September 22, 2012

Dating Yourself

As I get older, I find I enjoy writing about characters my age, but it’s hard to build a book around people in their fifties. It’s a young person’s world out there, so I usually relegate these people to what in movies is called “supporting roles.”

That said, it can be hard for a middle-aged woman like myself to successfully convey a younger person's mindset.  Here are some dead giveaways that suggest that those 30-something characters are written by someone over 50 (or over 80, for that matter):

  • Characters who have names that were popular 60 years ago.  Linda, Deborah, Patricia, Phyllis, Diane, Brenda, Stephanie…those names pretty much were out of use by 1970, and practically extinct by 1980.  Some male names have retained popularity, like Chris, Robert, Matt, and even John (looks more modern spelled without the “h”) and the always popular Michael.  There are web sites that list popular boy and girl names by the decade that are quite useful.
  • Your 30-ish characters call flight attendants “stewardesses.”  Any character using this term should be at least  75.
  • Your 30-ish character’s dream man is Denzel Washington.  Come on…Denzel still looks good, but the fact is he’s a man in his late 50s…old enough to be the father of a 35-year-old.  Choose a younger dream celebrity.
  • Your 30-ish characters are doing “the bump” or even worse, “the bus stop” at a party.  Dances today really don’t have names, unless it’s line dancing like the slide cha-cha or the Cupid Shuffle.
  • Your 30-ish characters sound old.  Come on, folks.  If the hero calls the heroine a “treacherous little minx,” it just doesn’t come off sounding like contemporary jargon.  I actually read that line of dialogue in a contemporary African-American romance novel.  Just thinking about it cracks me up.  I once tried to repeat it to a writer friend, but laughed so hard I couldn’t get the words out.  Dialogue should sound natural...and preferably taken from the century in which the story is set.

Have you noticed any factors in books that give away the author's age?  Share!


'Cilla said...

I agree with you totally...

PatriciaW said...

I agree some female names, like mine, are totally out of vogue. But others, like Stephanie, still seem to be around.

The big telltale sign for me is when all the pop cultural references--r&B group names, song titles, movies, slang words, etc.--are from the 1980s or before. Yes, we've got lots of reruns on cable and classic soul stations but I don't think those would predominate the thoughts of a younger person. Of course there's always exceptions like my 17yo who should have been born in the 1970s or 80s.

Another one is the way in which the character interacts with technology (or that the author references technology). Even if the character gets it right, sometimes its very obvious that these gadgets are still very new to the author.

bettye griffin said...

Glad you could appreciate these thoughts, 'Cilla!

Patricia, there's something elegant and, well, patrician (pardon my pun) about your name. The last kid I met whose name I thought was Stephanie was actually named Destiny, but as the mother of kids and teens you're better qualified than me to know! Interesting point about the latest gadgets. I'll have to be careful when referencing them, since I'm not a gadget person. I wouldn't want it to show...

Thanks for commenting!