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One of the most challenging things to do as a writer is to write about someone who is very different from yourself. It requires a lot of research, but it also requires a lot of imagination. This guide aims to aid roleplayers and writers in portraying characters who may be many years—or even decades—older than themselves.
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Note: I was originally asked to create a guide for each decade (how to roleplay characters in their 20s, 30s, etc.). However, after doing research on the subject (and finding very little), I realized that there wouldn’t be many tips specific to each decade, so I decided instead to make one guide with general tips that apply to all ages.
In writing, it is easy to write about situations you have experienced yourself, or create characters similar to yourself; the challenge arises when the time comes to write about things you do not yet understand. How do you write about a character who has lived many years more than you have, and has therefore experienced much more? This character may be nearing the end of his road, while you have got your entire life ahead of you. The following are things that you can do in this situation in order to accurately portray such a character.
Model the character on someone you know.
This is by far the easiest way to build a believable character: take characteristics from real-life people. Do you know someone in their thirties? Are your parents in their forties? Do you have grandparents in their sixties? Find someone whose age is relatively close to the age of the character you are going to portray, and take cues from the way that person acts and reacts to situations. Don’t let your character become an identical twin to that person, but take characteristics you notice and carry them over into your character.
Observe adults around you.
If you don’t know someone in the age group of the character you’re building, or even if you simply want more material with which to create a believable character, observe adults everywhere you go. Carry a notebook and take notes on their reactions to situations, their mannerisms, their habits, the things they say—anything that stands out to you.
Get to know the dialect.
Learning the way adults talk is like learning a whole new dialect. They have all sorts of slang, just like our own generation. The dialect shift is more and more diverse depending on how wide the age-gap is; if your character is in his twenties, his dialect will not be much different from your own, whereas a character in her eighties might seem to be speaking a whole different language at times. Pay close attention to your word choices, as even the use of a single word can be the difference between an old character and a young character. Once again, observe adults around you. Listen to your parents’ conversations; write down sentences you overhear on the bus. Real people are the best models of how characters should be.
Ask for opinions.
If you know someone who is around the same age as the character you’re writing, don’t be afraid to ask that person what they think! Whether you’re not entirely sure how an adult would react to a particular situation, or you can’t decide whether or not a certain piece of dialogue sounds like something an adult would realistically say, ask adults what they think! Adults will know better than anyone else does, because they have that experience; they know what makes sense in their own lives and will therefore know what makes sense for your character.
Know your history.
Anyone who has lived longer than you will have more memories of the past than you do. You won’t know the unbridled joy and relief, your heart leaping from your chest upon your first glimpse of your husband or your brother or your cousin the day he returns for Christmas dinner from the battlefields of WWII. You probably won’t remember the frustration of the first days of email, when the computer was a blank screen with a square, blinking cursor and no formatting options. But your character might. It’s your job as a writer to read up on what the world was like for your character growing up, so that you understand what kind of memories the character might have. This way, you’ll be able to more effectively mimic the kind of experience your character will have that you haven’t yet had the opportunity to accumulate.
Think of life as a long road trip. Someone who has been living longer than you will have seen a lot more of the world, and will have all of those memories stored like snapshots out of a car window. Your job is to write about these memories as if they are your own, so you need to know as much as possible about the society in which your character spent most of her life.
Know your character.
Consider your character’s past. This may seem like a repeat of the topic discussed above, but it is not. You need to know about your character’s family while he was growing up, the kind of house he lived in, whether he was nurtured or neglected as a child. You need to know if she was bullied, or molested, or if she was always protected from the dangers of the world. Each and every choice your character made, each experience he lived through, each friend he made—every one of these things will have shaped him into the person he is today, and you need to understand who he is in order to portray him accurately.
Consider your character’s maturity level/approach to his age. Age is only a number, and a person’s maturity level almost never matches up to that number exactly. There are those who act young all their life, remaining a child at heart and never caring to grow up. There are those who mature before their time and miss out on the most fun and exciting parts of their life as a result. There are all sorts of people in between, who have different maturity levels. Your character’s maturity level might be related to her past; maybe she grew up too fast because her parents died and she was left to fend for herself and her siblings at a young age; maybe he will never grow up because his parents never taught him proper adult behaviour. Also, consider the way your character feels about her age—does he still feel twenty years old at age sixty? Is she proud of her age, or does she keep it a secret? Does each passing year seem to bring him closer to death, or does he see the days he has left as an opportunity to live? Each attitude towards age, and each type of maturity, will affect the choices your character makes.
Consider your character’s priorities. Usually as a person ages his priorities will change dramatically: younger people don’t have much to worry about, so they prioritize fun and friends; with age comes resposibility, which means older people may begin to prioritize work and family more as they grow and mature. Of course, there are those who will be party animals all their lives, and will never worry about work, and there are those who were never party-goers in the first place. Make a list of your character’s top five priorities (Money? Knowledge? Friendship? Religion?) and then think about how those priorities might affect the decisions and relationships your character might have.
Consider your character’s interests. The things a person is interested in say a lot about their personality. I was once told that the music you listen to as a teenager is the music you’ll listen to for the rest of your life. I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds very plausible. Many adults I know still have the same interests they held as teenagers. Think about what your character was interested in growing up, and how that might have changed (or stayed the same) over time. Think about whether she is living in the present day, keeping up with the technology and fashions of the times, or whether she is living in the past, unwilling to change her ways.
Consider whether your character has any physical ailments. This isn’t a stereotype; it’s simply a fact that the human body deteriorates with age and is more susceptible to certain diseases. Read up on age-related diseases and decide whether your character might suffer from any of them as well as how they would affect his day-to-day life. Remember that frailty, hearing and vision impairment, as well as hair greying/loss are some of the most common symptoms of ageing.
Above all, use your imagination.
Imagination is absolute key in creating a believable adult character—or any character for that matter. If you can get inside her shoes and see things through her eyes, if you can truly understand her from the inside out, it’ll be an absolute breeze portraying her in roleplay and novel alike.
Further Reading:
Characters’ Age: Musings on How it Affects Writing
Maturity
Emotional Maturity, Boundaries and Why Most of the People You Know Aren’t Actually Adults
What is a Mid-Life Crisis?
Mid-Life Crisis
Ageing
How the Body Ages
Common Age-Related Diseases

