GUEST BLOG: Child Characters by Elizabeth HoytWednesday, August 1, 2012 10:00
Hi everyone, and a special ‘Thank You’ to Liviania for having me (Elizabeth Hoyt) on The Good, The Bad and The Unread!
Child characters can be a real pain to write in romance. They can come off as too old, too young, or just plain irritating. A lot of readers say they don’t like children or babies in romances—it detracts from the chemistry between the hero and heroine. So why would an author put a child character in her book? Well, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Children do exist in the real world after all and sometimes it would be odd to omit a child character. If your heroine is a school teacher or mother—or your hero the manager of an orphanage—a child is going to have to be in the book. Sometimes a child character can just be in a walk-on part to add color to a scene.
But what if the child character is more?
Children by their very definition are innocents. They see the world in much more black and white terms, which can be useful for the author. A child character can reveal what the adults are hiding or point out the obvious that the adults have avoided or missed. She can be the emotional center of a story. A child has a harder time concealing emotions. She can cry when the heroine can’t or become angry when the hero is supposed to be neutral.
But the best child characters are not just reflections of the adult characters; they have their own emotional arc within a story. In my latest book, Thief of Shadows, the hero, Winter Makepeace, is the manager of an orphanage in St. Giles, the worst slum in London. One of the boys at the orphanage, Joseph Tinbox, is rather a favorite of Winter’s—even though he isn’t supposed to have favorites. Here’s a scene between Winter and Joseph Tinbox:
All the boys were at lessons. The minute that Winter walked into the classroom and saw Joseph Tinbox he could tell that the boy had already heard the news.”Joseph Tinbox, may I have a word with you?”
The other boys stared at Joseph as if watching a condemned prisoner. Joseph swallowed and rose from the bench he’d been sitting on. As the boy walked toward him, Winter noticed how tall he’d become. He could almost look Winter in the eye. Only a year ago he’d been less than shoulder height. Now he was nearly the height of a man.
Joseph stopped before him and said low so the other boys wouldn’t hear, “Do I have to?”
The sound of his voice cracking on the last word nearly made Winter’s heart split in two. “Yes, you must.”
Joseph lowered his head and proceeded Winter out of the classroom. Winter looked about the hallway for a moment, nonplussed, before leading Joseph to the sickroom. It was empty at present—Peach had felt well enough to join one of the girls’ lessons.
He shut the door and looked at the lad. “You’ve heard, I take it?”
Joseph Tinbox nodded mutely. “Some toff wants to send me off to sea.”
Winter sat on Peach’s empty bed. “He wants to do much more than that, Joseph. He’s promised to buy you a commission in his Majesty’s Royal Navy.”
The grandeur of the name alone was enough to make Joseph’s face break with awe—for a second, no longer. Then he resumed the stubborn expression he’d had upon entering the room. “I don’t want to go.”
Winter nodded. “Of course not. You’ve never been to sea, you will be leaving everyone—and everything—you know. But I’m afraid that doesn’t matter. You’re going to have to be as brave as you’ve ever been, Joseph, because you simply can’t pass up this opportunity.”
Joseph’s eyes darted to the bed Winter was sitting on. “Can’t. Peach needs me.”
For a second Winter wanted to close his eyes and admit defeat. Most of the children came to the Home alone—bereft of both kin and friend. So it was doubly wonderful when they chose to make a friend. To become close to another child alone and lonely in the world. Joseph had, out of pure altruism, become Peach’s protector…and friend. To tear apart such a bond was surely a sin.
But that didn’t matter.
Winter leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “Most of the boys who leave here become apprentices, you know that, don’t you, Joseph?”
Joseph nodded warily.
“If they are lucky, after years of service, they might become a cobbler or butcher or weaver. All honest trades. All good enough lives.”
Winter spread wide his hands. “But you, Joseph, you have the opportunity now to become more. You can become a gentleman. Once in the Royal Navy—as an officer, not a simple seaman—if you work hard, are brave, and smart, you can rise far above any of the other boys here. Someday you might be captain of your own ship.”
The boy’s eyes widened before he bit his lip. “But the sea. What if I don’t like the sea, sir?”
At that Winter smiled, for it was the one thing he was certain of. “You will. You’ll learn how to sail a ship, listen to the stories of the older boys and men, and travel to wondrous lands far, far away from England. Joseph, it will be the most amazing adventure of your life.”
For a moment Winter was sure he’d won the match. Had convinced Joseph that this decision was the best for the boy in the long run.
Then Joseph Tinbox’s eyes landed on the pillow, still indented from Peach’s head. He stared for a moment, his eyes uncertain and then he looked at Winter, resolute. “I’m sorry, sir. It sounds a treat, really it does, but I can’t leave Peach by herself.”
Winter swallowed. He felt so weary, so tired of fighting and fighting without cessation. Without even a little rest.
But that was maudlin self-pity.
“I’m sorry, too, Joseph Tinbox, for I fear you’ve mistaken the matter.” He rose from the bed. “I’m not asking you to go. I’m ordering you.”
I hope you enjoy Joseph Tinbox’s story in Thief of Shadows!
I have one copy of Thief of Shadows, the fourth book in the Maiden Lane series, to give away to a reader in the U.S. or Canada. Just leave a comment saying what you think of the series, the excerpt, or who your favorite child character is. The winner will be picked in a week.