1. Middie
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    Middie Member

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    How old should my main characters be?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Middie, Jun 16, 2016.

    I'm currently working on two different stories, and in both of them, my protagonists are fourteen. However, I've been hearing recently that books with fourteen-year-old protagonists are generally a "no man's land" between middle grade and young adult novels, and publishers often suggest to either age them up for a YA audience, or down for a MG audience. Apparently, teens prefer to read books where the main characters are slightly older than them, so for a YA novel with a target age range of somewhere from 13-18, the main character should be somewhere in the 15-18 range.

    The first story I'm writing is definitely more of a YA novel than an MG one, but at the same time, I originally envisioned the main cast (there are five of them, all the same age) being on the younger side. They still need to be old enough to realistically take on adult characters, provided that they have enough skill and experience (which three of the five of them do), but they also need to be young enough so that older characters still view them as somewhat innocent. It's brought up throughout the book that the main characters grew up too fast, and aren't as innocent as they should be. Maybe it's just me being stubborn because I originally made them thirteen, and already bumped them up to fourteen, but I'm a little concerned that if I age them up to fifteen or sixteen, the adult characters wouldn't be as likely to view them as children, and the whole idea that they're more mature than they should be will kind of lose it's weight.

    The second story I'm writing is quite a bit darker, so I'd definitely say it's a YA novel. This book also has a main cast of five characters (six, later on), but of varying ages. This story is more character-driven, and focuses a lot on the relationships between the characters in the book. Although they're not related, there's a family dynamic between them -- the protagonist has characters that he interacts with like he would a younger sister, an older brother, a father, etc. For this reason, I feel as though the age of this protagonist is less important than in the first book, and I'm somewhat concerned that if I bump up his age, I'll have to bump up the ages of everyone else in order for their relationships to stay the same. This book does have some pretty dark moments though, so it's definitely YA, and I haven't heard very optimistic things about books where the protagonist is younger than the target audience.

    So... Any thoughts?
     
  2. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    The idea that teens prefer to read books where the main characters are slightly older than them is based on very old and meaningless data. Kids will read anything so long as it's about something in which they are interested.

    The literary landscape has changed since those studies were carried out. The market has changed. Readers have changed.

    14 year old protagonists are going to resonate more strongly with some than with others. That can be said of any trait. Gender, race, sexuality, weapon of choice, so on.
     
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  3. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    There's really no rule. It's about what you want to do and how well it achieves that. So, do the ages feel right? Do people who have read/heard about your story like it? That's what you should be aiming for. Generally, having characters around the age of your target demographic/s is good, but it doesn't need to be exact and it really depends. There's a decent number of thoughtful works involving quite young children but aimed for adults.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2016
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  4. Buttered Toast
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    Buttered Toast Active Member

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    My group of characters are all 14 and I haven't ever heard it's a no go area either?
    My own opinion is to go whatever way you feel fit, I picked the age so I knew they wouldn't change much in physical appearance, I wanted them to look a certain way and not grow up too much, I would consider them young adults at 14-15 and without going for full on adults there is no other way.
     
  5. Buttered Toast
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    Buttered Toast Active Member

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    Oh and also I like to work them up through their ages, I find it interesting to see them grow and become mature :)
     

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