Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Question

OK, here’s a question for my blog colleagues.

I’m working on a fantasy story in which a young human boy sees his father killed by raiders. The raiders are armed with crossbows. The boy runs at the raider who shot his father and tries to hit him, but the raider only laughs and kicks his feet from under him. The raider turns to his friends laughing, but the boy, lying on his back, notices a sheathed dagger at the raider’s hip, leaps up, grabs the dagger, and stabs the raider in the groin. He doesn’t kill him but wounds him pretty badly.

Now, here’s the question. What do you think would be the youngest age at which a boy might be able to carry out such an act? That means, he’d be old enough to realize what to do, how to do it, and physically carry out the act. I need the boy to grow up with the raiders and have very little memory of his own people.


cs harris said...

Well, I'm not sure I like being first, but here it goes: I'd say it's totally believable by the age of eight. If he's feisty, quick tempered and smart, and if he's set up ahead of time as a kid who regularly hunts and fights, you might be able to get away with several years younger. You see some pretty little kids toting guns in the troubled areas of the world.

Spy Scribbler said...

It might be tricky, but I think 5 or 6 might be possible, especially if he's grown up playing with toy swords and the like. The boy would probably be as tall as the man's belly button about then. If he grabs a dagger from the ground or his father's hand, he could be a little younger, since that wouldn't take quite as much skill as grabbing a dagger from a warrior's hip, LOL...

This is making me wince, but the groin thing... Is this from below, like up between his legs? (Ouch!) 'Cause if the raider has turned away, I'm assuming the groin has turned, too, LOL. And if not, then it'd be hard for the raider not to see the knife coming in a frontal assault.

LoveRundle said...

This sounds like it's a different era of time and children were far more grown-up at a much younger age back in the "time". Five year olds were helping their parents with pretty hard chores. I was thinking the same as Natasha, probably 5 or 6.

Merisi said...

I would say 8 years sounds plausible,
younger, hardly (I write this as the mother of four, who grew up playing in the woods behind the house, with a pretty strong boy, also thinking of a friend's boy that age).

I grew up working at my parent's farm from a young age, but I do not remember any kids younger than 8 doing any chores that would demand the physical strength to be able to hurts somebody with a dagger.

Thumbelina said...

Assuming adrenalin kicks in when in danger, then it gives us that extra "oomph", the almost "superhuman" strength to go the extra mile and get that extra boost of strength, quickness in thought...

If you want him really young, I reckon a three year old would manage this if -
- The knife fell to the ground when he kicked the boy, so drawing the boy's attention to it
- It's clear that the boy is kicking, punching and picks up the knife in the middle of all this and stabs him (ie he didn't reason out to stab the guy with the knife, but it happened in the boy's anger and as he was hitting out)
- stabs him in the back of the knee which is more a three year old's level.

If you want it more reasoned and calculated, he would need to be probably 7 or 8 I'd say. Depends on upbringing and background. The more used he is to the use of knives, particularly violently, the younger he could be to cold bloodedly stab some one. If this is in sharp contrast to his previous lifestyle, I would say he would need to be older to reason out and then cross the (moral) boundaries he hasn't previously crossed (and was brought up not to.)

I reckon to have him younger, but the boy notices the knife some how and in his anger (throwing stones? dirt? thumping?) he picks up the knife (without intention to kill or seriously wound) and plunges it in the back of the knee. Then he could be young as 3 or 4.

Geesh. I worry myself some times. ;0)

the walking man said...

Think of the age of the boy in the movie Braveheart...8 or so. Memories may be strong but they would also be distant.

Also within the body of the story there can be a drug or potion causing amnesia given by the raiders that inhibits or prohibits memory of anything but themselves.

Angie said...

Assuming this is a low-tech society, where young children are given more responsibility than they are in industrial, 21st century USA, and are used to seeing older people all around them carrying and using knives, then I'd go with the 5-6 range. And depending on the individual kid, 4 could work too. I've always been tall (I'm 5'11" now) and when I was 4 I was mistaken for an eight-year-old; a lot of the issue here is just size, which goes along with strength in kids, so if you establish that the kid is big for his age, he could be younger and pull this off.


