Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing for the "Right" Age

A few days ago Corey wrote about an exercise she was asked to do at the 2009 Rutgers conference. The panel leader asked the attendees to write their names and what age they felt inside. The point was that whatever age you feel inside should be the age you write for. It's cute and a little clever and maybe even somewhat useful, but I think mostly it's nonsense.

As writers, we traffic in the truth and this exercise strikes me as being largely untruthful.

Because the truth is, none of us feel the same age inside all the time. Or even most of the time. In two weeks, when I get together with some of my college buddies, I will feel (and probably behave) like a twenty-one year old, complete with lewd remarks I'd never make in the presence of my wife and more adult beverage consumption than I'll engage in the rest of the year.

Yesterday, when I tried to run three miles and gave up because my legs got sore around the 1.5 mile mark, I felt more like a forty-five-year old.

When I got on a bike last week for the first time since probably middle school I felt a lot like I felt when I was first learning to ride--nervous, cautious, embarrassed, and awkward. (And my butt hurt as if it had the padding of a person much younger as well)

When I learned my mom got cancer and then when she had open heart surgery I wrestled with the fears of a six-year-old.

On snow days I feel eleven.

And when I walk into a high school gym, memories of my own basketball playing days wash over me and I feel, if only for a fleeting moment, like I am seventeen again.


I think the better advice is this: for whatever age you are writing, you ought to be able to take yourself back in time and remember what it was like to be six, or eleven, or seventeen, or forty-five. And if you need to play a certain song, or recall a certain memory, or visit a certain place in order to do that, then go right ahead. It shouldn't be too hard. In fact, it's probably the most natural thing in the world.

8 comments:

Debra Lynn Lazar said...

Excellent post, my friend. You nailed it.

Corey Schwartz said...

Well, my point was more this... you can't force a genre. In other words, you can't write for three year olds if your voice is 8. I've seen lots of people try and try and try to sell PBs, but they are wasting their time, because the voice in their manuscript is too old for a PB audience.

MG Higgins said...

Your post is beautiful. And, I understand Corey's point. When I write, I'm usually twelve (no matter what age I'm feeling in my real life). I can write at other ages, but 12 is my comfort zone.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Fair enough. I wasn't criticizing you, Corey, but the person who came up with exercise. It just seems like one of those things someone who has to present at a conference comes up with that doesn't have a lot of relevance in the real world. Lots of writers write for multiple ages and with different voices. Seems limiting to say to someone, "Hey, if you don't walk around feeling like a teenager then you shouldn't write YA."

Pat said...

I loved this one Paul! Just reading it took me back in time to past memories of my own. Enjoyed your open honesty regarding your feelings in those moments you shared. Thanks for this post!

Heather Kelly said...

I agree, that the whole idea that a writer has "arrested development" and is wrestling with a certain age, and that is the only age they should write, is a bit limiting and kinda ridiculous.

However, I just realized that the reason why I wasn't feeling settled about a character was because his voice was a little too young for his age. We do have to be careful to know what a particular age's voice could be like. Which is why we read and remember and do your beautiful exercises. Thanks!

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Well said. And I agree.

As writers we must be versatile. Not every character in your story will be the same age. Therefore, we must be able to channel voices of several different ages, often in the same scene.

If you're writing in first person then voice will be more vital, because everything (except dialogue) must come from that character's POV.

Anyhow, we still need to be versatile.

Julie said...

Wow, what a fantastic post! Definitely well said.

P.s. New follower alert!