Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writing Characters who are older than you

A reader e-mailed me and said, I'm worried because my story is about adults and I don't have the life experience necessary to write the story from the perspective of someone over my current age. How would you overcome this?

This is probably why most high school students write stories set in high school. I know it's why I did - it's so much easier to just write what you know.

Writing about characters who are different than yourself in age, race, religion, etc. forces you to really use those creative muscles. Like right now, I'm making my first attempts at writing from a guy's point of view. Wow, is it hard. I've never been a guy before. I know how guys talk to girls, and how they talk to each other when girls are around, but that's about it.

So, I use research. Same as I will for my character who's in her last year of vet school, seeing as I know very little about vet school. The research just looks a little different. When I can, I eavesdrop on guys around me who are having conversations. I ask my husband questions about his feelings on things. (Like, "So, I'm thinking about having Jeremy do this. What do you think? Does this make sense to you?) I took a class offered at a writer's conference last September called Male POV that was pretty stinking explicit. (In a good, necessary kind of way.) And when I'm in the second or third draft, I'll ask my husband to read it and give me his thoughts and point out parts that seem unrealistic to him.

If you're writing adult characters, your research process will be largely the same. When you're out and about, eavesdrop on adult conversations going on around you. Ask your parents questions about situations in your manuscript. Or if you feel weird asking them, you can ask me. I don't feel like an adult, but I have a mortgage and a kid and other very adult-like things.

When you're working on characters like that, just be prepared to be patient with them. Skylar in my books was super different than me, and it took me several drafts of Me, Just Different before I felt like I really nailed who she was. Good characters take patience, but are sooooo worth it.

Have questions? E-mail me.


  1. That's a great idea. Eavesdropping is a very strange word, isn't it? Eavesdropping. :P

  2. Great article! I'm participating in NaNoWriMo and this will definitely help me write for and about characters different from me.

    And I wonder where the word 'eavesdropping' came from. Did people spy from the eaves of houses?

  3. You were close! I looked it up:


  4. awesome post!!! love it!!! thx sooo much!

    abrielle lindsay

  5. I'm writing from the perspective of a 28 year old in York, 1968. I'm still awaiting my friend's feedback :(