Jennifer talks about children as secondary characters...
I love writing children. They’re fun to create and they’re extremely useful.
They can be instigators. In A Heart of Little Faith, my heroine has to work late and she needs someone to watch her daughter, Claire. The neighbor steps up and the neighbor’s brother, the hero, entertains her with a board game until my heroine arrives:
Even before she entered, Lily could hear Claire’s giggle, and the telltale popping sound of “Trouble.” Wondering who Samantha had subjected to her mercenary daughter, Lily frowned and walked into the living room. The sight stopped her dead in her tracks. Gideon.
“Claire,” she whispered, but neither Claire nor Gideon heard her. Claire was too busy giggling uncontrollably. Her brown curly hair bobbed as she bounced around in excitement. Lily observed with wonder Claire’s ease around Gideon. Since her father died, Claire’s contact with men had been limited. Lily rarely dated and Claire tended to be shy around strange men. Not so with this man.
He turned around and nodded at Lily. “Hello.”
The sound of his voice, even that one little word, made Lily’s stomach go all jiggly inside and she swallowed as she watched his eyes rove from her wet, raggedy hair to her water-sloshed shoes.
Oftentimes, I use them as a way to explain things to readers. Because young children, especially, don’t know about certain things, they can ask questions that a main character can answer, thus providing the reader with information they wouldn’t otherwise necessarily know. For example, in TheSeduction of Esther, I needed to explain a few Jewish terms to non-Jewish readers:
“Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Temple Beth Am. I’m Dave.”
Nathaniel shook the older man’s hand and looked into kind brown eyes. “Shabbat Shalom. I’m Nathaniel and this is my daughter, Zoe. We’re new members.”
“I thought you might be. Hello, Zoe.”
“Hi, I’m seven and I go to school downstairs. Why did you say Shabbat Shalom?”
Dave smiled. “It means peaceful Sabbath and we say it to each other on Shabbat. Why don’t you and your dad go inside and sit down. Join us at the oneg afterwards for snacks. We have cookies,” he said, with a wink at Zoe.
Children also provide a way to demonstrate a main character’s traits. For example, in Skin Deep, I used Valerie’s niece to show the type of person Valerie is:
Back at the house, John disappeared upstairs, while Valerie searched for Sarah. She followed the noise of children laughing into the basement. Her nieces and nephews played board games, and their laughter, whining and arguing filtered up the stairs and through the rest of the house. Valerie stood on the bottom step and waited for Sarah to see her. When Sarah looked up, Valerie caught her eye, and Sarah ran over.
“Will you do my makeup now?” Sarah asked as she bounced up and down.
Valerie smiled at the endless energy. After her own hike, and the tension caused by dealing with John, she just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. But she’d made a promise to her niece. And, as John had said, she was a good aunt.
Children are funny. They see things differently than adults. They’re often much more literal. At the same time, their imaginations are usually bigger and they’re more open to new things. So putting them into a situation and watching them handle it is often amusing.
How do you deal with these issues?