1. Sasoriza

    Sasoriza New Member

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    I had a question on writing about character ages. Can I list their ages as 18-21?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sasoriza, Jan 6, 2019.

    I'm writing a story and have five characters. I was thinking of keeping their ages vague and listing them as being 18-21. I was wondering, would it fit to list them as being in this range based on personality and appearance, or is the age gap too large?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm unclear on what you mean by "listing". How will you communicate this age range?
     
  3. Sasoriza

    Sasoriza New Member

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    I mean, like in their descriptions for introductions, I mean write in their bio: Age 18-21.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    As I see it, a bio is never going to be seen by anyone but you, so you can write it however you want.
     
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  5. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    Only if you desire to write it down that information, but it's not necessary. By the dialogue and your character's behaviour, we should have an idea of their age.
     
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  6. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    None of my characters have a canonical age so far. I just don’t mention it specifically. Rough ages can be inferred by the reader.

    For example, the protagonist is a master’s student, and it can be inferred pretty easily that she’s young from her outlook on life, and her referring to one old guy as a “fossil.” One character is explicitly mentioned to have a wrinkled face and thinning hair, so he is very probably old. Another character gives him life advice as a peer over a bottle of whiskey, so it could be inferred that they are of similar age. Another is specifically shown to have a family with multiple kids, so probably a middle aged adult. Stuff like that.
     
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I do know my younger protagonist’s age with some precision, because her childhood and adolescence map against some historic events and also some events in the life of a character who is still a child.

    All of those events happened after my older protagonist was an adult, so I only know his age within about five years.
     
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  8. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Or you could say late teens/fresh adult. Whatever works for you.
     
  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'm not clear on what introduction you think you need - you shouldn't introduce each character like that when they first appear "ted walked into the room he was 6ft with sandy brown hair, wearing jeans and a teeshirt, bob followed him, he was 8 foot tall with blue leathery skin , "this is fucked up" said trey a 5ft 2 med student who was 21"... you need to feed the relevant info to the reader piecemeal preferably by action and dialogue
     
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  10. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I know exactly what you're talking about. I keep bios of all of my characters because I really enjoy it.

    I usually do the following:

    Age: [Number] (Title of Book/Story where they're this age), [Other Number] (Title of etc. etc.)

    So it ends up looking like

    Douglass Randomname
    Age: 16 (Story of Swords and Jazz), 21 (The Long Awaited Squeal)
     
  11. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Banned Contributor

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    It's probably a good idea to keep a stat sheet on characters so things don't get muddled in your mind, but as far as mentioning age in a story.... not really. In one of my WIPs I mention a woman's age because she is turning sixty and the MC tasks himself with finding the Fountain of Youth for her. In a short that I posted here I mention a boy's age because he's a major character and it goes to motivation.
     
  12. Ellara Zemar

    Ellara Zemar Member

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    Age is only important if there's limitation. I guess a 17 years old can't just walk into a bar and order beer or a 20 years old still in high school but if there's nothing in your story that requires your character to be of a certain age, I don't see why the exact number would matter in any way. (And 18-21? That's pretty specific already I'd say)
     
  13. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Added to all of the above, it also depends on whether they're behaving in typical ways for people in that age group, who in the story would know their exact ages (including the narrator), and in what context the person who knows their ages might reveal them, if at all. It's very much a POV thing.
     
  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, this is my take on it as well. I don't have much to say about constructing a book ...that's up to you. If you want to know the ages of all your characters before you start, when you're making up a character sheet, fair enough. It's what ends up in the book that counts.

    In a book, I wouldn't recommend 'listing' anything. Height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, body type, age, etc. If these physical characteristics are important to your characters and to the story, find some way to get them introduced slowly, without making ANY kind of a 'list.'

    If the exact numerical age isn't crucial to the story, maybe just indicate where these people are in their lives. Are they a baby, child, young adult, middle aged, elderly, ancient, etc. This works well for medieval fantasy, etc. Getting married? Having children? Caring for grandchildren? Student with tutor? Learning to walk? Voice breaking in a male? Puberty? What would be a strong indicator of approximate age?