G. B. Miller said...

Eight sounds plausible. Old enough to know what he's doing, but young enough to have scattered and distand memories of who he was prior to being made a prisoner/slave of the raiders.

Mariana Soffer said...

From the age of 8.
You can check it for real out of a true story in sierra leone, it is here, and it might also help you make more realistic your story:

It talks about:In Sierra Leone, child soldiers committed acts that words can barely describe. At the war's end, ravaged communities responded to them with terror and stigma. A minority of former child soldiers, many orphaned, have access to reintegration programs. Dance and movement therapist David Alan Harris describes an extraordinary project to respond to the traumatised psyche through engaging the body.

Let me know what you thought about the program.

Take care

Greg said...

that's a tough one. for him to do all that, i'd say he'd have to be 9 or 10. but my child psychology classes are far behind me -- is that too old for him to repress the memories? i would think 7 would be young enough to eventually forget what happened.

this is all just conjecture on my part. what if he saw a dagger laying on the floor? a younger boy could easily pick that up and stab him.

Aimlesswriter said...

I only had girls so I'm not sure about boys.
But I'd think a four year old might pull it off but he'd have to be a bit big for his age to have the power behind the knife to inflict the kind of damage you're looking for.
Definately the average 5 or 6 year old could do it.

Aimlesswriter said...

And I'm guessing this is more reactionary by the boy and not a planned move. If planned out quickly then he'd have to be at least 6 maybe?

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, the boy comes from a tough environment so I'm thinking of trying to put him at younger than 8. I'm just trying to remember what I and my nephews were like in those days, cause we did hunt and fish a lot.

Natasha, the raider feels the dagger being drawn out, spins around, and takes the shot.

Christina, that's kind of where I'm leaning. I started with 6 but would like to go a bit younger because of the memory aspect.

Merisi, I grew up on a farm too but I just don't remember when I did heavier chores. I know by 8 or 9 but I do remember slopping hogs at what might have been a younger age.

Thumbelina, I need to think about the location of the knife more then. Thanks.

Mark, the drug idea is a good one but the raiders are very unsophisticated nomads. Still, if I introduced a shaman type. Good thoughts.

Angie, good point about the size/age thing. I can certainly make him big for his age.

G., I remember Josh being very small at 4 but quite adept at things at 8. I have to find out when he started playing little league.

Mariana, I'll check it out. Thanks.

Greg, very young children can be pretty sophisticated intellectuallyl but not reason well because of lack of experience. 5 to 7 marks a big cognitive change in kids so maybe in that age range.

Aimless writer, he doesn't plan it per se. He's furiously angry, sees the dagger, grabs and stabs. I'm definitely going to make him big for his age.

Scott D. Parker said...

I'd go with late five or early six. That's wishy-washy, I know, but I think that's doable. He's old enough to know how to hurt someone but young enough to be able to be brainwashed by the raiders.

cs harris said...

I've had editors make me change the ages of children by several years because they said readers wouldn't find their actions or speech believable. I've also had reviews of my books say my children's ages were unbelievable, even when their abilities and vocabularies were those of my own girls who were the exact age of my characters at the time I was writing. So I now tend to err on the side of caution.

Ironically, in reading true stories of children taken from their families/societies, I'm always surprised at how OLD they can be and still utterly forget. Must be a repression kind of thing.

Middle Ditch said...

I'd say about eight too. Not younger.

Charles Gramlich said...

Scott Parker, I've been picking the brain of a colleague who has a 5 year old and I'm leaning the same way you are. If we keep in mind the role of harsh experience as a teacher.

Candy, there's probably gonna be a lot of variability in kids and adults just don't remember what it was like. Older is certainly more believable for the actions, and yes there does seem to be a lot of forgetting. Part of that is no doubt due to having to relearn so many tasks and perhaps a new language.

Middle Ditch, I'm going to check out some kid behavior psychology sites and see what they have to say. Thanks for your input.

Vesper said...

