Out of the mouths...

In this month's inspiration piece, K. M. Lockwood looks at the things children say.
How can we use these to good effect - and what do we need to consider?
As usual, there are a few ideas for you to try out at the end.

The original quotation is

From The King James Bible, Psalms 8:2, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength".

Note how it is strength - not humour or, Heaven forbid, cuteness.

I can see the appeal for grandparents of  100 Really Sweet Things Kids Say - but we create books for children themselves. However charming, we must resist the urge to use cute expressions we've overheard or stored for the delight of it. This is no place for the patronising.

However, there are circumstances where the innocent remarks of children can be useful. If your main character has responsibility for an-all-too-honest tot, then there's an opportunity for humour - especially of the toe-curlingly embarrassing kind for teen protagonists.

by Mythikun on DeviantArt - licensed for non-commercial use

It can also serve as a plot point - a younger child might blurt out an important clue or repeat a revealing comment with no idea of its meaning. One naive remark could lead 'the baddies' to the treasure, land the main character in the doo-doo, or be the last clue to solve a mystery.

Returning to that idea of strength, with caution the unguarded words of a young character can be the catalyst for something important. After all, Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes is a splendid example.
by W. Heath Robinson, 1872-1944 

Ideas to try:
  • record how children talk - this is a major project for life!
  • what varies by age?
  • what changes according to context?
  • from this, can you find character-led humour for your work-in-progress?
  • is there a revelation a young child could make unwittingly?
  • could an important point be unbelieved because a child said it?
  • read aloud - if you're honest, is your first person narrator convincing - or shrill?
  • can you give the sense of a young voice, without all its limitations?

I'll end with a quotation form Elizabeth Bowen to ponder:

Childish fantasy, like the sheath over the bud, not only protects but curbs the terrible budding spirit, protects not only innocence from the world, but the world from the power of innocence.

"The First Butterfly" watercolour by Sulamith Wülfing

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