I want to talk about age this week. I’ve noticed that most books have very young characters in them. We don’t see a lot of attention being given to older characters, whether they are the main characters or not, in the romance genre especially. We typically see younger people – mostly in their twenties or early thirties – falling in love. You don’t see a lot of forty something or older men and women who are falling in love.
I suspect a lot of this has to do with our culture and its obsession with staying young and its preoccupation with youth. I think the other reason is because a lot of people look back and remember their twenties and early thirties as being the fun part of their lives and they would like to revisit this period. Unfortunately, these two reasons discount for a lot of experiences made by people that aren’t part of the “golden youth” anymore. It also limits young people, like me, from gaining valuable life lessons, knowledge and experience from people who have lived life more than they currently have.
The idea of age really came home to me last summer. My dad had left the book The Little Old Lady Who Changed All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundburg out at our cabin for me to read. Having read all of the books that I brought with me and wanting a break from writing, I took a look at it. It didn’t grab my attention right off the bat and I didn’t end up finishing the book, but it did capture my attention in regards to age. This was the only book where the main protagonist was an elderly old lady. This, of course, got me thinking about all the other books that I have read and the lack of older characters – or even younger ones. Even in Young Adult fiction a lot of the characters portrayed are generally pushing into the very late teen years or they’re in their early twenties.
I know that in the romance genre, the main focus of the story is on the two people falling in love – sometimes one of the characters has a kid(s) or they introduce each other to their respective families. After the couple has started to fall in love there is not as big of a focus on the family members or the kid(s) – they disappear from the story. I don’t think this is right. The character’s family if introduced provides the characters with some background story and character development. However, they are introduced in small increments and then they disappear, which isn’t how families work. If you have children then they are going to take up a lot of your time. They aren’t going to be conveniently disappear when the two main characters need some alone time. Families aren’t going to leave you alone either. There are going to be phone calls or they may need help with something. There could be traditions even that the character will want or feel obliged to attend. The disappearance of these older or younger characters are for a) the focus to remain on the two characters falling in love and b) to keep the age in the appropriate range.
How do we fix this? Well we get over our issues, as a society, of growing old or being old and our fascination with people in their twenties and early thirties. It’s exploring relationships with characters with different ages. It’s turning the idea that growing old is not a bad thing but a good thing. From what I hear getting older is a lot of fun and you get to experience some really amazing things. It’s also about not aging the young so they can get to the appropriate age groups. We need to start pointing out all the great things that children and teenagers get to go through. As writers we need to celebrate all the phases of life for the diversity of experience that they bring.
Until next week.