Monday, August 17, 2015

How Kids in Fiction Can Be Effective by JoAnn Durgin

I love writing children into my books. They’re cute, they add to the dynamics of a story, and—let’s face it—they pull on our heartstrings. I think one of the primary reasons I enjoy writing (and reading) about children so much is because we, as adults, can learn so much from them! There’s nothing like the innocence, and yet the (sometimes blunt) honesty, of a child. They tell it like it is as they see people, life, and situations without the “filters” we’ve learned to adapt as we’ve grown older. Children can teach us patience, but they can also make us stop and think before we speak.

Case in point: When our oldest, Sarah, was a toddler, I used to call people “turkey” when they did something I didn’t like. I remember driving with her one day on the highway and someone cut me off. From the backseat, Sarah yelled, “You turkey!” In a way, it was cute. In another way, I’m thankful I hadn’t used a stronger word. When a child actor spews a profane word, others laugh, but oh how it riles me! Hearing Sarah repeat my words that taught me a valuable lesson as a new mother. I need to be very careful of the words that come from my mouth.

Ephesians 4:29: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)

Our son, Matthew, is high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome), but—at age 19—he is very intelligent yet still has the sweetness of a boy much younger than his chronological age. People often don’t know how to respond to Matthew’s openness and complete ease in saying “I love you.” One of his teachers in high school told him that she wasn’t allowed to respond when he told her he loved her. But then she confided to me she would pull him aside each day and whisper, “I love you, too, Matthew.” His helpful spirit and genuine love for people shines in everything he does. He doesn’t care what others think about him, and there are times when I really envy that quality!

Our daughter, Chelsea, is very loving, but also quite headstrong and independent. She’s also blessed us with our first grandchild, Amelia Grace (see her photo; you can’t miss the huge headband!). My husband, Jim, and I are reminded all over again how quickly children grow. It’s amazing the changes Amelia has gone through each month. At six months old, she’s now rocking on her haunches and giving us that “Just you wait!” look. I have the feeling once she starts crawling, she’ll be pulling up and walking soon after. I can’t wait until she starts talking!

All in all, children are an incomparable blessing from the Lord.

Psalm 127:3: Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. (NIV)

I can’t imagine my upcoming Christmas story, Starlight in Her Eyes, without my sweet little six-year-old, Lily, who challenges my cheeky Brit, Colin Young. He’s not used to little ones, but he’s a natural, and they take to one another quickly. Children are also now figuring quite prominently into my Lewis Legacy Series. In my estimation, my stories are richer for the addition of children.

What have your kids—or a child you know (or have known in the past) taught you? I’d love to hear, so please feel free to share!

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my latest release, Enchantment, Book #6 in my Lewis Legacy Series, where little Joe Lewis has a man-to-man chat with his father, Sam, about Gracie, a little girl who keeps punching Joe in the arm.

Here’s that excerpt:

“Dad, I’ve got a problem.”
Joe only called him Dad when he wanted a heart-to-heart chat. His boy was almost four going on forty. He took things so seriously. His TeamWork reports could wait. “Sure, son. Want to go sit on the porch and talk?”
“Uh huh.” Joe walked beside Sam from the office and out onto the porch. The early evening had cooled a bit and a slight breeze rustled the leaves of the towering trees.
In a few minutes, he’d walk his children over to the dining hall for dinner. He’d put in an appearance earlier but Lexa had shooed him out, telling him everything was under control. The tantalizing aromas of food filled the air. The ladies of the One Nation Church had been cooking for hours, and they were all in for quite a feast tonight.
After Joe dropped into one of the rockers, Sam took the other. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“Ah.” Resting one elbow on the arm of the chair, Sam began to rock as he stared out over the expanse of the camp. Maybe it was no surprise that—as the son of two former financial planners—Joe already exhibited signs of an analytical, logical mind. Sam’s brother, Will, was Joe’s personal hero these days. When he’d first heard Will had been named a shuttle commander for an upcoming NASA mission, Joe had whooped and hollered and declared he wanted to be an astronaut. No doubt they’d be paying a lot of visits to Johnson Space Center.
Sam glanced over at Joe. “How’s that arm?” Since they’d arrived at the camp, Joe had complained that Gracie punched him at every available opportunity. He knew Natalie and Marc were working with their daughter to try and control her inclination to sock Joe, apparently Gracie’s sole target.
Joe rubbed his fingers over his upper right arm. At least no bruises were visible. “Sore. Like always when Gracie’s around. It’s good she lives in Massa….”
“Massachusetts. Why do you think she hits you?”
Scrunching his features into a frown, Joe appeared to consider the question. “’Cause she’s mean.”
“Is she mean all the time?”
“No. She’s nice to Hannah and Leah. And Luke. She wants to carry Emily around like she’s her baby. Chloe thinks Gracie’s okay when she’s not bossy.”
The corners of Sam’s mouth quirked. “And what do you think?”
“I think Gracie hates boys.”
“That could be it, although I doubt it’s as strong as hate. Do you like Gracie? Even though she’s a girl?”
“Sort of. If she’d stop hitting me all the time, I might like her better. I don’t hate her.” Joe’s feet didn’t reach the porch floor, so he scooted to the edge of the chair. Pushing off with both feet, he began to rock.
“You know, Joe, sometimes girls hit boys for the opposite reason. Maybe Gracie punches you in the arm because—deep down inside—she secretly likes you.”
“She sure has a funny way of showing it.”
Sam laughed. “You know, your mother wasn’t sure she liked me all that much when she first met me, either. It was at our first TeamWork mission together outside San Antonio.”
“Did Mommy hit you?”
“She did, but it was an accident. We had a flat tire on the old Volvo station wagon—the one in the garage out back at home in Houston—and I was trying to fix it. When Mommy tried to hand me a wrench, it slipped out of her hand and hit my leg.”
“So she didn’t mean to do it.” The implication from Joe being the situation was different since Gracie intended to hit him. Smart boy.
“No, no. It was heavy and slippery. But she sure made a big impression on me. And I think Gracie’s made an impression on you.”
Joe tilted his head. “What’s that mean?”
Sam chuckled and ran one hand over his chin. “It means I started liking your mother.”
“Because she hit you?”
He wasn’t doing the best job of explaining. “Mommy got my attention, but then she kept my attention because she was different from all the other girls. In a good way.”
“Yeah. Gracie’s different, too, but does that mean I have to like her?”
Joe asked insightful questions that helped to keep Sam sharp. He learned from his children on a daily basis, and that was one of his favorite parts of being a father. “As a Christian, we’re told in the Bible to love one another. I always try to do that even when people do things I don’t like.”
“Like what?” Joe rocked away in his chair and looked at him with wide-eyed innocence.
“They lie or they cheat. Or they do something they know could hurt someone else and they do it, anyway.”
“Yep.” Joe shook his head with a sad expression. The compassion in his boy—even for Gracie—warmed his heart. They wouldn’t be having this discussion now if he didn’t care.
“Sometimes it’s hard to like people, Joe. All God asks is that we try. Be patient with Gracie. God’s working in her heart just like He’s working on you and me.”
Joe nodded. “Makes sense. My tummy growled. Is it time to eat?”
“So did mine.” Sam lifted from the chair. “Let’s go get your sisters and head on over to the dining hall. Thanks for the talk, son.”
“Anytime, Dad.”

Blessings, friends.


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