Does The Age Of Your Characters Get Older As You Do?

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There’s a theory (and it might just be my theory but I’m sure there are others who espouse it, too) that most main characters are simply disguised versions of the author writing them. Sometimes the disguises make that fact virtually unrecognisable. Sometimes the disguises are so thin the authors might as well not have bothered.

A quick glance over the marital, gender, racial and family statuses of my main characters shows that I only write people who are single, female, white and childless. Single because it allows for a bit of romantic tension with a supporting male lead. Female because I always feel like I am doing a disservice when I attempt to write in a male voice, both to men and to my writing abilities. White because I’m white and while I know writers can and should explore racial identity in their writing, it’s not something I focus on. And childless because having to care for and chauffeur children to their mundane everyday activities really gets in the way of the things I like to make my characters do (such as getting kidnapped, travelling at a moment’s notice, evading authorities, living reclusive lives, that sort of thing).

The one thing that has varied over the years is the age of my main characters. And as I get older (closer to my forties now than I am really all that comfortable with – I read a main character in a novel bemoaning the fact that they were forty and middle-aged and realised I need to start thinking of myself that way as well shortly!), it seems a lot of my main characters are getting older, too.

My Untitled and Unpublished First Novel (Really More of a Novella)
I wrote this when I was in my final year of high school, aged seventeen, and the main character was twenty-two. She had finished university and was working in the electorate office of a senator. I have no doubt that at the time I thought being twenty-two made my character very mature. Looking back on it now, it just makes me remember how naïve I was.

The more life experience I have, the more I genuinely believe that there is nothing else that can make up for it. That’s not to say that you can’t be mature when you’re young, only that I wasn’t and only that you only get more so as you age.

A Handful of Unpublished Romance Novels
I wrote three romance novels which I reference by the names of the main characters, Natalie and Cameron, Michaela and Alex, and Liberty and Quinn.

Natalie and Cameron were the first lovers I wrote about and Natalie was in her final year of university, so early twenties. I wrote this in my first year of university (aged eighteen).

Michaela and Alex came next and they were in their mid-twenties. I wrote this in my last year of university and first year of TAFE (aged twenty).

Liberty and Quinn were my final attempt at writing a romance novel and the most complete of the three unpublished romance novels. They were in their late twenties. I wrote this in my first few years in the workforce after leaving tertiary education (aged twenty-two to twenty-four).

I’m sure, like me, you can see a sort of pattern emerging. My main characters were always a few years older than me, no doubt because I kept thinking that given a few more years I would know it all and be ready for something like the exciting lives my characters were living. Pfft!

Enemies Closer
I began writing Enemies Closer in 2004, finished in 2007 and published it in 2012. In 2004, I was twenty-seven and Cassandra Broderick, the main character of the novel, was in her early to mid-thirties. Pattern on track.

But Cassandra had a very specific educational and employment history that meant she needed to be older. She had joined the military straight out of high school, progressed to the rank of captain before leaving, studied weapons engineering at MIT, worked briefly in Hollywood as an advisor on action movies before joining a prestigious gun manufacturer as a designer and being made a poster girl for the gender equalisation of the weapons industry. All that takes time.

Black Spot
Black Spot, my upcoming novel, is where the pattern gets turned on its head. For a very good reason. Whereas before I had been writing novels for audiences of a similar age to me, Black Spot was a very deliberate attempt to cash in on the appetite for young adult/mainstream crossover novels (I’ll let you know how that goes in due course).

I wrote Black Spot when I was thirty-six. But, of course, I couldn’t have a main character who was in her late thirties, bordering on or even tipping over the border into early forties. She needed to be of an age where tweens and teens as well as people in their twenties and thirties could relate to her.

Besides, part of the story is about the amount of control we are subjected to or allow ourselves to be subjected to by parents and people in positions of authority. The older we get, the less often we allow this to happen. So Livia, the main character, is eighteen – just finished high school but not sure what she wants to do with her life, not sure if she even wants to leave the family farm.

Rather than drawing on my ideas of the maturity and life experience an older character would have, like I had done in my previous novels, I had to regress to my teenage years and remember how differently I looked at things. While Livia is nothing like me as a teenager, I had to remember what an angst-filled time of life it was. We didn’t worry about money or job security or that our parents and grandparents might die soon. There is a freedom to being that age even while wrapped up in the limitations imposed by society and family to ensure safety.

Some of my early readers also pointed out to me that in places the language I used sounded too old. I was specifically told to take out all the “Louise” words that a teenager like Livia wouldn’t say or think.

Trine
I’m half way through writing Trine. I started writing it in 2012, stopped when I released Enemies Closer to focus on marketing, started again in 2013 but stopped again to write Black Spot, and started again in 2014, although it’s been slow progress. It’s still my current novel in progress although I’m seriously thinking about stopping again to write the sequel to Black Spot.

In 2012, I was thirty-five but as with Enemies Closer, I gave the main character, Prudence, a very specific history, something terrible that had happened to her when she was fifteen. The novel is an exploration of someone who has lived with a terrible event in their lives for longer than they lived without it, meaning she had to be at least thirty. I don’t think I actually name her age but she’s in her early thirties.

Will my main characters ever move into their forties? Well, I’m not there yet and neither are my characters. Maybe that’s what I’m waiting for – the birthday that tips me over the edge. I have plans for a new novel that is generational, featuring an aunt (aged fifty-five), her niece (aged thirty-five) and the niece’s daughter (aged seventeen), but the main focus of the story will still be the yet-to-hit-forty niece.

There are also plans to write a sequel or two or three to Enemies Closer and as Cassandra Broderick was in her mid-thirties in the first novel, the inevitable progression of time means she will hit her forties at some point whether I want her to or not. In the unfinished sequel, a year has already passed since the events of the first book.

Perhaps I’m just attracted to what a main character in their thirties can offer: some life experience but not enough to dispel all doubts about how to live, fit enough to cope with the physical activities my stories all seem to encompass (horse riding, jumping, tucking and rolling from aeroplanes as they land on tarmacs, marathons, swimming, punching unfaithful lovers in the face and breaking their noses), and young enough that their single status is still acceptable without being pathetic.

We’ll just have to wait and see. I like to think that when I’m in my seventies I’ll still be writing about single, female, white, childless characters. And maybe those characters will be in their seventies, too.

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