    If you're writing about modern day people, you can indicate approximate age by other devices. Senior in high school. Just got first driving license. In college? All their friends are now in college? Been working at the factory ever since leaving school ten years ago? And etc. Or just descriptions (best done via the eyes of other characters) that will give a good clue.

    I'd advise only to avoid the dreaded laundry list of characteristics ...especially if it's dumped on the reader before the story gets underway. Seriously. It's not needed.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2019
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  15. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    I agree about the laundry list. No laundry list. And I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I have to know the character's age. Maybe it's the curious reporter in me, but it drives me fucking crazy not to know, because the character is already "invisible" so I need that as a marker to set the character in my mind. I will skip ahead, skim line by line, or do whatever is necessary, totally sacrificing your story to find that detail somewhere in the book, and if it's not there, it goes unread and I tend to think the author was lazy about missing a crucial detail. The author is supposed to know how old their characters are. (Just like your mom and dad know how old you are.)

    ETA: After thinking about it here's why: If the author doesn't know the age of the character, which is the most basic detail, I assume the author doesn't really know their characters very well, and I don't trust the author to get the more subtle details right. It automatically makes me think the author is sloppy. So, you can do whatever you like, and it is a POV thing, but not having that "marker" there to set the characters in one's mind makes it hard to connect with them. I don't care about the story at all if the characters aren't fully fleshed out. So the clues have to be really, really good.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2019
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  16. graveleye

    graveleye Senior Member

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    If I feel the need to tell the age of my character, I find a way to work it in subtly. It's really not hard to do, you just don't lay all their physical characteristics out at one time.
     
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  17. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I can appreciate your point of view—and fair enough if you don't want to read a book that doesn't specify age in 'years.' However, assuming the author is sloppy because they don't reveal a numerical age is making a bit of a jump. There may be reasons they don't want to do this. Or perhaps, especially if the story is set in certain historical periods or places where birth records weren't kept, people might not know how old they are. Some other factors might indicate general age...such as onset of puberty, etc—which, as we know, doesn't reflect actual year-age at all. I hope you give authors leeway to reveal what needs to be revealed in good time, and don't dump a book simply because you can't find a listed age right away.

    Mind you, you'd love mine! Opening sentence:
    :)
     
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  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    See, I think the difference between four and five is immense, the difference between nineteen and twenty is pretty big, between thirty-five and thirty-six much smaller, and between forty-seven and forty-eight...meh. So the older the character gets the less inclined I would be to agree the author was sloppy. I sometimes need to do the math to know my own age. :)

    To my mild surprise, you do get my female protagonist's age in the first scene--I don't remember when or why I added that. All you get for my male protagonist is female protagonist's speculation that he's "twice her age". He's actually a few years more than twice her age.
     
  19. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Breaking it down, I think it's because my approach comes from a journalism background. Even though it's fiction there are details I liken to "facts" of the story, and I liken the author's role to that of a reporter. Both are telling a story, and both use who, what, where, why, when, and how. A reporter builds trust in the reader by getting the facts correct. So to my way of thinking, it comes off as sloppy "reporting", as if the author didn't ask enough questions about their character. Or, maybe the author didn't care enough about the character, so why should I? I'm not saying what goes through my mind is "right", but simply that it's what I'm thinking as a reader.
    I agree completely about the differences in relative age spans. Where we differ, I think, is that the relative differences or closeness in those ages is exactly what makes me want to be more precise to get "the facts" correct. (Sidebar: I think seeing differences in our processes, and where we differ and where we're similar is what makes creativity so interesting.)
    As a reader, i appreciate that first part...But oh hell, no I'm not doing math. :eek::) That would make me stop reading and flip back to see how old she is, and by then I've lost track of where I am, so at that point there's a strong possibility I'll discard the book and pick up another. I pay fiction writers to entertain me. It's that bluntly simple. It sounds entitled as hell, but that's what our readers, should we be so lucky, are doing: they're paying us to entertain them. (And I'm as hard on my own writing as I am on books I read.)

