Reader's age VS Character age

Addison

Auror
I've been thinking about this the last few days, especially after my kid sister just came crashing home with a bag full of Nancy Drew books.

Would the age of the main character impact, in any way, the target audience? Nancy Drew is in her late teens and she's read by third graders and up. So would having a character in... I don't know, early twenties or late teens, as the MC influence a book you are writing for ages pre-teen to teen?

I think, and believe, it's more about what you're writing (word choice, prose etc), but I want to make sure.
 

Velka

Sage
I think the age of the MC, when it comes to writing fiction for pre-teen to teen audiences can matter in some ways, dependant upon what your story is about. If your MC is in their early 20s and it's a contemporary urban fantasy then there will likely be aspects of their lives that an eleven year old reader will not be able to easily identify with or understand: having a job, living on their own, etc. Whereas a 17 year old MC will likely still be living at home, going to school, and inhabiting a life that is closer to the reader's own.

That being said, if the early 20s MC is in a fantasy world where life doesn't closely imitate reality then I don't think the gap would matter as much because the reader isn't going to bring as much of their own schema into the book (assuming that the story itself is accessible to the young reader).
 

soulless

Troubadour
Most of the books I have read this year so far have had late teen MCs, I am 32. Also, most of them have been female and I am male, so maybe I am just a freak lol.
 

Filk

Troubadour
Younger people have more dynamic lives and make for more interesting characters. There are exceptions (aren't there always?), but older people are generally more static and set in their ways. This makes it more challenging to create an older dynamic character. The late teens is a time of rites of passage and change for most cultures as far as I know as are the years leading up to that stage. This is a time to cull out the last bit of childishness and innocence in a person.


A main character is generally dynamic and it is easier to use an age when life changes for most everyone. I believe Robert Jordan started the Wheel of Time series using older characters and floundered and eventually realized that the naivete of younger characters is a good vehicle to equate their ignorance with the reader's (i.e. as the character learns about the world so does the reader).

I think anyone can relate to someone of any age or sex; writing is about the human condition.
 
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Jabrosky

Banned
Younger people have more dynamic lives and make for more interesting characters. There are exceptions (aren't there always?), but older people are generally more static and set in their ways. This makes it more challenging to create an older dynamic character. The late teens is a time of rites of passage and change for most cultures as far as I know as are the years leading up to that stage. This is a time to cull out the last bit of childishness and innocence in a person.


A main character is generally dynamic and it is easier to use an age when life changes for most everyone. I believe Robert Jordan started the Wheel of Time series using older characters and floundered and eventually realized that the naivete of younger characters is a good vehicle to equate their ignorance with the reader's (i.e. as the character learns about the world so does the reader).
I have definitely found that character development is easier when writing coming-of-age stories, for the whole point of these stories is the protagonists' maturation or acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Besides, as a young person myself (age 23), I have a more intimate knowledge of that narrative than older people may recall.
 

Addison

Auror
Thank you all for your replies.

What about the side characters. Let's say MC is 12, his best friend is 13, the two girls are 14 and the eldest friend 16. Would that be dynamic, too adult?
 

Jamber

Sage
Hi Addison,

I think it depends slightly more on the kinds of themes, language, content, etc, than character age (not to exclude the latter completely). That is, you can write a 12 year old in a way that can appeal to adults (there's a lot of appeal for me even now rereading Catcher in the Rye).

However it's more common to write for an audience who are in a similar demographic (not just age but also mentality) to the protagonist. I wouldn't say there's any reason why this has to totally control your choice of character ages, but it's definitely a consideration.

I don't think 16 is too old or too dynamic in a younger audience novel. However you'll be wanting to think about how you cover that 16 year old's perspective and how much you reveal (e.g. the things a 16 year old does could seem bizarre, unpleasant or mysterious to a younger child -- that's an interesting source of conflict for your narrative, I'd imagine).

Just some stray thoughts,

Jennie
 

HabeasCorpus

Minstrel
I think you've hit on a wonderful topic - the ability of the reader to identify with your characters. You've hit on one way that's done - just by their age and the associations that comes with that. Remember also that it's more than just their age, but the way they think, the way they reason through problems, the nature of the problems they face, the things that are important to them and the reasons for it... all of that is implicit in their age. At the same time, if you have a character of a different age, but who can relate to your targeted audience, that could free yourself up for more options if your story requires. Anecdotally, I know plenty of 16 year old boys in 40 year old bodies.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
It certainly will affect your market. If your story is filled with pre-teens, your publisher may decide to market it to that group.

That said, people certainly read outside their age group. I'm sure most of us here were reading fantasy and science fiction at age fourteen or fifteen in which all the characters were grownups. And never thought twice about it.

I will confess that I'm pretty tired of coming-of-age stories. Then again, I'm not much interested in old age stories. The reason, I believe, is the same for both: in such tales, the point becomes more about the premise than about the characters. I just want interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places. How old they are, what race they are, what gender they are, these things I don't find (usually; always exceptions) to be interesting.
 

Addison

Auror
Lots of varying opinions.

Here's something to pick at. A coming-of-age story vs a sort of rite-of-passage story. Let's say there was a character....12 years old for the heck of it. Magical world, he thought he was the only magic person but realizes through a series of events that he's not. Afterwards, in the real world with all the other magic people, he tries to get himself situated in the real world.

To me this sounds like rite-of-passage. From a sort of outsider to part of the community. What do you guys think?
 

Kevlar

Troubadour
I think it does have some effect, yes, but a larger one would be the themes and particulars of your story. I'll use A Song of Ice and Fire as an example. Definitely not a children's series, but here are all the viewpoint characters of the first book, along with the ages they were in A Game of Thrones:

- Arya Stark (9)
- Bran Stark (7)
- Catelyn Stark (~34)
- Daenerys Targaryen (13)
- Eddard Stark (~35)
- Jon Snow (14)
- Sansa Stark (11)
- Tyrion Lannister (~24)

That's an average age of 18, but a median of 13.5. To better put it in perspective 5/8 POV characters are 14 and under. As I've said, this is most certainly not a children's novel, yet most of the main characters are children or early teenagers. I think the average age of his readers is likely considerably higher than the average of his characters.
 
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