What's My Age Again?
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
Aurora did a post this spring about what makes a character in a fiction piece likable. Today I want to talk about developing characters of different ages. Yes, I named this post after a Blink 182 song. Don’t hate.
I often read adult fiction that may feature a child or teenager. Well, yeah, adult books can’t only have adults as characters; that would be ridiculous. The problem is, authors sometimes pick an age for a character but don’t have the character represent that age in a realistic way.
For example, I have read books about teens where every female character in the entire high school has the same interests, the same mannerisms, same opinions, etc. Sorry, but a fourteen-year-old does not act the same as an eighteen-year-old. Their goals have probably changed over the years. They have probably developed their own strong opinions on religion and politics, whereas younger teens are still struggling to find themselves. Teens might mature at different rates, sure, but I don’t know anyone who was the same person at eighteen that they were at fourteen. Also, don’t make all female characters some kind of weird cookie-cutter version of your idea of what a high school girl is like. Most adults have been to high school, so I can’t understand why they have forgotten what it was like there.
Another example is younger children in fiction. I have read a book, no joke, where the protagonist had a child of four who spoke in goo-goo gah-gah gibberish all the time. The child had no learning issues or mental disabilities. The author was trying to pass this off as normal. I have four children. This is not normal four-year-old behavior. I have legitimate discussions with my four-year-old daily where she expresses herself clearly and concisely.
Children of middle school age are sometimes more difficult to write because they are going through a lot of tough changes in a few short years. They are the most diverse when it comes to maturity and thought processes. Some act on impulse, often they never see the bigger picture, and concern over their next bathroom break might be more important than any drama going on. I know this because I have a pre-teen and I write middle grade fiction under a pen name.
If you are writing an age you aren’t familiar with, the best way to be sure you represent it correctly is to hang out with people of that age group. Sit near some teenage girls in a coffee shop. Watch kids interact at a playground. (Without coming off as a creepy stalker, please.) Never make assumptions about age groups. All old people don’t like to sit and reminisce of the past for hours. All babies don’t learn to walk before they are one. All teens aren’t constantly on their phones. Research. Use Google if you have to. Even better, show us details about your character that would explain why they are the way they are. If your teen has the maturity level of someone in their twenties, show us why.
Now I want to go listen to some Blink 182.