Undoubtedly, my career as a psychologist working with and studying adolescents informed my writing. I also found that kids provide all kinds of benefits when writing horror:
- They’re a cheap (manipulative) scare. When a kid is involved in a terrifying situation, the tension in enhanced more than if it was a couple of adults.
- A writer gets to play with a wider range of emotional and behavioral reactions with kids. Young characters can make mistakes based on immaturity, poor decision making, or self-centeredness and get away with it in the eyes of a reader. That is, readers will (generally) not lose empathy for these characters like they would for an adult acting in the same manner. An adult would be judged cowardly, selfish, or obnoxious. Typically, kids would not be judged the same way. One exception that comes to mind is the whiney little kid who gets eaten in the Walking Dead and putting everyone else at risk.
- Developing cognitive and emotional awareness also gives a writer a number of degrees of freedom in creating their characters. That’s why I like the age period of early adolescence – the middle school ages. This is a very difficult age group for adults – think of your own middle school experiences and your heart probably skips a beat – because hormonally-based emotionality is in overdrive. In addition, middle schoolers have difficulty putting into words their rush of emotions and are more inclined to act them out. The latter is often displayed in childlike antics that drive parents crazy. At the same time though, these kids are on the threshold of sophisticated cognitive processing. The expression of adult feelings and conversation becoming really possible—not to mention the consideration of abstract principles. The result is a series of potentially complex characters.