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Writing Young/Old Characters

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  #1  
Old 01-08-2016, 09:13 PM
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Default Writing Young/Old Characters


Hello all,

I am currently writing a manuscript in which the main character is 8 years old. Of course, I have been 8 years old before, but I don't remember much of it, nor how I felt when I was that age. I was wondering if any of you have tips for writing a character much younger than you?

Also, any tips for writing characters older than you? I am writing another novel that has a character 20+ years my senior, which is extremely difficult to write. His dialogue comes off much less mature than I'd like.

Thank you.

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Old 01-09-2016, 07:01 AM
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Think about your characters as more than age. Think about personality. Maybe the 8 year old is easily excitable, maybe the 20+ year old is very chill. Honing age to dialogue doesn't always do it- personality does. Does that make sense?
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Old 01-10-2016, 09:07 AM
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I canít help much with the 8 year old other than to say that they tend to lean towards play, fun, imagination and the here and now. Everything else is secondary. Overall I think Daes is correct. Personality needs to come through.

When thinking in terms of the older person look at the time period they grew up in, mainly their teens and early 20s. Our dialogue is heavily influenced by those years but tempered by years of experience. To give you an idea I grew up in the late 60ís and early 70ís. Some of the slang that was popular at that time include things like cool, groovy, far out, dude, and man. I still use cool and dude a lot and the occasional man but the only time I use groovy or far out is when joking around with people my own age or parodying that time period. Mind you that is strictly in a casual setting. Otherwise I adopt the language that is appropriate for the situation.

Also consider the culture they grew up in, education level, and their work experience. When I say culture I mean things like where they grew up: rural, suburban, or urban, and country. Stereotypically they will lean toward a more conservative viewpoint if they were rural, middle of the road if suburban, and liberal if urban but those values are not always valid and can be totally reversed depending on our work and life experiences.

Older people love to tell their stories, and to share their wisdom whether real or imagined. And our minds still believes we are 25 years old. Itís just that our bodies disagree. So I would say write it like a 25 year old but temper it with your created life experiences. And as Daes stated, let the personality shine through. Hope that helps.
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Old 01-10-2016, 05:19 PM
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Thank you both so much!! Very helpful, thanks.
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Old 01-11-2016, 11:13 AM
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If you try to write dialogue for an 8-year-old or a 80-year-old, it's likely to come across as a bit forced. However, if you try to write dialogue for an interesting and believable character, who incidentally happens to be 8 (or 80), you'll find that you succeed effortlessly.

Same advice applies to writing for someone who's a different race or culture or social class, or the opposite sex, from you. The trick is to think like Fight Club. You are not your age, or your sex, or your skin colour, or your education, or your country of origin.

Incidentally dialogue in writing is almost always false and artificial. It works better when it is. If you write a literal transcript of a normal real life conversation, then what you get is typically too incoherent and fragmented for a reader who doesn't know the people who're conversing to make any sense of.
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English is a strange language. It can be understood through tough thorough thought though.
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Old 01-11-2016, 01:38 PM
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^I've seen the notion on writing sites that written dialog is very different that than "real life" conversation. It isn't.

Yes, people tend to pause or occasionally back track or go of on tangents, but once you take that into consideration, well written dialog isn't going to be false or artificial; more like it's an edited form of natural conversation.

Of course it depends on the character too. Some people have a clarity of thought and speech that allows them to speak more like written dialog. It's not a one size fits all thing.

I often record meetings or conference calls, including the chit chat before and after. I've also had interviews transcribed for later reference. The idea that it comes out as incoherent or radically different than written dialog when transcribed word for word is pretty silly to me.

Have you ever heard anyone recommend that you read your dialog aloud? Well, there's a reason that it's sound advice. If you read it aloud and it sounds right, it's because it's more like what you recognize as natural conversation or what you hear every day rather than some artificial construct.

