1. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Is age necessary?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Dec 5, 2016.

    I've been having the hardest time nailing down my characters age. Some days I want her to be in her early twenties, other days in her late teens, other days a little younger than that. I literally cannot decide or determine how old she's supposed to be. And because of that, all of the people around her are ageless as well, since I want them all to be around the same age.

    Is it important to nail down age in a fantasy? She won't be going to high school or college or anything like that. The only thing I can think not having an age could hurt would be the timeline. If I mention she did something "fifteen years ago" then later put "twelve years ago," it could get confusing. So as long as I limit exacts to the timeline, is it possible to leave age out of it? Opinions?
     
  2. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I'd tend to think it'd be good to have a pretty solid idea - there's a pretty big difference developmentally between early twenties and mid-teens and, say, I'd have an easier time excusing a younger teenaged character being childish/immature but if a 20something behaved like that, I'd find them less likable. Plus when you get into something happening a matter of years ago, the problem can get worse. I'm 23; if something happened to me ten years ago vs thirteen years ago, at 13 vs 10 years old, there's going to be a big different in how I might react. Younger kids mature in leaps and bounds.

    But if you're not really going to be mentioning her age or hammering in a timeline (I'm very particular about those kinds of things; I couldn't do it!), it'd probably be fine. A little vagueness allows for people to interpret her as whatever age they think she comes across as, which, if you're not sure what are you actually want her to be, might actually be for the best? I'd just be careful about mentioning past events, in case of 'dating' her too explicitly. In this cartoon I watch (I know I know, bear with me) there's a group of auxiliary characters that the fanbase assumed were in the 16-19 range, but a couple recent episodes showing the past clued in that they actually must be more like 21-25, and it's jarring. You just want to avoid things like that.
     
  3. mikasa

    mikasa Member

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    I think that age is part of character. Age does not have to dictate character though. She could be in her early twenties and be childish with certain people. It happens in real life, meet up with your old friends and you will probably take on that persona from when you were together, high school buddies or college or whatever. My dad is from Hawaii, he has no accent from growing up there, but when he meets with relatives or old friends, he immediately falls into old habits and even the accent and mannerisms.
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think to a certain degree, yes, at least a general idea of age is needed for you, the writer. A 15 year-old is not a 35 year-old and widdershins likewise. But I don't think it needs to be super exact past the boundaries of certain stages of life. My MC's Tevin and Brenn are rather amorphously early 30-somethings. I wanted the maturity that comes after the quarter-life crisis but still the youth they would need for their upcoming journey. :)
     
  5. mikasa

    mikasa Member

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    Playing off what Wreybies said, you could just have a general age. If you must state things happened in the past, give those specific ages and not how long ago. Something like "When she was 9 she did x."
     
  6. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, exactly this! I think that's why I keep switching around so much. Because I want them to have the maturity to be in their situation but the inexperience to muck everything up. I worried that going too young would lose the impression that they are capable, while going too old would make their inexperience feel fake. In my head, I like the idea of them being around 19. But in my world, 19 year olds are closer to the maturity level of a 22 year old because they are forced to grow up so much faster. So I worried that having a 19 year old MC would confuse people into thinking she's this naive, inexperienced child that hasn't had to live through any struggles.

    I'm okay with being vague in the story, but still knowing her age myself. I just didn't know if I had to announce her age or give a definite impression of it to satisfy the reader.

    Yeah, that's kind of what I planned on doing. There's a scene where my MC has to describe her life. She'd say something like, "I moved out at 16, and I've been on my own ever since." While the reader will know she's over 16, they won't know how long "ever since" is, thus leaving her age still slightly vague.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think if there's a timeline involved, it's important that you know how long ago these things happened and therefore about how old she is. But I don't think it's necessarily something that needs to be passed along to the reader in more than a general sense.

    ETA: Crossposted. So... yes, I agree! You should know, but your readers don't have to.
     
  8. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    You said it was fantasy. Do you really need an age? Could she be Someone that has no age, for society, but is mature enough to be taken seriously by adults, yet young looking and young at heart so teens feel at home around her?
     
