How to Write From a Child’s Perspective—But for Adult Readers

writing with a child narrator

If you’ve ever tried to write children’s literature, you probably found that it’s just as hard as writing for adults, even if the work is typically shorter. Plus there’s the added challenge of understanding and writing about the challenges faced by kids today, which can be different than those you faced twenty, thirty, or forty more years ago. (For those curious about writing for youth, here’s a great post on YA writing.)

But what if you want to write from a child’s perspective for adults? In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, novelist Sophie Chen Keller offers an incisive look at what’s different about it:

Theme played an important role. I explored topical social issues, like gentrification, homelessness, immigration and alternative family structures, and raised questions around losing, searching and finding—on being human, on living. I relied on symbolism and imagery to imbue simple or childlike elements with depth of meaning. And finally, while the narrator is a child, he is surrounded by adults who are dealing with adult problems and situations; their stories of loss and longing are the beating heart of the book. Their stories are the anchor to this world as we set sail for the golden days of childhood we lost.

Read Keller’s entire insightful essay.

For more writing advice, check out other essays in Glimmer Train:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Stephen W. Hiemstra

This post poses an interesting question. In my recent memoir, Called Along the Way (see link) I wrote about my childhood based on my memories as a child without really thinking through implications posed by using my own child’s voice. These sections of the book evoked a particularly positive reader response. The question accordingly arises: what other situations arise when a child’s voice can or should be used?


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