1. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    Questions about Names and writing someone middle-aged

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lilly James Haro, Nov 7, 2014.

    So for the novel I am currently writing I am trying to reveal as little about the narrator's physical appearance as possible because I am trying to make the narrator someone the reader can visualise anyway they want. All that is revealed about her is that she is a woman in her mid-40s whose name is Dr Black. It is because of my idea for her that I am hesitant to give her a first name because for me, first names reveal a lot about who someone is and where the come from, which is something I want the reader to see from how she acts not what her name is. So I am wondering, would you find it weird or distracting if the main character is only referred to by her title or last name? Does it seem weird outside of a military-type setting?

    My second question is, is there anything I should know when writing a middle-aged character? I am just cautious because I am a young teenager myself, and I can only go off what I think adults are like. So, if you could give me any clues when it comes to writing about middle-aged people I would really appreciate it.

    Thank you :)
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Lilly James,

    Perhaps you could help us out a little...give us how you see your middle-aged character so we've got something specific to give advice on...the biggest thing is that there is no such thing as a typical M-A.C...some have matured into staid, responsible pillars of society, some are still rebellious anarchists, some are self-confident, some still have angsty moments (and those who appear most self-confident are often those who have the angsty moments because they're just putting on a show).

    Is Dr. Black a medical doctor - a surgeon, dentist, GP, physician, psychiatrist? Or a Ph.D? I once met a man who had Ph.D on his business card ("but I don't like to boast about it" - like hell!) Is she going to be a self-important ***** like Greg House, or a kind, caring person more like Wilson?
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I just finished reading Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger, which is written in 1st person, and the narrator (in his mid-40s too) is called Dr Faraday. I don't think his first name is ever mentioned, unless I completely missed it. Even if I did, it didn't matter to me, so no, I wouldn't find it distracting. Though, of course, anything can be done awkwardly.

    I'm not sure I agree with your justification for leaving it out, but nothing's stopping you, so by all means, go for it. :)

    I think you'd want to take into account their life experiences and how they affect their thoughts, opinions, demeanor, behavior etc. 40-somethings won't be making the same mistakes as teenagers, not that often anyway. You'd also very likely know things a teenager wouldn't, like what it's like to go through divorce, raise a child, notice how your body doesn't do things as efficiently as it used to, etc. But not all of this applies to everyone. Depends on your character, how you write her. As a doctor, she must've seen a lot during her career, some things may've even fundamentally changed her from the person she was in her twenties, for example.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Just as you wouldn't write a stereotypical teenage character, you don't want to write a stereotypical middle age character. When I hit my mid-40s, I honestly thought it was the best time of my life. My career was moving along nicely, kids were doing well (with help we were able to get for them), marriage was solid (and still is) and aging was still a long way off. But then there's Billy Crystal's line in "City Slickers": "Did you ever look at yourself and say, 'this is the best I'm ever gonna look, the best I'm ever gonna feel, the best I'm ever gonna do'...and it's not that great?"

    I see two challenges for you, not one. There is the matter of writing about a character with much more life experience than you have. But there is also the matter of writing about someone in a field in which you have little or no education. What kind of doctor is she? A family doctor? A surgeon? Psychiatrist? Whatever it is, you need to learn something about the field so that you can give her the vocabulary she would have, even if little of her professional capacity plays into your story. You will want her to "feel" right to readers. You also might want to read articles and stories about people in middle age, the challenges they face and the emotional reactions they have to them. When we read your story, we want to read characters who are flesh and blood, filled out with life's successes and failures. We don't want to look at a cardboard cutout. :D

    I also don't think a character's first name reveals anything at all about them unless we want it to - that is, unless the writer chooses a name to signify something specific (e.g. Ebenezer Scrooge).

    Good luck with what sounds like an ambitious project.
     
  5. Lancie
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    Lancie Contributing Member

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    Referring to your character as Dr Black could in itself give a lot away about the character depending on how you write it. They could be cold and clinical, a workaholic, pretentious, or they could come across as mysterious (Doctor Who...?). I wouldn't find it strange. One of my favourite books, The Gargoyle, is written in first person never gives either names of the narrator.
     
  6. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    I just realised how ambiguous that sounded, my apologises!
    Basically, the story is written as though it was Dr Black's confession, an autobiography retelling the greatest regret she had and how it led to the deaths of two innocent people. She is more like a psychiatrist I suppose, the story is about a dystopia and her job is to access people's mental stability and how they have contributed to society to say whether they deserve a place in this safe island that is the only place free of war. She was a kind and caring woman but a woman who was weak and naïve when she was younger. However, now she has been changed into a woman who can't see much past her guilt and who is devoid of life when she tries to communicate with others because of what she had done when she was younger.
     
  7. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    I fully intend to do I a lot of research regarding psychiatry before writing those parts of the novel to try and make it more believable. Also I wasn't trying to say that I thought middle-aged people are all alike, I think my starting post wasn't worded very well. I was just curious as to whether there were any little quirks that a lot of middle-aged people tend to have or the like.
     
  8. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    Thank you everyone for your help :)
     
  9. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    The only problems with not having a first name will arise if she has close personal interactions where people who know her well wouldn't naturally just call her Doctor. Does she have a private life or only professional interactions in your story?
     
