But when a young writer peers into the distance and tries to write some old folks into the story, they always get it wrong. And I don't mean just a little. I mean their older characters behave, think and speak in ways that look ridiculous to actual older citizens.
Anyone who has a few miles on him has had this experience, multiple times. You're watching some new TV show or a movie. On the screen are some adorable kids, swapping wisecracks, phobias and spit, playing the main characters, the ones you're supposed to care about. They act more or less like real young people.
Then there are some older folks, thin as tissue paper, stiff as cardboard, doing things no older person does, caring about things real old folks stopped caring about a quarter century ago, and generally behaving as if the writer has never met anyone over fifty. They don't act like real old people at all. They act like young people with wrinkles.
This phenomenon is robustly ignored. It's converse, however, is celebrated. Some heedless geezer doesn't know what "twerk" means and all the hipsters crack up. Seen that scene before?
Older writers often miss the mark when they write about young people. But not by much. The styles may be off a trifle, the speech patterns not quite au courant, but their young characters are recognizable as actual youthful human beings.
So, why do talented young writers do so much worse when they try to create believable older characters?
Because, when a young person writes about being old, it's an act of imagination. When an old person writes about being young, it's an act of memory. No wonder kids don't understand, they haven't been there yet. It's like they're writing about an alien life form on a mysterious planet.
The realities of older people's lives are often misunderstood because they don't feel the need to share as much as the young.
But I'm sharing now. Here are a few tips for my young writer friends.
First, not all old folks are not stuck in loveless, adversarial hells with their partners. I know it looks that way from where you are, in the preliminaries, the first bloody bouts of mating combat, but that's just youth fooling you.
Keep in mind this quote from Mark Twain, the old Mark Twain, he knew what he was talking about. "Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century."
It's okay, I didn't get it either, until about last September. But it's true, if you marry the right person, and most of you will.
Second, we no longer give a stool about "fitting in." Your older characters have been here a while. They "belong" and they know it. Write accordingly.
Third, your older characters aren't trying to "find themselves." They're trying to find their keys.
Fourth, we do not pine for our youth. We pine for being young. If you don't see the difference, you will. Your perspective will change.
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