"This Bird Flew Away – writing the child’s perspective"
I’d like to begin by thanking Darlyn for inviting me to write here today. It‘s always such an honor to be asked to share my thoughts and experience with others.
For those meeting me for the first time here, my name is Lynda Martin and I’ve been a writer all my life, though life often pushed my writing onto the back burner (as it does for most of us, it seems.) Today, retired from business and child protection work, I finally have the time to devote to my passion, and to teach all I’ve learned from some of the great mentors I’ve been fortunate to meet and, further, to share that knowledge with those just starting out.
One of the greatest challenges I faced in the writing of the This Bird Flew Away had to be the voice of our young narrator, Bria Connelly. We meet her at nine – ‘almost ten’—and leave her at twenty-nine, so her voice had to grow along with her. Above all, it had to be genuine.
Early in the process of writing this book, I chose the first person, past tense point of view for both narrators – Bria and her Aunt Mary, who becomes her foster mother. Why? Because this is such an intimate tale of a dark subject, child exploitation and abuse; it needed to be handled sensitively, without overt drama and certainly without graphic exterior descriptions that none of us want to read. The first person point of view allowed me to write from the interior of the child, her reactions, her feelings.
My years of listening to young victims articulate their trauma had taught me some very useful truths that helped me present this crucial and pivotal, but blessedly short passage of the story in an authentic manner. Survivors always distance themselves from the atrocities committed against them. The language they use reflects their self-protection, as though what has happened did not happen to them, but to their bodies alone.They often described how they ‘flew away,’ escaping into their inner worlds and leaving behind the despicable cruelty perpetrated upon them. Their language is usually passive, often in the third person, detached from any immediacy.
That’s the great thing about children. Kids go about the business of being kids, no matter what goes on in their lives. They possess the most wonderful resilience, able to reinvent themselves over and over, despite all the appalling circumstances – abuse, domestic violence, war, disaster – that goes on around them. I find the juxtaposition of childhood innocence against the cruel, cruel world inspiring.
I wanted Bria’s voice to reflect all I’ve learned about children and their ability to maintain their sense of self, no matter what. Were it not for that wonderful optimism. I often wonder when and how we lose that as we grow into adulthood.
Authors often short-change their child characters, following society’s preconception that children are inarticulate and unable to express their inner selves. They do, but as children and we must become aware of the limitations of each stage of development and find creative ways for our characters to express themselves. Most importantly, we must write the child as she is, not as we wish children would be. Such writing tends to be precious, condescending and preachy. If asked to give an example of one author who handled childhood and its challenges well, my answer would be Harper Lee and her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) becomes a living, breathing, fully rounded little girl on the pages of this book, and I count this fictitious child among my friends.
Mary’s voice was easy, a mature woman perplexed and frustrated by her damaged daughter. I’ve been there; not only through my own two daughters, but with the number of foster daughters who enriched my life. Is there such a thing as thirteen going on thirty? Oh, most definitely yes, but also no.
Children forced to fend for themselves become street-wise, worldly, able to ape the mannerisms of adulthood – but they are not adults. Their brains do not function as an adult’s, no matter what their experiences. We must strive to keep true to that reality. Writing in the first person allowed me work with that disparity. We, the readers, are privy to Bria’s inner dialogue but those around her are not. They will see a girl older than her years, but we see the truth.
Bria’s journey from a young girl of nine to a woman of twenty-nine required many voices, and a great deal of introspection and remembering. Can you recall how you saw the world as a child? Writing from the viewpoint of the child allows us to describe our world from a fresh perspective, and perhaps to shed some of society’s preconceptions along the way. Children are painfully honest. What goes on in the mind is exactly what comes out; nothing is filtered, nothing censored. This is a great opportunity for a writer – no deviance, a lack of subtlety.
It’s a whole new way to see the world.
If you’d like to know more about this journey of discovery, the voice and world of the child’s perspective, here is a link to a full article I wrote as part of my ‘Good Writing Is… series,’ # 9 ‘The Importance of Voice #1 – Writing the Child’s Perspective’
"What is real love? The whole world wants to know. They should ask Bria Jean, because she has it all figured out. Opinionated, stubborn and full of woe, Bria would tell you real love is having one person you can always count on through thick and thin. For her, that's Jack. And it doesn't matter to her that she's nine and he's twenty-three-not one bit. When, at the age of twelve, Bria disappears, he and his Aunt Mary search for her, and when she surfaces, injured, abused and traumatized, Jack fights to become her guardian with no idea of the trials ahead of him. By then, Bria is thirteen going on thirty, full of her own ideas on how her life should run and with some very fixed notions about who is in charge."
About the Author
Lynda was born in Dunfirmline, Scotland in 1953, emigrated to Canada with her parents as a young girl. She grew up on the vast prairies of Western Canada, and loved the open wide spaces of that wild land. She was educated in Medicine Hat, Alberta, a town in the southeast corner of that province, and spent most of her time riding horses, barrel racing and hanging around rodeos and cowboys. Lynda and her husband Jim now make their home in the sunny state of Florida, and in her beloved Alberta. She has two daughters and four grandchildren. Now retired from child protection work, Lynda is a full-time writer, editor, writing teacher and coach. You may learn more about Lynda's writing, or her editing/coaching services for new writers at Lynda M. Martin, Writer and Editor.