As a writer, and being fond of YA as well as goth (Man, maybe I'll do The Cult Of The Necromancer's Children after all) lit, I have to know how my characters work. This leaves me trying to come up with definitions for things we're usually content to leave with 'I know it when I see it'.
And I was watching Kiki's Delivery Service, because it's AWESOME, and I got an inspiration to update my theory of 'innocence'.
Innocence is a tough one, and it's bread and butter if you're writing YA. I mean, what is innocence? It's not ignorance. I'm fascinated by stories of abused children, and you can see shocking innocence in a child who's prepared to commit murder because she's been abused sexually for years. That's an extreme example, but that's why I'm using it. You know it when you see it, and you see it in young children (and sometimes old people) who know too much. And that gives it even more power.
So what is innocence? My new theory is that innocence is system of ignorance, not the ignorance itself. It is the set of attitudes and emotions that come along with viewing the world as something new that you're still figuring out. Any knowledge, no matter how much the innocent has, is considered a drop in the bucket and fresh mysteries are around every corner. It's taken as a given that they're around every corner.
For a cute example, turn over a rock. The jaded person won't bother. Why? There's dirt under there. For the innocent there might be bugs, a weird damp patch, someone's lost keys, or in extreme cases a dragon. Who knows? Every rock is a new possibility.
For an example on the other end, take sexual relationships. Stories of teens winding their way through their early relationships are charming because of the innocence. Heck, even late teens. Two seemingly identical scenarios (difficult, because attitudes change behavior, but possible). Subjects meet someone in a bar, strike up a conversation, get drunk, have sex. One of them spends the whole time asking him/herself questions like 'How far will this go? Should I kiss her? Is this love? Does she like me?' The other knows how this will go, and is expecting it. They may have both done this before and have equal experience, but one seems much more innocent than the other.
It is the attitude that the world is open-ended and full of possibilities, or that the world is predictable and completely understood, that differentiates innocence from jaded corruption. I think I've got it this time, and it's a useful tool.