  10. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    General thought...at 35, you still think you're young, at 45, you're starting to think you're getting old. I did some research into older athletes...from 35-50 you slow down at 3% per 5 years, from 50-100 you slow down at 5% per 5 years for men, 8% per 5 years for women. Also, for a woman, she's probably past child-bearing (don't know whether this affects women's greater slowing-down) so, does she have children? If not, was it her decision, or circumstances, and does she have regrets about that? If she does have children, what's her relationship with them?

    A few questions...I'm not looking for you to tell me the answers, but I think that you need to know them as part of her back-story, so that you can be consistent and convincing in your portrayal.
    In what way was she weak and naive?
    How did her actions lead to these deaths? (Incidentally, I heard of an incident where the doctor in charge had passed patient fit to go home. Another member of the team noticed something, put pressure on for further tests. One major op later, the patient actually went home. But it could have gone horribly wrong...but, if it had, the doctor probably wouldn't have known - of if he had, he'd probably have been struck off.)


    I'm struggling a bit with "devoid of life because of her guilt"...I'd have expected her either to have ceased to function in any shape or form, or to have come to terms with it ("shit happens") and move on. I can see that she might want to commit her regrets to paper as a form of therapy, possibly she herself is undergoing a course of therapy to get her mental balance back to win her place on this island, or keep her job?
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I don't know I can give you a lot of help or perspective on "how middle aged people act". But I do want to point out that the concept of middle aged as well as the numbers associated with it have shifted drastically over the past few decades. With more an more people living into their nineties and even past 100 the 'meter' on aging has been adjusted as well. Middle age is now looked at as somewhere around 55 or 60 and on to around 70 or 75.

    Society is constantly adjusting 'things' to fit the immediate needs. (Did you know a woman wearing a size 4 today would have been wearing a size ten about fifty years ago!!!)

    In any case, it might help to adjust your vision of your doctor on two fronts. First of all, middle age is not some blanket description that will totally encompass everything about the character, so stop thinking of her as middle aged. She is an individual; second, stop thinking of all mid-forty-ish people as being the same. I mean, all seventeen year olds are not alike and all 24 year olds are not alike. All men are not alike and all women are not alike. So why on earth should all forty-something women doctors be alike? It would be nearly impossible to class all of any age group into one nice, clean lump. Hmm. Come to think of it, wouldn't that be considered bigotry? Are you being an ageist?

    Take what you see of people in the age range of your character, both in real life as well as in books and on screen. Take what bits and pieces you can use for your Dr. Black and, with a little theoretical sandpaper, smooth off the rough edges. Then insert the particulars you need for your character and THAT is YOUR forty-something Dr. Black.
     
  12. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    I would appreciate if you didn't act so rude and call me a bigot, thanks.

    I already explained in a previous response that I was merely asking if there was any quirks as such that middle-aged people tend to have and while you may argue that the middle-aged is 55-75 it is still often used for people 40-60. I understand that all people are different and I have evolved my character before I even considered her age, that is not her defining characteristic as you imply. The only reason that I made this was I was wondering what little things I could add to her character to make her more realistic, you didn't need to react so aggressively.
     
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  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, Wordsmith, I disagree. While you're right, people are now living longer, I don't think that middle-aged has moved materially...it's still that age after you've got over most of your teenage angst and settled down, but before bits start to malfunction and you come to terms with the fact that you, too, will get old and die.

    There's also the fact that increases in life expectancy are mainly due to reduced high childhood mortality rates. e.g., in 1550, a man who had reached 21 could expect to live to 71...2010 world expectancy is 67.2.
     
  14. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ouch! Sarcasm, Lily, sarcasm! Relax. I do not really believe, nor did I truly think anyone would think, you are a bigot.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
  15. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but, I just had to laugh over that. I know too many guys in their forties who are still working getting through their teen age years!

    And you are absolutely correct that high child mortality rates affected the projected average life expectancy. And that held true into the 1800's when things like small pox, measles, flu, and cholera wiped out tens of thousands prematurely. And yet the basic fact is that people are, indeed, living much longer and this does play a part in the statistical middle age.

    But then, too, I suppose middle age, for most people, is not about a statistical equation and, depending upon where one falls on the timeline, middle age will be viewed at a different point on that line. I daresay most forty-somethings would blanch at being referred to as being middle aged but a six year old might well consider that same forty-something to be o-o-o-old! =)
     
  16. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    But are these guys in their forties still a long way away from bits dropping off and the start of old age?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Middle age is generally associated with the realization that mortality is stalking one. It's the age when one switches from a simple awareness of one's mortality to a growing urgency to accomplish goals before the scythe swings.
     
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  18. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is extremely difficult to write a character who is older than you are, especially one who may be almost three times your age. I don't think there's any quirk you could give a character that is particular to folks who are "middle aged" or in their forties.

    As far as the lack of a name -- yes, I would find it odd. But you might be able to get away with it in certain types of stories.
     
  19. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know. I'm halfway to 90, so I'm okay with being referred to as "middle aged." I remember the time before the internet and cell phones. My son asked me recently if we had color film when I was a kid. (BTW: The answer is yes.) But our family did have a black and white television.
     
  20. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nice way of phrasing that. Puts it in a very visceral context.
     

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