forum Writing a Realistic Preteen
Started by @ToWorldsUnknown group

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@ToWorldsUnknown group

I'm currently working on a dystopian horror writing project that stemmed from English class. The protagonist is an 11 to 12-year-old girl, but I feel like I would end up writing her to sound much older. How do I write a preteen female accurately?

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Try to remember what it was like being 11 or 12…I think people tend to write 12-year-olds as immature in ways that I don't remember being when I was that age.

I can recognize that there were things I didn't understand, that would be important to understand, that nobody would tell me more about or give me the tools to understand—financial literacy (why was everything I wanted to have too expensive, what made something expensive, there had to be a more complex process than the "yes" or "no" from a parent on the proposed purchase), socialization (such as the real reasons for bullying and emotional abuse dynamics between peers—this issue dismissed with "this is how you learn to socialize, though" or "you'll grow out of it" when the adults really meant that 'we can't be bothered because none of your perspectives, experiences, or decisions are worth considering: you're twelve'), or various life skills…I understand there are some 11-year-olds who were allowed to or even expected/forced to use public transportation, but I was very sheltered and restricted and not allowed to go anywhere outside of home or school—so I never knew where everything was located in the city that I lived in, even though I fully believe that I could have known this if only I had been taught, and that it would be useful and valuable knowledge that would last me my whole life there. I would be so jealous reading about people my age who walked to school as though the public sidewalks weren't verboten.

There were some 11-year-olds or 12-year-olds who spout the worst takes and then try to dodge conversations or debates about it with "but I'm only 11 :( why are you fighting with an 11-year-old" and I hated that because when I was 11 I wanted to be taken as seriously as any adult whose opinions and decisions were respected. I still don't believe that I was wrong to want that—and the "life experience" that changed my standpoints on what would have been my own preteen bad takes is, really, a very small proportion compared to access to existing information that was deliberately witheld from me because the adults in my life simply decided that I was too young to need that information—when I absolutely did need that information, and absolutely would have understood it well enough.

To answer your question, I think:

  1. it depends on the personality of the 11-year-old. Is she this joie de vivre type who does whatever she feels like doing impulsively, or is she shy and quiet or anxious, or is she a people-pleaser, or does she struggle to understand and process strong emotions so that she lashes out at others, and how does she live with the expectations heaped on an 11-year-old? How "pretentious" is she forced to be in a world that she doesn't fully understand, or how "pretentious" is she inclined to be (because maybe she's the type who will say outright what she wants to say, but limited by the way she knows to say things)? How selfish is she? How curious is she? How kind is she?

  2. It also depends on how she's treated. The personality can determine what her reaction to being treated in whatever way…So, by "expectations" does she really live with a lack of expectations for her such as absent caretakers or always being spoken over as though she has no mind of her own? Or is she treated like an "accessory" of her parents/guardians where they expect her to know the appropriate behavior and courtesy, and to be all appearance and no thoughts or feelings about anything? Or something else?

  3. How does she explain the world to herself? Depending on what she's been reading or who she's been listening to, her vocabulary will be different—not only what she can say, but what she can understand or has found helpful and applicable.

  4. Finally…How do the Dystopian factors influence her character? Does she fully trust in and support every soundbyte that society gives her, because it always applies and is therefore helpful to how she lives life? Or does she do everything wrong and get scared? Or is she proud of pushing back, even if she wasn't really told what that means or doesn't have the perspective of experience?

The comic book autobiography Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi portrays this very well—her parents taught her to be against discrimination by social classes, but scold her for playing matchmaker between their adult housekeeper and the neighbor's middle-class adult son; when the dust from the Iranian cultural revolution settles down, the victors who write the histories try to reeducate the children, and preteen Marjane keeps speaking out against it in the classroom because of what she lived through…her parents decide to pull her out of school because while she knows that what she's saying is true, she doesn't have enough perspective and life experience to comprehend how dangerous it really is to continue speaking the truth when the forefathers of their dystopia have already won. Sometimes that's what it's like to be 12.


(All of that was really good, I'm just adding on a little bit of my own experience as well aha)
Most preteens tend to care a lot about what others think of them. They think it's best to go with the flow and do what everybody else is doing so they don't get made fun of. (Highschool is really where people can start following their passions now closely)
It's important to note that puberty is generally happening during those years, and that can make people very uncomfortable with themselves and how they view others. Trying to figure out their feelings for another person while their body is changing at the same time is difficult, and doesn't help with self image issues (acne in particular, and girls finding that they suddenly need to shave although they didn't have body hair before). Many people are constantly trying to figure out what's "cool" so they can just blend in, or hopefully, be liked.
Preteens also often struggle with the idea of still being treated like children or extensions of their parents even though they're feeling more independent now that they're big middle schoolers. Some people (emphasis on some, this is definitely not everyone) start being more defiant at this age to assert their individuality and independence (at least in America, this is very common. It'll vary from place to place, for sure)
At this age, people haven't really learned how to handle all these new emotions or other traumatic events. People might develop depression or anxiety from the stress of social life, or from other things around them that they don't want to talk about for fear of being seen as "weak" or "weird". With me personally, when I was 11, my sister tried to kill herself and had to be put in a mental hospital. However, I never mentioned it at school, or that I was struggling with some of the same symptoms. In fact, I didn't get help from a therapist until the middle of eighth grade, since my parents noticed I mentioned being anxious more often than usual, and that was all they noticed. Some kids are really good at putting up a face. "Middle school is where you learn social skills" is true, definitely. However, you're learning a lot about how to follow the crowd and keep up your public image, which are unfortunately "important" skills throughout your lifetime.
If you have any questions about my personal experiences, though, I'm happy to answer them <3