Monday, June 29, 2015

Characterization of Teens vs. Adults by Annette M. Irby

Student with laptop*

Have you ever written a character that wasn’t close to your own age? For instance, perhaps you’re thirty-eight, but your character is sixteen. Or you’re writing a twenty-something, but he’s coming across as fifteen?

Years ago, I had written a story with a female lead who came across to early readers as adolescent, but that’s not what I’d meant to portray. And at the time, I couldn’t always discern why she seemed so young. Then, recently, as I was editing a manuscript (not the earlier one), I saw a pattern in the character’s actions that brought up this adolescent vs. adult characterization. So, I brainstormed some differences between teens and adults. These are generalizations, but perhaps you'll find them helpful:

Teens overreact to situations, perhaps because they haven’t seen them before. Challenges feel like “the end of the world.”

Adults have weathered tough situations and know storms pass.

Teens tend to participate in and tolerate melodrama in their lives.

Adult generally prefer less drama.

In the lives of teenagers, there are lots of firsts (first job, first romance, first drive). So youthful characters would experience more wonder, less cynicism, more optimism.

Adults have more life experience. Adults can sometimes become cynical and pessimistic as they see evil patterns repeated over time.

Teens tend to judge.

Adults often overlook flaws more than teens do.

Teens tend to focus on externals. For example, one of the first requirements in romance might be appearance.

Adults generally search for internals. In romance, adults might look for character traits they now realize they need or prefer in their lives.

Teens generally aren’t cautious. They feel immortal, like risks, and perhaps have pride. They are independent, feeling the consequences of their actions only affect them. They tend to think “it’s all about me.”

Adults have matured. Life has humbled them. Since others (employers, spouses, children) are counting on them (more than in their youth), they tend to take fewer risks for the sake of others. “It’s about them.”

Teens don’t generally think long term. They make decisions for the situation they’re in, rather than consider how they’ll feel twenty or thirty years in the future. (Perhaps because they have only just begun thinking in terms of decades. They can’t imagine carrying a regret for a lifetime.)

Adults consider life decisions in terms of regrets, and the “test of time.”

Teens are still learning to be responsible (drivers, employees, stewards, etc.)

Adults have generally learned the value of responsibility.

Teens tend to shy away from unpleasant tasks, choosing procrastination. (Perhaps out of fear they won't have the necessary skills or know-how.)

Adults have learned how to reward themselves for tackling difficult jobs and the satisfaction of having them finished. Adults also tend to trust they'll have the capability (or resources) to finish the job.

Teens tend to think in terms of “black or white” (or, shall we say “red or green”).

Adults know there is always more than one side to every story.

Teens tend to go along with popular mindsets.

Adults analyze mindsets and develop their own set of beliefs.

Again, these are generalizations. For the twenty-something character, you could combine some of these traits because twenty-somethings are figuring out the world, and learning “responsible independence” for themselves. I hope this list helps when working on characterization.

Write on, friends.  

*photo credit: "Student" by Gualberto107 at


Her Nerdy Cowboy

Whoever heard of a bookish cowboy? When Logan McDaniel’s brother-in-law dies, he steps in to help his beloved sister run her ranch. But what does a city boy know of herding cattle? Claire Langley loved her cousin. After he dies, she agrees to serve as a temporary nanny for two heartbroken children. 

Claire and Logan find they share a love of books, and Claire can’t resist the nerdy uncle who is great with children, and who reads to her of pirate romance. Claire’s ailing mother needs her in Seattle. Can she break away? And if she does, can there ever be a future for Logan and her?


Annette M. Irby

Annette M. Irby has three published books and 
runs her own freelance editing business, AMI Editing
See her page here on Seriously Write for more information.