Friday, September 02, 2005

Writing in the Age Crisis

It was yesterday, or perhaps the day before, that my best friend (let's call her Gloria) and I, sat in a patio at dinner time.
[If you've ever been to Toronto, you'd know how passionate Torontonians are when it comes to their patios. I guess that after eight (8!) months of really crummy weather we want to take advantage of normal temperatures as much as possible and spend every moment we can outdoors. But I'm digressing.]

So we sat there at the patio, Gloria and I, and had dinner. She had a pizza and I had... never mind. Something disappointing, expensive and far too small. I finished eating within two minutes and remained hungry, which didn't help the original fiery mood I was in.

"I think I'm going to call in sick tomorrow," Gloria suddenly said, taking a break from her pizza.

I glanced at her plate. Thin crust, lots of cheese, just the way I like it. "Oh, really?"

"Yeah, really, and this time I mean it!"

"As if," I snorted.

Gloria looked at me for a moment, wrinkling her forehead. "Well, you know what's it like," she started her apologetic routine. "Responsibilities---"

"Yeah, yeah," I didn't let her finish.

"What is wrong with you today?" Gloria asked.

"Other than being f***ing hungry?" I grumbled. "You know, same old," I said as Gloria put a slice on my very empty plate. "Age crisis."

"But I thought you're past that," she said.

"How can I, Gloria? It's not like it's getting any better."

"No, I guess not," Gloria laughed. "But you look great. You don't look your age---"

"What does that have to do with anything?" I retorted with my mouth full, somewhat snappish. "And you know what kills me?"

Gloria shook her head.

"They still didn't find a cure."

"For what?"

"For aging," I said exasperated.

"It's how one deals with aging that's important. You're young at heart---"

"Blah blah blah," I cut her off again, undoubtedly acting very 'young.'

"You still have the majority of your life ahead of you," Gloria tried a different approach.

"You say that now, but a few years ago I actually had 90% of my life ahead of me, now it's about 60%, and in a few years it will be 30%. It sucks." I was on a rampage and I wasn't taking any prisoners. "Fact is that with each moment that passes I'm that much closer to my grave, and there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing!"

Gloria looked at me for quite a while before she banged her hand on the table. "Fuck, you're right. Now I'm depressed."

No worries folks, Gloria and I still had fun for the rest of the evening. I felt much better after taking it out on poor Gloria.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm obsessed with my mortality. It's that I'm obsessed with my aging. I feel it. I know it. It's in my bones. Literally.

But you see, a writer, even if s/he can't live in a fantasy world, can, however, create one. So I went back home and revised the age of all my protagonists down. If they die, it will be by my hands and not because of any other reason. That's the way I like it, thank you very much.

(I did write 1,500 words yesterday. Today's tally isn't done yet).

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Yzabel said...

Now that you mention this and writing, I realize that my characters are pretty young most of the time. I'm not sure what the reason is: because I'm still young myself? Because I've been playing table-top roleplaying games for years and we were all used to have 18-20 years-old characters (old ones tend to have less strength, etc, due to the games' rules)? Because I can better anticipate and understand the reactions of people under their 30s, as I haven't reached that age yet? It's hard to tell. Sometimes I think I should create older characters--but then, perhaps in a few years I'd feel like making them younger again and for the same reason as yours, who knows!

Lee Carlon said...

It's odd all of my characters (or at lest the main protagonists) have always been roughly the same age as me.

I turn 30 in a couple of months, and it doesn't bother me at all, whereas my better half hits 30 a couple of months after me and she really doesn't want too.

It's all relative, I think 30 is still really young, but I'm sure people in their early twenties disagree.

Somebody once told me old is whatever age you are, plus ten.

ME Strauss said...

I think that it's only natural that unconsciously or consciously we write our characters the same age as ourselves. After all we're supposed to write what we know. To me it's the plot and the audience that we need to be careful about. I read an agency blog this week in which they mentioned they have a glut of books about characters living that "magical" (their word not mine) four years called college. They questioned how many people wanted to read that many college stories.