One of the most challenging things to do as a writer is to write about someone who is very different from yourself. It requires a lot of research, but it also requires a lot of imagination. This guide aims to aid roleplayers and writers in portraying characters who may be many years—or even decades—older than themselves.

Note: I was originally asked to create a guide for each decade (how to roleplay characters in their 20s, 30s, etc.). However, after doing research on the subject (and finding very little), I realized that there wouldn’t be many tips specific to each decade, so I decided instead to make one guide with general tips that apply to all ages.

In writing, it is easy to write about situations you have experienced yourself, or create characters similar to yourself; the challenge arises when the time comes to write about things you do not yet understand. How do you write about a character who has lived many years more than you have, and has therefore experienced much more? This character may be nearing the end of his road, while you have got your entire life ahead of you. The following are things that you can do in this situation in order to accurately portray such a character.

Model the character on someone you know.

This is by far the easiest way to build a believable character: take characteristics from real-life people. Do you know someone in their thirties? Are your parents in their forties? Do you have grandparents in their sixties? Find someone whose age is relatively close to the age of the character you are going to portray, and take cues from the way that person acts and reacts to situations. Don’t let your character become an identical twin to that person, but take characteristics you notice and carry them over into your character.

Observe adults around you.

If you don’t know someone in the age group of the character you’re building, or even if you simply want more material with which to create a believable character, observe adults everywhere you go. Carry a notebook and take notes on their reactions to situations, their mannerisms, their habits, the things they sayanything that stands out to you.

Get to know the dialect.

Learning the way adults talk is like learning a whole new dialect. They have all sorts of slang, just like our own generation. The dialect shift is more and more diverse depending on how wide the age-gap is; if your character is in his twenties, his dialect will not be much different from your own, whereas a character in her eighties might seem to be speaking a whole different language at times. Pay close attention to your word choices, as even the use of a single word can be the difference between an old character and a young character. Once again, observe adults around you. Listen to your parents’ conversations; write down sentences you overhear on the bus. Real people are the best models of how characters should be.

Ask for opinions.

If you know someone who is around the same age as the character you’re writing, don’t be afraid to ask that person what they think! Whether you’re not entirely sure how an adult would react to a particular situation, or you can’t decide whether or not a certain piece of dialogue sounds like something an adult would realistically say, ask adults what they think! Adults will know better than anyone else does, because they have that experience; they know what makes sense in their own lives and will therefore know what makes sense for your character.

Know your history.

Anyone who has lived longer than you will have more memories of the past than you do. You won’t know the unbridled joy and relief, your heart leaping from your chest upon your first glimpse of your husband or your brother or your cousin the day he returns for Christmas dinner from the battlefields of WWII. You probably won’t remember the frustration of the first days of email, when the computer was a blank screen with a square, blinking cursor and no formatting options. But your character might. It’s your job as a writer to read up on what the world was like for your character growing up, so that you understand what kind of memories the character might have. This way, you’ll be able to more effectively mimic the kind of experience your character will have that you haven’t yet had the opportunity to accumulate.

Think of life as a long road trip. Someone who has been living longer than you will have seen a lot more of the world, and will have all of those memories stored like snapshots out of a car window. Your job is to write about these memories as if they are your own, so you need to know as much as possible about the society in which your character spent most of her life.

Know your character.

Above all, use your imagination.

Imagination is absolute key in creating a believable adult character—or any character for that matter. If you can get inside her shoes and see things through her eyes, if you can truly understand her from the inside out, it’ll be an absolute breeze portraying her in roleplay and novel alike.

Further Reading:


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