    We all have our processes...I'm not saying yours is wrong, or that your reasons are wrong. I'm simply offering a different perspective as a reader, because as writers it's easy for us to get caught up in the current writing advice of the day and forget that readers are not one homogenous unit who all approach reading the same way.
     
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  20. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    It's interesting to think about this, though. When you meet somebody and begin to know them, or notice them, or interact with them, you rarely get their numerical age thrown at you right away. Of course you have an idea if they're old or young, etc ...by what they look like and what they're doing and the context of where you are meeting them. But I certainly don't march up to everybody I meet and start the conversation with "Hi, I'm Jannert and I'm 69 years old." Nor to I expect this kind of initial greeting from others. In fact, I might know somebody quite a long time before I find out their exact age. I've got several friends I hang out with regularly, and while I could say 'he's probably in his 50s' or something like that, I couldn't tell you for sure how old they are.

    So I reckon if you can recreate the visual, audial, emotional and mental and contextual experience that you get when meeting somebody face to face, when you are writing about them, you don't necessarily need to focus (or even mention) their numerical age.

    Journalists need to do this because they don't have much space to work, and they need to be 100% accurate in reporting 'facts.' But that's not what creative writers have to do.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    “Twice her age” is a paragraph or two before we get her age, so no flipping required. :) And she’s nineteen, so to me that makes it easy to round to twenty and then he’s fortyish.

    The difficulty with getting any more precision is that I’m in third person limited from her point of view, and he’s not going to volunteer his age, and she’s not going to ask. The age clues for the three most important characters are:

    Her: “Nineteen”
    Him: “...twice her age...”
    Other Him: I don’t remember the phrasing, but it’s made moderately clear that he’s fairly neatly in the middle of the gap between their ages.

    So, roughly twenty, thirty, and forty. But—roughly.
     
  22. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Unrelated--or maybe not--but I once described a character as "about fourteen or so" because he was an orphan/refugee that had no idea where he was from or when he was born. And he didn't know his real name either, so he made names up for himself, and every character called him something different, even when they were together, and they'd often argue among themselves as to how he should be properly addressed. This worked great for a few chapters but quickly became labored.

    As far as ages in general go, I don't care at all so long as I have some general idea of where to slot them. The terms Teenager, Old Woman, or Middle Aged just Beginning to Gray, conjure more feeling to me than, say, 16, 82, or 41 would.
     
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  23. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that adds into a side issue that sometimes matters. Somebody could be going grey in their late 20s. Or a 60-year-old might look like they are pushing 80 (maybe they've been very ill) or, conversely, might look like a sister to their own daughter. (I've got a younger friend whose mother is like that. People are always mistaking the two of them for sisters.)

    So, in fact, the numerical age can be misleading. It doesn't always accurate peg what the character is like. If I said a 65-year old woman was walking along the beach with her 36-year-old daughter, you would NOT get an accurate picture of what my two friends are like at all. You seriously would not.

    Numerical ages seem like accurate descriptive devices, but they can produce stereotypes in the minds of the readers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2019
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  24. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I've had grey hairs for as long as I bothered to notice. I used to call them my Caulfields after a character probably no one's ever heard of that also had grey in their teens.

    The Maiden, The Mother, and The Crone. Very archetypical of you.
     
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  25. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    I discovered that my main character was a child prodigy because if he joined the military ten years ago, then he's probably just shy of 30. But then he goes to the funeral of someone he's known for 'years' and 'taught him to fly', but if he joined the military right out of high school and this fellow isn't military, he's been piloting space ships (or at least, flying terrestrial aircraft) since before he was in the military.
    Therefore, one of two things must be true: humans in my novel age at twice the speed of real humans, which means he's a young adult at 10; OR, he learned to fly much larger ships than a reasonable person would allow a 10-year-old to fly at ten years.
    Age is a funny thing, that's for sure.

    Most of my characters give their ages in approximations ("She looked young", "in his thirties", "seemed to be about"), just because the differences in precise ages doesn't mean much to me. If I'm not given an age, I'll make one up that fits the history I understand for the character. It couldn't be less relevant to me as a reader, and I only hope it doesn't screw me up as an author.
     

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