  9. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    I mean, I kind of just assume in most Fantasy that younger people have gotten the 'Grew up fast' treatment. The idea of a mid-to-late teenager not being a fully independent person is a fairly recent idea of society. Yes, you weren't a fully developed person yet (You couldn't become a knight until you were 21, for example,) but you were an adult, responsible for your decisions. This was mostly out of necessity - They didn't have the resources to be educating and training people well into their teens and especially not into their 20s, so they got the basics and a 'Get it done' attitude and that's all they had to work with. Help out or get out, and all that.
     
  10. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    Age is important at certain points in our life... big difference between 12 years old, and 14, in the way a character would behave and respond to situations. Also, as a reader my picture of that character is partially driven by their age. I would be definite about the age of your main characters.
     
  11. Youssef Salameh

    Youssef Salameh Senior Member

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    Hi, to me what's most important is the "moral" that the writer wants to express. Once its clear in his head, everything else becomes secondary.
    If the narrative is long then he/she should give it a time start point. If its short, then he/she should at least introduce the characters to the writer, showing glimpses of their situations, whether age, place, character, etc...
    I wish you all the best.
     
  12. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I think, as @Wreybies said, the actual age-as-number isn't important. What's important is mental maturity. A teenager thinks very differently than someone in their mid 50's--they have different priorities, different views on life and on people. As long as your character is consistent with their thoughts, actions, and beliefs, your reader might just slap an age range on them and go with it--or not worry about it at all. At the end of the day, saying your character is 18 is just a tool to let the reader know how they perceive the world around them.

    I think the only time you really NEED a concrete age is when that dynamic is broken. For example, if you have a quiet, stoic, somewhat crotchety female character who sits in her rocker and brews potions while yelling at kids, it might give the reader a pretty good indication of her life-journey to mention that she's 9.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In addition to their mental maturity, I think that their social "age" is important. In society, are they a child, a near-adult, a young adult, an adult, or various stages of middle-aged into elderly?
     
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  14. ddavidv

    ddavidv Senior Member

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    I began reading a short story not long ago and default pictured the characters as 20-somethings. The author did not bother to alert the reader to the intended age until partway through the story when it came out they were around 14 years old. That is a pretty big difference in how a reader views a character and their actions. It killed the story for me and I lost a lot of respect for the author.
     
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  15. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    An implied age based on actions, vocabulary, habits, hobbies, clothing can work well and still leave some ambiguity. I thing age matters for it matters to humans who will be your readers. However, if it's fantasy, you can mess with the age paradigms like happens in many fantasies. If your character isn't human but is a species that ages in a different way, then that can be interesting. The obvious examples are Elves and Hobbits and Vulcans. Peace, Tex
     
  16. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I agree with @BayView . You should know, but your readers don't.
    Marckus is in his mid-late 50's, but we get little hints that he is old. (Though he is 275, we don't count the time spent in cryo.) :)
    With Graxis well since he as a long life span, there is a mention to him being 238.
    (Of course with Aliens it helps to have a different standard in regards to age, as Humans are easier to guess.) :p
     
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  17. ToBeInspired

    ToBeInspired Senior Member

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    Unless it has a direct purpose in the story it falls under world building. YOU should know the age. No one else needs to. That being said, it does matter... vaguely.

    Females tend to mature faster than men. People that have been through extreme situations tend to as well. Early responsibility, struggle, or a host of other reasons will age someone beyond their years.

    Examples:

    A spoiled college freshman who has never worked a day in his life, continuously parties, and has his parents pay his way to graduation.

    or

    A teenage girl who is constantly abused by her dad and watches him also beat her addict mom almost to death. In a traumatic night she kills him trying to protect her mom and is now left looking after her siblings as the eldest.

    Some sacrifice themselves for others, some sacrifice others for themselves.

    Maturity is a state of mind, remember that.
     
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  18. Sam Woodbury

    Sam Woodbury Member

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    The precise age of a character would only matter if they are undergoing an age specific rite of passage. Emperor Henry IV of Germany (1050-1106) was considered to have reached majority at fifteen and therefore could rule in his own right instead of relying on a regent. More mundanely, most people in the USA can drive at sixteen (depending on the State), serve in the military at seventeen, vote or sign contracts at eighteen, drink alcohol at twenty-one, and rent a car at twenty-five. If a story involves any of these, age, or a false ID, would be important.

