I’ve been thinking a lot about characters lately…mostly about writing them with an authentic voice. You know what I mean. Making them read like a real person.
In addition to the middle grade novel that I’ve been working on, I’ve begun another story, one that’s completely different. It’s a story for adults! Whereas my children’s novel centers on a group of five eleven year -olds, this new story will be centered on three adults. Yeah, like as in grown-ups.
I’ve never written a story for adults before. Sure I’ve included grown- ups in my middle grade books. I’ve even written them with an authentic voice. But that’s different. They’ve never carried one of my stories before. They’ve never been the focus. In this book they will be.
I’m not writing this book to get it published. But I am writing it for professional reasons. A client is looking for a fictional story based around his business. Pretty cool, huh? So, I’m writing this story and I need the grown-ups to sound real. The reader needs to care about them. That’s my job. And it will be a challenge. I’m up for it, but it has me thinking a lot about how to write about a group of adults who are my age.
How do I do that??
Well, I do know a thing or two about myself, my friends, my siblings, my colleagues and many others who are around my same age. I’d say that makes me qualified to write about a character my age. The trick for me is getting inside the head of a person I know or have met, or even a few people, and use this information to create a completely made up character. It’s not much different from creating a completely made up eleven year- old.
So, in my quest to really understand the way grown-ups think, my fourteen year-old son came home from school today with an interesting comment from his teacher.
She told his class that they were not just a bunch of fourteen year-olds. They were a bunch of kids who were fourteen but who had also already been one and three and five and ten and now fourteen years of age. They were in fact all their previous ages including their current age rolled into one.
That’s what I said too.
She said that if you’re fourteen, you’ve already been thirteen, and also twelve, and eleven, and ten, and nine, and so on. She said that you are now a mix of the experiences you had when you were each of these ages. Then she gave the kids an example of what she meant.
“If you are fourteen years- old today, you may feel anxious about your Social Studies exam. You may also feel excited about your baseball game tonight. And…you may also feel nervous to talk to the girl you’ve had a crush on since fourth grade. Your reactions to these things are reactions of you as a fourteen year- old. You may try to calm yourself down about the exam by studying. You may play music right before the game to get into the zone. You may walk right by the girl you like because you’re afraid she’ll ignore you.”
“Sometimes though, you may revert back to your five year old self. You may sit real close to your mom on the couch during a thunder storm because that’s what you always did as a five year-old when you were scared and it always made you feel better. You may cry when you fall off your bike and break your arm. That’s what you did as a three year- old and even though now you’re fourteen, sometimes nothing else seems to work. Crying is the best response. Just like when you were three.”
I think that theory is really interesting. In fact, it explains a lot of things about me. Namely, is that why I like pop music meant for fifteen year-olds? Because I liked pop music when I was fifteen? Is that why I like writing for twelve year-olds? Because I loved middle grade books so much when I was young? Is that why I like to write for younger kids? Because I can still remember being in sixth grade like it was yesterday? I can remember my first crush and how it felt when he liked someone else instead of me. I can remember how I felt hanging out with my friends and riding my bike free as a bird. I can remember wanting to crawl into a hole until the world sucked me in when my best friend talked about me behind my back and said stuff that wasn’t true.
I can remember those feelings clearly. I can remember other feelings from when I was other ages as well. I bet you can too. And so my son’s teacher’s comment about us being the age we currently are, plus the ages we have already been may sound weird, but it may also be true. I am the person I am today because of the experiences I’ve had at every age of my life. The same is true for you.
But what does that have to do with writing? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. It might be the key to creating characters that are believable. How did you feel at ten years- old? How about sixteen? Or even at thirty? If you can tap into those feelings, you’re well on your way to creating characters the rest of us want to read about.
So what do you think? What age do you remember most? Which age do you identify with? Tell us in the comment box below. Mine is ten. And also twelve. And sixteen. Oh and also seventeen, the year I went away to college. But wait, I got married at 26 so I can really remember that age too… 🙂