What an interesting question! The answer depends so much on the circumstances of that boy's life. At my daughters' school, a boy of almost six doesn't want to go to kindergarten because he doesn't want to leave his mum, but I know someone who was born in Lebanon and he told me that at five they were taught how to use guns. So, maybe, for the boy in your story 6 or 7 would be OK. He also needs the physical strength to do that not just the guts.

ivan said...


The gonads kicking in.

And what a fantastic plot outline!

Anonymous said...

I agree that an 8 year old from our culture could do it - but in a harsher background 6 or 7 is reasonable.

Hey - you need to check out "The Religion" by Tim Willocks. Its a wonderful book and I'm afraid you've just come pretty close to the opening chapter.

In Willocks' case its a 12 year old boy who is already working at his father's blacksmiths forge in medieval Germany. He kills one raider and is taken prisoner by their Muslim leader who eventually adopts him.

Of course he's old enough to remember his family.

moonrat said...

see, i was going to say 12, but the majority seems to be younger...

the point re: "just forgetting" v repressing memories is an interesting one.

jodi said...

Charles, My son was always VERY protective of me starting at an age of around 4. He (in an enraged, paniked state) could have very well inflicted a similar injury. A child does not have the physical strength then, however, one, perfect shot could do it. P.S. I love being referred to as a "colleague"!

Steve Malley said...

When I was seven I knocked out a kid a foot taller than me. Mad as I was, I wouldn't have cared much if he'd been twice my size, and if there'd been a weapon in view I'd most likely have used it.

I'll go with Natasha, 5 or 6, especially if the wound he inflicts isn't meant to be fatal. The wee tyke wouldn't need the strength to drive through a blade straight to the bone in order to wreak a fair amount of havoc with a nice, sharp edge.

Cloudia said...

"Stockholm Sundrome" (for short-hand) can occur at any (especially youngish) age. Therefore, your only lower age boundary is a
physical/coordination question that a teacher, child psychiatrist, or parent should answer, Charles.

hope this helped!

Comfort Spiral

Cloudia said...

What age are the kids that competed in the recent Mongol games in Mongolia?

Consider the child soldiers of Africa....

Charles Gramlich said...

Vesper, So much depends on experience. I think we often underestimate what kids are capable of

ivan, I think mine kicked in earlier.

Jon, that's kind of what I'm thinking as well. I haven't read that book, but I have seen similar plot lines in other stories so it's certainly not unique with me.

moonrat, repression generally requires something traumatic and maybe this situation I'm talking about would count that way.

jodi, I want to convey that it is a spur of the moment event that isn't planned but is sort of a perfect shot. I know very little kids can do things we might not think them capable of under certain circumstances.

Steve Malley, The raiders aren't armored either. They wear a loose burnoose, which might impede the blade a bit, but it's cloth and not leather, so I don't think a great deal of strength is required.

Cloudia, I think the physical issue is primary. The coordination is important. I'll have to check out the Mongol games. I've not heard of those.

Travis Cody said...

I'd believe it about about 6.

Lisa said...

It is tricky. Firstly, it is hard to imagine anyone, let alone a kid, able to grab a weapon from a warrior's hip. Secondly, it has to be the right age for the kid to feel anger and not be scared at the same time. And have the strength and agility to do what he did.

I wonder already about the fate of the kid after that. It must be a happy ending whatever it is. With so much reality shows going on, I miss the roller coaster ride. I want to arrive safely and feel that it is worth my money. Instead of going home and having to tell myself that it is just a movie. Books are worse because the effect would linger much longer.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction said...

My first thought was 7 or 8. 6 seems a bit young but still plausable. Look at some countries and youll find where boys grow up at a very young age with semi auto rifles in their hands ready to kill. Its sad, but this seems the type of life this boy would endure after the raiders take him. I commend the man for not killing him right then and there after that incident. Honor among raiders? :)

Erik Donald France said...

I'd say eight or nine.

Reminds me of Andrew Jackson getting slashed by a British trooper during the American Revoultion -- he was thirteen.

writtenwyrdd said...