    Aside from instances like those above, age can be rather ambiguous so an exact number would be less important. Indeed in some settings, people might not know their age, especially if records are not kept. However an approximate idea of age is important, because people react differently to others depending on how old they perceive them to be. Maturity and depth of experience plays into this, and also appearance, as some people age faster. Some people who in fact are twenty look to be well in their thirties (already balding, grey hair, aged faces) while some people in their forties still look rather youthful. The younger a character, the more important a difference of a couple years is, as pointed out by previous posters above.

    Shakespeare's "All the World's a Stage" from As You Like It identifies seven ages of man, making distinctions between infancy, boyhood, adolescence, a couple phases of maturity, and a couple phases of old age. Each of his seven divisions seems longer than the previous one, except perhaps for the final one: (Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history/ Is second childishness and mere oblivion/ Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything). I would think that recognizing periods that are more or less equivalent to his seven ages is important because we do make distinctions between children, adolescents, mature adults, and old people even if the lines between them are a bit blurred.

    In fantasy worlds there is the complication of different lifespans for other species or humans on different worlds, especially if they use something other than our year for measuring time.
     
  19. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Is your character behaving consistently? If yes, then how old do you think this character is, based on her behaviour? Now choose an age - the number can be quite arbitrary really as long as it's reasonable according to her behaviour.

    And if your character does not behave consistently then... you may have a bigger problem than age :D

    In order to properly make use of your character's life experience, memories that may have shaped her etc, you'll need at least a vague timeline. So the exact age I feel can be arbitrary - whether she's 22 or 24 doesn't matter so much. But you do need a general idea of her age - say, definitely mid-twenties as opposed to making her sound 15 in chapter three and now she acts like a 60 years old in chapter ten :crazy:
     
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  20. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    @Lea`Brooks
    I'm with @Mckk on this. The worry here is that you, the author, can't make up your mind how old your character is, and pretty soon this flip-flopping is going to show. You're going to end up with a tone problem, if you don't take a decision on this. One minute your character will be behaving like a teenager, the next they'll be acting like a parent or grandparent, or older cousin.

    I don't know how much you've actually written (as opposed to 'planned'.) If you're just planning, that's easy. Pick an age. Again, it doesn't have to be exact, especially if this is a fantasy and a 'year' isn't the same as a real year in our world. But you need to decide—now—how old your character is in relation to your other characters. And then plan, using that template. If you've already written, take a look at what you've written and make a decision. Which of the age bits seem to work best? Choose that one, and rewrite the other bits to fit, if necessary.

    There is nothing to say that a young character can't have a mature outlook. Many young people do. Either it's part of their basic personality, or life's events have made them grow up fast. We have all known extremely immature older people as well. Age isn't necessarily a driver of a mature personality. So you can play around with that aspect to your heart's content. But do yourself a favour as a writer. Pick an age, and go with it. Resist the urge to keep flipping back and forth.

    Once you pick an age and stick to it, then your story—and your character—will start to gel.
     
  21. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Concur with @jannert . I have about fifteen characters of various importance in mine, and I had their year of birth, and in some cases the location. I didn't do this to start, as I had a general picture in my mind of their age, but as the story evolved this sometimes mattered. The Jewish rebel, a minor character, was born in Galilee. He is about 20-25, the story is set in 100AD, so his experience is that of growing up in a harshly-pacified, post rebellion Judea. (The Jewish rebellion was around 70AD) This shapes his attitudes to a lot of things. The heroine was taken from her home in Liqian at age 12 to be a translator on the Chinese mission to Rome, as the village is bilingual Chinese and Latin. She was immediately made concubine to a minor official. It took several years to train the villagers in court language and protocols, then several years to reach Rome in 97AD. Now she is on the way back at age 22... very much shaped by that experience. I never really said how old anyone was, but expressed it as relative to key events, and a reference to how old they were when whatever happened, happened.

    I eventually put all this into character background sketches done after the fact, so I could keep all of this straight.
     
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