Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old Story or Old Lady? Who is Your Protag?

When writing a new novel, we take into account who the protags are: appearance, occupation, past, personality, social status, and a myriad of other issues. But, do we seriously consider our characters’ ages as a must to a successful story? If so, how and why?
Let’s look at the typical age for most female protags. Anywhere from 25-late thirties. Why not late forties? Fifties? Sixties? How about seventies? Have you even considered for a moment writing a protag in her eighties?
Generally the geriatric crowd is relegated to second place, a doting grandmotherly type who is there with wisdom and babysitting skills.
Not fair?
Well, let’s think about who the average book buyers are (30-44 )and how they are able to relate. And, of course, remember, we all think we’re younger than we are.
If I’m sixty years old, why must I read about 30-something?
Quite simple, really, I’ve been there. I’ve had the opportunity to experience the first kiss, holding hands at the altar, the sound of my children’s first cries. I’ve been there when my kids threw up on my only dress while participating in a Civil War re-enactment where water was scarce. My feet spent hundreds of hours playing in the back yard or searching for four leaf clovers to prove their existence. I worried over a child who’d wandered off, worried about how to explain the birds and the bees, and even had to survive explaining to my children why mommy and daddy were going to be living apart. All experiences that took time and growth over the years. And added hundreds of tiny wrinkles along the way, I might add. I mean added character-yeah-that’s it!
I also had the joy during those times of teaching my precious children that God loves them, even when it doesn’t seem like He’s there. And those teachings often came at a price.
So I can relate to all the tales about 30-somethings that I read.
I can remember and relive some of the beautiful moments of my own life (and most were) while enjoying the author’s personal take on that ageless period.
The 30-something, however, has no way to relate to: kissing someone with Geritol breath (I’m kidding here, folks…or am I?) reminding someone what they ate for breakfast yesterday, having help opening a jar of pickles because it’s just too doggone hard anymore, hot flashes and menopause, having difficulty taking the stairs two at a time like we used to.
You see, us “oldies” can relate to a younger protag because we’ve been there, but the younger readers have no way to directly relate to an older character…for the most part. Hence, most of our protags are younger.
Are we, the Oldtimers being cheated? Not at all. Our walks down memory lane are sweeter, more intense, more applicable for having been there. And a good writer will help us forget we’ve grown older and allow us the sweet pleasure of recollection.
Ahh, that first kiss!
The very reason I occasionally chuck the suspense novel and reach for a romance. There is no better memory than young love, and when I read about the happy couple overcoming adversity, I’m twenty or thirty-something again, and his breath is warm and minty and soft against my cheek, without a hint of Geritol!

13 comments:

  1. I love to write about women in their early 30s for all the reasons you mentioned, Linda. I also find that although years have passed since I was 30-something, most of the time I feel that age "inside". My mother-in-law at age 72 said, "I feel the same as I did when I was 18." She lived to be nearly 87 and I think that young mindset was one of the reasons!

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  2. Yanno, I've wondered about this. Seriously. Thanks for explaining it--makes perfect sense.

    Let me also say, I LOVED reading Sandy Bricker's LFY in Holiday, FL. The protag is older (Ha, that term is so relative sometimes.) than the norm for romances but I still really connected with her.

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  3. I love this, Linda! I still remember the thrill of a boy's fingers wrapping his around mine in the back seat of a school bus. The feeling is still fresh, and I was in elementary school! That was, well, a lot of years ago. I'll never be old!

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  4. Yes, an occasional storyline with an older protag is wonderful, but I think those of us over 40, ahem, some of us way over, relate better. And Sue, I agree, my mom said the same thing. And she was right. Everyone else gets older, but I never seem to. Hehe, til I look in the mirror and wonder why my grandma is staring back at me.

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  5. I've read several compilation/novellas where the protag is anywhere from late 40's through late 60's - not my favorite in the world of books but those have been good as - GOOD WRITING GOES - just not as GOTCHA as those where the protag is in her mid to late 20's and through maybe 35.
    My favorite age was 19 but most protags need to have a little experience of life and usually if they've gone to college they're through those years.

    Great post, Linda - I'd not really made myself think it through before!

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  6. Thanks, Joy, and yes, Sandra, my first love took me to the movies in third grade. Our mothers drove us thinking we were just best friends, never having a hint we were "in love". When he brought me popcorn, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. NEVER would I love again. hehehe

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  7. Great reminder - had never thought of that! Makes sense.

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  8. If you start with a young character, you have more flexibility to age her. Some of my favorite characters have been older like the geriatric romance of Eat Cake or Julie and Romeo by jeanne ray or the mystery-action of Mrs Pollifax. Good writing is good writing.

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  9. You are so right, Linda!

    I love reading about the years I've already experienced. And the older characters (a mom, a grandma) add depth, humor, angst, challenges, and joy to the story.

    Great post!

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  10. I never thought about this before. I guess I usually have my characters in their 30s and 40s. Very interesting to think about!

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  11. I write about older characters all the time. Even in my mystery series, the secondary characters are in their seventies, and enjoyed a romantic relationship in the first book. In Shellie's and my new book coming out in Sept, we have a brother and sister in their mid-late forties, a twenty-four year old young lady and a teenage boy in a series of stories about coming home. In Meander Scar, the protag is mid forties. I agree - not everyone likes to read or keep writing about the sweet young things.

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  12. This is an interesting discussion, Linda. Over at Written World Communications, we've just initiated a Christian fiction/non-fiction line called Timeless, which will feature protagonists in the baby-boomer generation. (Wayside is crossover/general market.)
    My characters are all older, either in their late thirties or nearing fifty, women confronting life issues that differ from those of younger women. If I wrote romance, I might choose a younger population...for the reasons you mention. It's interesting to analyze the whys. I would certainly like to see some submissions at Wayside that run the gamut in terms of protagonists' ages.

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  13. In digging, I haven't found anything concrete about the sales, though I know the numbers must be out there. So have to rely on the average buyers' ages of 30-44 and wonder just what they buy in terms of age. Haven't found all the stats yet, but will do a blog here if I find anything concrete. But, I'm guessing, as with TV, the bulk caters to this age group now that they are the buyers. Hmmmm, what do older women want to read? Are we buying younger protags, do we watch primarily show with younger characters? Who do we actually identify with physically?

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