Aging Your Characters

As my Bell Mountain books go on, I find myself forced to acknowledge the fact that my characters are getting older. It just snuck up on me. I remember when the kid who starred in Lassie had to leave the show because he was growing a mustache and talking like Steve Reeves.

Well, I’m stuck with it now, and my two original protagonists, Jack and Ellayne, are just going to have to keep on getting older until they grow up (if the series runs that long). I missed my chance to dodge the issue.

What are my options now?

1. Stay with all the original characters and let them age naturally–at the risk of losing a big part of my small audience. I could let them grow up physically while remaining completely immature, but I don’t think my publisher would like it.

2. Replace these kids with other young protagonists as needed. Yeah, that would work. Only I’m attached to my original characters and would hate to part with them. But yes, new kids are going to have to come along.

I missed my chance to go with characters who never age, no matter how many books wind up being in the series. There are a few ways of doing that.

In his “Rick Brant Science Adventure” series that ran for some 20 years, J.G. Blaine (aka Hal Goodwin) simply ignored the whole issue. Rick, Scotty, and Barbie remain teenagers throughout the entire series. In fact, none of the regular characters ages at all. And readers didn’t seem to mind. Same with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, come to think of it–teens forever.

When Agatha Christie first introduced Hercule Poirot to the reading public in 1920, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she presented him as a retiring police detective whose best days were behind him–a man of about 60. Little did she dream that she’d be writing about him for the next 50 years! She is said to have calculated that Poirot must have been some 130 years old when he finally died. While she was writing about him, she had to ignore the age issue. Again, the readers didn’t seem to mind.

Edgar Rice Burroughs tried to explain why his characters never seemed to age, not wanting anyone to remark that ERB’s need for money seemed to be as evergreen as Tarzan. So David Innes didn’t age because there was no means of telling time in Pellucidar, at the earth’s core. It would be hard to get around the treetops in a walker, so Tarzan didn’t age, either, and neither did his wife, Jane–the result of secret immortality pills invented by the Leopard Men. And John Carter of Virginia and Barsoon was just plain immortal: always was, no telling how or why.

I think I could have gotten away with not aging any of the Bell Mountain cast and crew, provided I’d stuck with it from the beginning. But it’s a decision the writer of a series has to make from the git-go.

Once the kids in your story start growing up, you really mustn’t try to make them stop.

8 comments on “Aging Your Characters

  1. You know, when I was a kid reading the Narnia Chronicles for the first time, I was shocked when Lewis first revealed that Peter and Susan would not be returning because they were too old. But he kept Lucy and Edmund for a while longer, and introduced new characters like Eustace and Jill Pole, who the series just wouldn’t have been the same without.

    Lewis still found ways to bring his beloved original characters back into future stories both as kids, and as Kings and Queens of Narnia But the point is I got over their absence as main characters, and I didn’t love the books any less without them. I think if you do it right, your audience will be just as forgiving. Maybe do what Lewis did, and bring in some new characters for your readers to love as you gradually phase out the aging ones. You can still find ways to bring them back into the story as teens or adults, but in different roles.

    I’m having a somewhat different issue with age in my series. People immediately assume it is for young adults because my characters start off as children in the first book. When I initially developed these characters back in my roleplaying days, they were actually adults. Their entire childhood was contained within a few pages of back story, which I eventually made into a full length book.

    But now at the end of the second book they are at the point of coming into adulthood, and just as in real life, the transition is somewhat painful. They aren’t really kids anymore (especially by medieval standards) yet they aren’t fully adults either. And as they get even older they will inevitably have to deal with adult relationships and problems. Unless, as you said, I want to keep them perpetually immature, which isn’t realistic at all.

    However, I am also determined to keep my series completely PG. I see no reason to give into the current trend of making everything so graphic and explicit that I’d be embarrassed for my family to read it. There are definitely some challenges ahead for me, and honestly, I’m not sure how I am going to deal with them yet.

    1. Definitely not! I am not writing a romance series, nor do I want to. Yet people usually grow up to marry and have families. This would have been especially important in the era they live in. One of the girls in particular (I won’t spoil anything) has a future husband who is crucial to the plot of the whole series. I just need to find a balance that is not too realistic, but still believable, and true to the characters themselves. I don’t expect it will be easy.

    2. Actually, I’m OK with King Ryons aging, because he has to learn how to be a king. But if I want to keep my YA rating, I will have to work new young characters into the story. And you’re right, C.S. Lewis provides us with an easy-to-follow model for doing just that.

      But I’ve also long been toying with the idea of diving way back into Obann’s history and telling some of the stories from thousands of years before the events of Bell Mountain. Hmm…

    3. That’s always a fun idea! : ) Going back in time can really bring out the richness of a series and make people want to read it all over again. I may eventually write some shorter novellas that follow different parts of my world’s history, which is rather extensive. Once nice thing about self publishing is I can do anything I want.

  2. One good thing about aging your characters is that the children reading them will grow up with them.

  3. As a parent, I have appreciated watching Ellayne’s family grow and mature over the series. Ellayne has become more thoughtful and less impetuous, and her parents have learned to trust God more as Jack and Ellayne go adventuring. Looking forward to seeing how they continue to grow in grace over the years.

    1. My favorite example of this is the time Ellayne’s father was drifting into a wild display of anger and his wife dumped a pot of cold water on his head: whereupon he took a deep breath and said “Thank you!” (I don’t remember whether this scene has been published yet: it may be in “The Temple.”)
      It has been very rewarding to me, getting to know that family–so I know exactly how you feel about it.

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