In that sort of world, I'd think a kid would be used to life/death issues and would be capable physically at six or seven years. But I do think even a five year old, given the right circumstances, could kill. I don't think a five year old in the circumstances you describe, unless he suckers the guy somehow in order to grab that knife.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I vote for 8.

Anonymous said...

Havn't you seen the way 2 year olds can slap each other?

3 year olds have a pretty hard kick and can grab and punch, especially when they are resisitng perceived danger (such as a vaccination, for example)

A knife doesn't have to be wielded with much force to do damage- just has to be sharp and hit the right tendon or artery- which is a matter of chance.

I would say most likely 7 (but a 7 year-old would remember most things) but youngest possible - 3.

What a conundrum- writing isn't easy!

Johnny Yen said...

As a parent, I'd say about 8 years old.

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis, six was my first choice.

Ocean Girl, I've often found that kids experience one emotion very intensely that overwhelms others, so that anger could swamp fear fairly easily. It also depends on the warrior. A truly good warrior might not have turned his back on a kid either, but the raider I'm speaking of is relatively weak in some areas. The story will reveal the kid's fate.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction, In the story, the raider who is wounded tries to kill the kid, but another raider, impressed with the bravery of the child, protects him.

Erik Donald France, it's amazing what children can do when forced to it, I think.

writtenwyrdd, certainly, almost anything 'could' happen and probably has, but the plausibility factor is the biggie. I want people to think it's plausible.

pattinase, duly noted!

Cinnamon, you're right. It would have to call for a precise set of circumstances, but even very young children are capable of strong hits. The key is plausibility.

Johnny Yen, I'm sure my son could have done it at 8. amazing that I would forget what he was like physically in those young years. He's 22 now. Thanks for visiting.

Unknown said...

Definitely 8 as they're really getting into the 'feeling' of love and loyalty which would be plausible for it's his father he's just seen killed.

Chris Eldin said...

I'd say 8. Keeping in mind the Piaget thing you were talking about, you don't want him doubting this event was real or imagined...

Sounds like an interesting premise!

laughingwolf said...

if it were me, i'd go with age 6... that's when i became aware of outside forces... but at that age, would not forget 'family', so perhaps younger?

Johnny Yen said...

My son is fifteen, so the memory of his being that age is not quite as distant. He was always physically strong. My ex and I called him "Bam-Bam," after Barney Rubble's son, when he was a baby; he would regularly push furniture out of the way rather than walk around it.

I had forgotten the story about Andrew Jackson until Erik mentioned it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Gaston Studio, Around then is where they really become team players in sports as well. Or can at least.

Chris Eldin,The move to concrete operations, where fantasy plays somewhat lesser of a roll, generally starts between 5 and 7.

laughingwolf, I'm figuring he recalls his father, but maybe not much more than generalities about where and how he lived before.

Johnny Yen, I was amazed at some of the coordinated things my boy could do when he was quite small. I think we often tend to think them less capable than perhaps they are.

j said...

My son is eight and I think the horror of his father's death would cause fear and grief. I don't think he is old enough to feel the rage that it would take to pick up a dagger and stab another person.

I think 11 years old might be the magic number. Or twelve - the hormones kicking in would have to help with courage and yes, anger.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jennifer, The question is really more open ended than though it was. So much depends on experience and culture too.

Steven said...

I think it depends on the culture in which the boy grew up. In the Norse ("Viking") culture, young boys had weapons put in their hands as soon as they were old enough to carry them, around the age of 3. So yes, I think it would be plausible for a five or six year old boy to make a rational decision to plunge a knife in someone. Just depends on if your character grows in up that type of culture.

It will be interesting, to me, to see how the boy reacts after he has stabbed someone for the first time. How will he handle that situation emotionally?

Steven Till

Mary Witzl said...

I asked my guys and their answers were, variously, '9', 'll' and '13'. I'd say it depended a LOT on the boy and the way he was raised. I know 15-year-olds who couldn't do this with a gun to their heads. I know 7-year-olds I'd never turn my back on.