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How do you determine how old your main hero/heroine is? (1 Viewer)

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MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
I feel your main hero/heroine's age is a huge factor when it comes to writing their story. How experienced are they? Do they have any big plans for their future? Most protagonists seem to be in their teenage years...young and curious, trying to find out what they want to get out of life. I guess I'm not a big fan of writing teenage characters. More adults in their 20's and 30's who know themselves a little bit better.

I'm trying to figure out how old I should make my antiheroine for the story I'm currently writing. I feel she's around 38-years-old, still a very young age in my opinion but old enough to know she doesn't want children or marriage in her lifetime...and yet so many avenues in life she's yet to explore. She is a very experienced fighter/soldier.

What are your thoughts? How do you go about defining what age your main character is?
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
I don't really think identifying a specific age is necessary. It may depend on your genre. In some worlds, characters live long regardless of age and are expected to perform all sorts of feats. If your writing is more of a realistic nature, populating your story with like-aged people would probably give your readers an idea of how old they are. It may come under the heading of 'show don't tell' so you create an environment that makes it clear to your reader what your characters are all about, without saying specifically. I am working on a trilogy (currently book two) where my characters are senior citizens, but I don't belabor the point. I just provide activities and relationships that describes that group

Hope this helps!
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
A good rule of thumb for kids fiction is to make a character around the age, or slightly older, than your target reader. So, a book intended for a twelve year old should have a protagonist who is at least twelve, and perhaps as old as fifteen or so, probably not too much older than that. But definitely not much younger than twelve.

Adult books are far more variable as adults aren't as sensitive to age and generally are more open to reading about characters who are not 'them'. That is why there are adult books with children protagonists, for instance. But, still, the rule of thumb is there. Most books targeted at young women have young women as their protagonists, right? Same with young men. The exact age probably doesn't matter very much, as long as the character is relatable to the group in question. As a reader I am perfectly happy to read books about any age character so long as the character is well written.

Personally, I like to explore characters from different age groups. I actually think intentionally going against the grain with this stuff can add an interesting spin. My last novel was a horror novel. Who is the typical protagonists of horror novels? Young people, typically. So, I set out to write a horror novel with a protagonist in their late fifties. This isn't some magic trick to making a book feel original, of course, but it's one small way where it can catch an eye. Why not a romance between two very old people? It might be more challenging, but the originality can pay off.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I think it's important to know your character's age, because depending on their life span, they were at a certain age at certain times in history. What they have experienced in social movements, technological advancements, major events, etc., would influence how they think. Also, you need to factor in the amount of time it would take for whatever they have already accomplished to date. For example, if your character was in the military, I would establish that timeframe, even though you may not be writing in the same time period. In order to portray motivations, for example why she wished to stay single, you may want to have a flashback and it would be important to understand what she was doing at that time.

For my current WIP, it takes place in 2000. As character development, I have done a timeline for each MC from birth to 2000. This also helped me to establish when and how they each met and what the basis is for their various relationships. I know, some people may think that this is excessive, but the truth is, I really enjoyed doing it! I also find it makes for rich dialogue, because it has really generated the different personalities. I'm also planning on writing a sequel, so I had to think about what age they would need to be for the next book.

But, that being said, I have left the door open to change their age slightly if something serendipitous comes along as I'm writing.



 

K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
It's good for the author to know the characters precise age, however sometimes giving an age range to the reader is better. Moments from the character's past can be used to establish a range or minimum age for the character. If they were in high school twenty years ago, then they're between 34 and 38; if they remember watching the first moon landing on tv then they're much older. You can establish events in their life such as university, having a child, changing jobs. These build a life for the character, which readers know takes time. These can then be shaped to have been spread over a large period of time or to have occurred very close together.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
How do you go about defining what age your main character is?

With short stories I don't usually bother, there are clues. In 'The call' there are two friends, one married, one single, being bothered by a male phone pest, That sort of sets the parameters. Same sort of thing in 'Curiosity killed the cat', an elderly grandmother and young grandson, but no actual ages stated. Really it depends on what the story dictates, my novel is set in an old people's home (The man on the radio interview told me that is not PC any more. Don't know why they are old, people, and live in a home. I said that as one I felt I had a bit of latitude) Anyway being there puts them in a certain age range, the main character has been introduced to the home for a reason, and he is spotted immediately because he is too young, so it is the story line dictates it, but otherwise I would leave it up to people to make their own inferences. If it is important for some reason, she has an unexpected late pregnancy, an early menopause, or is coming up for retirement, for example, I would say get it in early. Don't wait 'til you need to say, or your readers may have already placed her differently in their heads.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Heroines usually 37-44 years old, full-bodied and intelligent...or wiry...older even. A hero of fifty, wizened & hilarious dog, surprisingly handsome.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
They show up as they are in my head long before I start writing. We have conversations and get to know each other as they tell me their stories.

Weird huh?
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
I feel your main hero/heroine's age is a huge factor when it comes to writing their story. How experienced are they? Do they have any big plans for their future? Most protagonists seem to be in their teenage years...young and curious, trying to find out what they want to get out of life. I guess I'm not a big fan of writing teenage characters. More adults in their 20's and 30's who know themselves a little bit better.

I'm trying to figure out how old I should make my antiheroine for the story I'm currently writing. I feel she's around 38-years-old, still a very young age in my opinion but old enough to know she doesn't want children or marriage in her lifetime...and yet so many avenues in life she's yet to explore. She is a very experienced fighter/soldier.

What are your thoughts? How do you go about defining what age your main character is?
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Cephus

Senior Member
I don't know that I've ever given an exact age for any of my characters. It might be implied by the circumstances but I don't really say. It lets the reader put themselves into the character.
 
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