In honor of my mother’s birthday today and the impending end of my teenage years over the weekend, I though it would be fun this week to consider how our age and our perception of our age both affects what fiction we choose to read* and how we write**.

* It’s fascinating to realize that some of the most celebrated and popular works of all time were written about and for children + teenagers, i.e., to name just a few obscure ones, Harry Potter and Twilight, but also that a tremendous number of stories aimed at children have very adult themes such as James and the Giant Peach or the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales (which have a name that’s really quite apropos).

**Deciding the age of a character can be terribly stressful–the reader’s preconceptions of an age-range, and how a character fits or defies those assumptions, can largely affect how the story is perceived.  For example, if the peeps on Skins were all elderly, their partying and sexual, um, “rambunctiousness” would come across as (even more) age-inappropriate and distinctly unbelievable.  One small detail can set off an intricate balancing act throughout the piece.

As I face down my own mini-quarterlife crisis, I encourage y’all to explore questions of age in your own work this week.  What does being 19 or 20 or even 87 mean to you?  How does it force you to relate to others?

Look to these two sources for inspiration, the first is classical:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

And the second is a bit more contemporary:
And that’s about the time she walked away from me
Nobody likes you when you’re 23
And you still act like you’re in freshman year
What the hell is wrong with me, my friends say I should act my age
What’s my age again?
That’s about the time that she broke up with me
No one should take themselves so seriously
With many years ahead to fall in line
Why would you wish that on me, I’ll never wanna act my age
What’s my age again?
What’s my age again?

Advertisements