One of the oddest reactions I’ve received as an indie author came from another author at an event to promote local writers. I’d struck up a conversation, sharing the launch of “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain.” When she asked me if I had children, she seemed puzzled by my answer. How was it possible, she wondered, that I could write a young adult book about a thirteen year-old hero if I didn’t have children of my own?
I admit, I was taken aback by her question. The suggestion that an author can only write about direct experience would seem to negate most fiction. Stephen King, as far was we know, isn’t a serial killer. Ray Bradbury never traveled to Mars. Charles Dickens began publishing chapters of Oliver Twist in 1837, the same year his first child was born.
How were these seemingly impossible feats accomplished?
Authors of fiction explore human nature. That’s what creating relatable characters is all about. If the novelist has done her job right, a horror novel can fill you with fear; a romantic novel with longing; and an adventure novel with suspense.
Characters that I create, regardless of age, are based first upon my personal experience as a human being struggling to get by in the world at large, and secondly on my observations and interaction with others. In the case of writing young adult fiction, I draw on resources that range from friendships I had as a boy, to teens I’ve known and/or mentored over the years.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, Socrates complained about “modern” children, in words that adults have repeated through the centuries:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
Undoubtedly, the children of his age looked upon the older generation with similar suspicion.
Effective writing bonds us together through time and culture, and allow us to understand those who are different from ourselves. While the toys, clothes and technology may change, human nature never does.
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