight in that scenario. A talented, well raised and intelligent girl who is a bit smarter then a normal seven years old.
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Re: (Un)Realistic young character dialogue

Postby shadow » 09 Jan 2011, 07:48

Guardian wrote:
but then that depends on how she is raised.

This was the primary reason why I created the dialogues on this way, to present she has a really good background and she was raised well.

a little LESS adultish it might help you out and help the readers feel like she IS a seven year old.

Less adultish could be good, but sometimes children are acting like their parents, especially if they want to be like them. This is what I wanted to highlight in that scenario. A talented, well raised and intelligent girl who is a bit smarter then a normal seven years old.


Guardian, if THAT is what you intend, then I really don't see reason of question at all. Follow your personal belief, what we think may not matter as much. It's your art work. The only thing I can say, is that when young children mimick parents they might mess up at certain words or things. It all really depends on the rest of the context with her. Always keep in mind that everyone's opinion will be opinionated. That's what I need to remember and stop changing back and forth (smile).
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