If the story is compelling, the age of the characters shouldn't matter. Consider "The Diary of Anne Frank." In one of my "past lives" my job involved reading several Young Adult novels a week. Most of the characters were 13. Some of them are still on my personal "bestsellers" list, and I haven't been 13 for at least a couple of weeks not. :))

Melly said...

Yzabel, you're killing me, "old ones tend to have less strength" - ouch!
I find that putting myself in a different age while writing can be quite an experience. I think I understood my grandmother better after I wrote a short story about a woman living in a home.

Melly said...

I can understand both of you. It's a different outlook and yours is great.

I've always been writing different age characters, from kids through to old age. It is always a good exercise to put myself in the head of a 6-year-old, or a 66-years-old. (666!) I guess I see it in the same way as gender - my protagonists aren't just my gender. And I hope I do them all (young old, men, women) justice :)

Melly said...

Hey Liz, I absolutely agree with you that it's the plot and the how that matter. Characters matter of course, but their age shouldn't. However, I have seen a few calls by publishing houses wanting young (20s) chick-lit. We get into that gap again between the business world (marketing) and writing.

Yzabel said...

Hahaha, their rules, not mine ;) Most of these games were set in medieval-type worlds, so of course, by 30 or 40, people were considered old by these standards (and indeed, there *were* penalties: your character couldn't have as much Strength or Stamina as a younger one, thus players didn't exactly like this). I must also say that at the time, we were 16-18... 30 or 40 were seeming very, very far away!

This has however led me to think more closely to this age matter when writing in fantasy worlds. Some of my characters are, let's say, "magician types", and can remain in good health at 40 or 50 thanks to their "powers". On the other hand, the average peasant working his butt off 12 hours a day to finally give half his crop to the local lord when taxes are due, must look older at the sage age, if he even reaches it.

Sometimes, I think it's easier to write about people in our world of nowadays: there's a very wider range of years to use, between the "too young" and "too old" states!

Melly said...

Sure, in midevil times (ha ha) life expectancy was about 30-40. Alright, not your fault :)

Yzable, you make such a good point about the range of ages. Today, writing about a 20+ year old (tween - love that word) is very different than writing about a teen or about a 30+ character. The nuances aren't even that subtle. Well, that is just a great point (did I say that already?) and makes me very happy. Thanks for bringing this up. I just love variety :)

Pat Kirby said...

I think it depends in part on genre and type of story. If the story relies on physical action, rather than pure mental acumen, then it naturally follows that the characters will be "youngish." Or at least young at heart and body.

Most of us get a bit mellower and more aware of our frailty and mortality as we age. Dangerous adventures "might" (heh) be largely the purvue of the young (and stupid [grin].)

One of my short stories features a middle-age male protagonist. The central theme is the danger of repressed emotions; there is no action.

But for stories with more action (or romance), I usually write twenty-somethings (actually, younger than me.) None the less, I think my choice of conflict is rooted in more mature themes; themes I wouldn't have even considered when I was younger.

In this, I'm glad I didn't start writing fiction until...two years ago. (Tech writer, but no fiction, until then.)

One hopes this means better writing, but who knows. :)

Melly said...

It might be easier to write a younger character for action but sometimes you need both physical and "mental acumen". James Bond, for example, was always older. He needed stamina, but also to be seasoned.

Fantasy and in sci-fi are different from romance and action in that characters can be any age. They can be immortal or in the future they've found some sort of a solution for aging.
Isn't it great that we can find a solution for everything in fiction?

I'm sure that starting to write fiction later in life after years of actually practicing writing has made you a very good writer. Many extremely successful fiction authors start of with writing articles and the likes and only turn to fiction later. Rob Sawyer is one example just of the top of my head.

joe said...

What could be more dranatic than a story about someone facing the inexorable battle with her own biology - thje wicked curse of aging and death?

Melly said...

Joe, I'm trying to figure out if you're serious... ;)
Yes, I guess it could be an interesting story if it didn't focus so much on hashed little things.
I must say, Joe, I never thought of it that way - thank you :)

rdl said...

so how the hell old are you anyway?? 'm guessing the big 4-0. if it's anything less than that i'm not speaking to you. :D

Melly said...

I guess you'll have to not speak to me then ;)
(Just dare and I'll show up at your place!)