Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What’s My Age Again?

I noticed some time ago that I had a penchant for teens. I’m not sure why they are so fun to write (as opposed to how fun they are to live with)… I was talking to my friend Kas about it this morning (she is also enjoying writing a teen). And I’m wondering… it this strange? Do Kas and I have unresolved issues we’re working out? (I should probably note that she is barely removed from legitimately falling into the domain… legally an adult, but not yet a drinker—in those nether years… I’m more than twice that.

The thought though, led to a desire to explore characters of different ages… what are the appeals and drawbacks of children, teens, young adults, middle age… the elderly… I’ve loved characters from all age groups, but what about writing them?


I’m reading a book right now called ‘Elijah of Buxton’ by Christopher Paul Curtis (my son recommended it). The narrator is an eleven year old black boy, the first ‘born free’ in a community just across the Canadian border in Ontario (then called Canada West). Elijah is charming, but a huge amount of his appeal as a narrator is that he can see and describe things that he the boy doesn’t understand, but we the reader do. Children make wonderful ‘unreliable’ narrators and wonderful ‘fresh perspectives’. They can give us a reason to explain things that might otherwise be glossed over, but can add to the nuance and understanding. A child’s mistaken impression can add deep layers and emotional power. In CONFLUENCE I write from the perspective of Hannah, a five-year-old, and it was great to try on the naïve voice and wide open view of the world, though sometimes challenging, when there were things she really should not have been able to grasp.


So far these sassy, willful characters are my favorite. They’ve driven my stories in both my completed books, and one is driving my current WiP (my first male teen this time). Why not write YA, you ask? Because I do rotten things to them. My themes are adult, even if my characters are not always. But as characters teens can rebel, shake things up, act on their own, but are still worried about by others as children—bad things that happen to them seem more tragic than they would if they happened to an adult.

Young Adult

I haven’t written these, except the abandoned book I wrote when I technically fell into the demographic. I think, unlike the teen voice, it is just too recent to enjoy the recklessness of it. My half-written murder mystery has one for the MC, but she is an academic first in my mind—not typical of this age, though I am showing my agism by clumping all twenty-somethings together. In reality, they come in all shapes and sizes… some are even writer friends who will help me rule the world one day soon. I think though, I may have a fear of romanticizing a time in my own life that was a little self-destructive, master’s degree, marriage and first child notwithstanding.

“Real” Adult

There is a part of me that thinks this is what I ought to be writing, because theoretically, this is what I am. A career-aged person with family concerns… and I do seem to include these. Oddly though, this isn’t nearly as interesting to write… possibly because I am one… Maybe it’s because they issues they deal with are too real—there is no escapism to it. My NaNo heroine is exactly my age, chosen because I needed her to have been doing what she does for quite a while and it was easiest to keep the timeline straight if she and I had similar landmarks (college graduation, etc.). Her counterpart is eight years older, but that is just me knowing there is no more compatible pairing with a Firehorse than a Dog (Chinese astrologically speaking)—it is a loyal, friendly and ultimately compatible personality. Neither of these people though, is family people. He’s been married—no kids. She hasn’t been down that road. It makes them different… more fictional than the other people of this age I’ve written about.

Older people

I haven’t really delved here, except parents of my adults, but there are some FABULOUS older people I’ve read. I always think of Maeve Binchy’s older ladies—often these stories involve a new sweet romance even, and I love the idea that when I am that age I would be so genuine, wise, and…. Fresh. (I love how she pairs the young and old actually--and older lady and a tween--there is a nice dynamic to that).

So I’m curious what ages writers like to write about and why. Do you stick with favorite ages for your MCs or jump around? Do different ages call on different skills?


pineconegirl said...

I think that teens are so interesting to use as characters because they can also get away with so many things - make a mistake, may be life changing, but it does not necessarily have to permananent. It is often a chance to grow and mature. It is possible to "experiment" with many voices, styles, and cliches (today I'll go Goth, tomorrow, I'll be girly girl, the day after I'll be sullen, the day after that I'll be happy with my world) and people will say it's just a phase. If an adult tried that, we'd probably be committed.
I completely agree with you when you state that teens can explain things, or see things, and not have to deal with all of the implications.
I know that there are days when I wish I could write and re-write they way my pre-teen handles her emotions/hormones, etc. With a teen character, you can manipulate those to make the story have more depth, impact, but then sit down to dinner with the family and not necessarily have to live with the outcome.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This is a really interesting question, Hart. I've often wondered about this, too. I write 2 series with elderly protagonists--one in her 80s, one in her 60s. I find it much easier writing OUT of my peer group, for some reason. And I really don't know why! There is definitely something about older protagonists that draws me. It may be because my favorite relatives were grandparents.


Watery Tart said...

Marty-I'm clearly with you on the teen thing! It's funny, because I don't really have regrets, and I don't think my kids have gotten anywhere too bad other than hating me with some regularity (the son less often than the daughter) but it is FUN to be a SMART teen--one not quite so insecure or influenced by others... that is where I seem to head.

Elizabeth-I can totally see the appeal of older protagonists! And I agree, I think the real biggie is 'not me'. The young adult was too recent and the 'real adult' IS me and those just aren't nearly as fun.

Jan Morrison said...

Ah, synchronicity - I just found a nine year old rather eccentric girl in my story. I love that age - girls 9-12 - they could easily run the world and do it well. I can't wait to find out what she's going to do next and how she enters into the solving of the murder. I like old people in books too - I had a 92 year old dame in my last one who was essential - actually in feeling they are both very much alike which is to say they are both VERY individual and resiliant.

Creative Chronicler said...

What a wonderful topic to ponder. When I read, I like all ages, when I write...hmm... not sure yet. The book I'm currently working on is non-fiction so technically it's ageless, but for adults.

BTW, I featured your blog as 'The Ugly' (which means awesome) on my The Good The Bad & The Ugly Wednesday and you got an award. http://cc-chronicles.blogspot.com

Watery Tart said...

Jan--individual and resiliant are definitely qualities my characters that run away on their own have--people like that are just so much more interesting!

CC--I'm truly honored! And I've tried (who knows with how much success, I am technologially challenged) to add the email follow option...

Creative Chronicler said...

Thanks. I subscribed, so I let you know if it works.