Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Handling Age Appropriate Language

So I spent a week with 15 middle schoolers and I learned some helpful things about my audience. Our group included children who just graduated 5th grade and children graduating 8th grade. Wow there is a difference. On one day we went and cleaned the training facility of Blue Ridge Assistance Dogs. We swept, vacuumed and washed away dog hair as well as cleaning up the outside yard.

As I was already aware, some jobs are preferable to other jobs and no job is preferable forever. Many of these kids had no experience vacuuming, sweeping or doing other household tasks. The tasks they most clearly understood they were best at and the older they were the better they were at their tasks. Two of the older girls very thoroughly cleaned the cat cage. They have a cat at the facility so the dogs will be acclimated to cats and not go chasing them.

So my first learning is my characters are going to start doing age appropriate chores, though Henry is quite vocal that he hates chores. Maybe at some point he will grow up enough to accept the responsibility of chores. The second learning was that I write about 7th and 8th graders primarily for a 4th through 6th grade audience. So for me this means that my characters are dealing with the experiences of 7th and 8th grade, but sharing them in ways appropriate for 4th – 6th graders.

One clear example of this is in language. This was made quite clear to me when a soon to be 6th grader very quietly and innocently came up to me to tell me one of the soon to be 9th graders was using the f word rather freely. I pulled the guilty party aside and said I heard he had been dropping the f-bomb and I didn't mean fart. I told him I didn't like the word but also explained the difference between what he says in front of his friends and what he says in front of the younger kids. 

In real life 7th and 8th graders are experimenting with such language as they seek to appear tough or mature, neither of which is accomplished through the use of the f-word. I think if I did include such language I would have one of the other characters tell the offending character that it just made him look like a little kid trying to sound tough. 

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