Not Just a Number

08 Mar

For me, determining a character’s age is tricky. And I’m not alone.

On facebook, fellow MeeGenius author Kelly Ehasz said:

And then there’s Longest (a Longtailed Duck) . How exactly is a 4-month-old fledgling supposed to act? He’s in “Class 2” … I’m shooting for second grade.

I decided I’m lucky to be working with characters who are people. But still, making the characters consistent with the age I’m trying to make them is tough.

Janeal Falor had some great advice for determining character’s ages. She said:

For me, my character’s ages usually are defined by the type of plot I throw them into. What age they need to be to handle the situation. Haven’t changed an age of a character… yet.

This is some great advice. It makes perfect sense! But I wonder if this works for books like my current WIP (work-in-progress)? Ones that are character-driven?

Though I usually flesh-out the plot before I start, I’m currently adding scenes not on the outline. I’m letting my character drive these scenes (hence “character-driven”). And since she’s a feisty tomboy, where she chooses to go is not always the same as a “normal” kid her age.

But aren’t most kids like this? Like Mister. He’s not always the perfect example of a two-year old. But he’s real.

So I think some inconsistencies with age might be okay. They might even make a stronger character. Like a big tough guy who still sleeps with a teddy bear. Or a female toddler who fights villains. You get the idea.

But it is still my job to get as close as I can with my character. It determines what genre my book fits into, what ages my readers will likely be, and whether or not they’ll be able to identify with my character. Age in children’s fiction is a big deal. Not just a number like I tell myself on my birthday.

But how do I know if the age I’ve chosen is a right fit?

When I can (without getting arrested-chasing someone down the street yelling “Wait! How old are you!” might not be appropriate. I’d like to ask an eight-year-old how they know when someone is, say, five or ten.

Reading other material about and for kids the same age as my character also helps. There are lots of resources to help in this department. Like children’s librarians, bookstores that have helpful sales staff and books arranged by age group, or websites like this one

Determining my character’s age is another part of learning about writing, and one that I hope I can learn before my age gets too much higher.

Helpful Links:

How old do you act? Take the personality quiz:

NaNoWriMo forum threads on age:

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Character


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