As a person who got into writing through fanfiction, there are many writing ‘don’t’s that I have encountered and learned to steer clear from, whether it was from my own writing or from consuming other fics. There’s the hard-learned pacing issue, in the beginning I’ve written some truly terrible one-shots that were barely 500 words and should have been in the thousands if I wanted to tell the story I was attempting to tell. Then there’s the dreaded one-voice ensemble where every character sounds like the same person, and the dialogue is just pages and pages of characters all saying the same thing, whatever the author was preaching or trying to sell to us at the time. My favorite ‘don’t’ that I’ve encountered recently is the over-explainer. And no, exposition is not what this particular writer overexplained. Every dialogue tag came with reasoning to justify the words no matter how obvious or banal the conversation on the page was. A 2k word chapter had maybe a couple hundred viable ones, and the rest were as useless as a knife in a gun fight.
These are all excellent things to observe and learn from, after all it’s easier to point out the mistakes than to figure out why something is done right. I enjoy finding ways that writing doesn’t appeal to me and how I can do it differently. But the true bane of my existence is, absolutely, entirely, irrevocably, bad writing of children. The thing is, I actually really love fics with kids. I’m a total sap for children bringing the characters together. I’m a sucker for a good parent trap. I love it. I want it. I need it. But why are so many of these types of stories filled with cookie cutter, godmother, magically-in-the-know children who are perfect and neat and very adult? Look, if the character is a very clean kid, that’s fine. If they’re smart, and kind, and all that perfect stuff, FINE! We can write whatever characters we want, and there are a billion ways to make them good characters. But it is our job to make them feel like characters!
Kids are fussy, even perfect ones. Kids are soooo messy. Kids throw tantrums, and throw off plans, and have enough wrenches to wreck a gears factory. And kids are people, not preachers and enablers. I don’t think we give them enough credit in our depictions of children. We have to let them be obstacles, and forces to be reckoned with. We have to let them want things a child would want, but we also have to respect that no matter how silly that want is it’s as important to them as our wants are to us. And oh man, the baby-talk has got to go. It doesn’t have a function 99.99999% of the time. They have quirks and ticks, and even things that don’t make sense to us, mean something to them, at the very least to the extent that they want to share it.
I don’t know if I’m any good at child characters, I don’t remember ever writing any, but I do know that the ones that feel authentic and remain memorable are the ones that the author respects enough to place on equal ground with the other characters. So yes, if a genius, mature, kind child is what the story calls for, then by all means lets put one in, but let them spill their juice, and get in trouble, and have imperfect parents. Treat kids as real characters not caricatures of an idea.
What are some of your pet peeves in fiction?