Last edited by Binx B; 01-11-2016 at 04:57 PM..
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Old 01-11-2016, 02:59 PM
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Thank you both for your advice!
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Old 02-03-2016, 11:55 AM
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Binx is onto something here which may bear some elaboration regarding dialog. In this semi-literate age many people do not realize how badly they mangle the English language when they speak. If you succeed in capturing this you will get some negative feedback from both readers and editors. What you have to latch onto is how they think they sound, and that can be a bit tricky. My best advice is to go all the way with a realistic sound and then back off about fifty percent. Consider the process as analogous to the artist who illustrates a brick or stone wall by only drawing a small number of the actual bricks and letting the viewer's imagination fill in the blanks.

The age thing is also tricky. I think Enrigo has pretty much nailed the eight year old for you. Eighty is different. I'm fifty five, and have spent a fair amount of time in the past few years with relatives and family members of that age. Personality does change at that age too. My observations are that with people they know and care about they often exhibit amazing love, tolerance and patience. This can also be extended to strangers who show a modest amount of humility and respect. When it comes to the arrogant BS artists of the world watch out! They've seen this all before too many times and understand how damaging it is. They can be very pointed with such people, even to the extreme of threatening them. It's as if they've out of run out of patience before they've run out of life. What wisdom they've acquired doesn't necessarily make them a Buddah, but it does grant considerable insight into the behavior of their fellow humans that is rarely found is us youngsters.
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Old 02-25-2016, 12:37 AM
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of all the things people could be, why a Writer? sometimes, one has a bad time, that's all. the word "happy" would lose all meaning unless there were some sadness in the world. i remain determined, and that's how you learn. maybe i just assume sometimes, but you sound like the kind of person that argues with people, even if you're not even sure that they know better than you about something.

behind every argument is the looming degeneration of the truth. thusly, some people have doubts and then new fears, apologies more like. have it your way then, see you around! you sound like you enjoy other people's eccentricities. as dull as people would have us believe, writers beat is not actually dull, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. more than any wonder drug, what i strongly believe in is this— good editing. complaints are good enough, until it's to the very effect! in a heated argument, we are aptly losing sight of all that is right with this or that. i have learned in all this, an importance to the debate. in general, it begins like this, almost so confusingly that none of it makes any sense whatsoever! for me, this is the feeling i have when someone comes perfidiously to me for help: all unassumingly, i tell you that this is not nothing, i have no such feelings. that's the beauty of an argument; it interrupts any room for discussion. there's an English proverb and it goes a little something like, "use pleasing words and harsh arguments." i have a feeling it will leave you with room to disagree. and remember, if you go for the hard-core punch, leave them hanging. either way, it's no detail. i always wonder why people think if you argue correctly more often, you'll learn the hang of it. it's all wrong. arguing is arguing is arguing. kinda like the show or documentary or whatever. also, adults are sometimes never wrong, but they're all wrong. and lastly, i give you up to the road. the crazier the better-- and the tough thing? where people get all their ideas from. how do you even respond? but i was just assuaging you. if i know of anything more savory to someone as yourself, it'll be you too, who did it too! how often? only time will tell ...it's just as if someone asked a swimmer how they even bother.
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  #10  
Old 03-10-2016, 08:38 AM
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My imagination has already rubbed up against you. The rest of the world will have to bring their own.
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Old 03-16-2016, 04:25 PM
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You just need to know your character. Get into that character's mind and become best friends with him/her. Do freewrites with this character. Like somebody else already said: age doesn't define your character. Nationality, culture, age, gender, sex, history, interests, pet peeves.... they all have a huge effect on how your character is played. So, just play with this character. It'll be easy to write them, then.
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Old 03-17-2016, 12:50 PM
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Hi Leah.

I've always felt like an undercover spy when I'd go in public and pretend to read a newspaper while listening, listening, to how people actually talk to each other.

At 8 years old they aren't old enough to carry complex ideas, but if you stick to the vocabulary level you should be able to write a convincing character.

Why not go to where children play and listen? Merry go rounds, the beach, school playgrounds, etc. What you hear will guide you.

And some 8 year olds have impressive language skills.

Good luck on the project.

wrc
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