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[process] Mature characters with backstory

Saturday evening I was texting with [info]bravado111 (urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts) about how much we both liked Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moonjlake.com | LiveJournal ]. John observed that the book read like the fourth volume of a series, and compared it to the original Star Wars movie, now known as A New Hope.

This got me on to thinking about mature protagonists, a topic which has already been on my mind somewhat of late. Mature characters come with their own backstories, their own histories. (For that matter, so do infants, but in dramatic narratives, people with fully formed life histories are usually more interesting.)

Among my books, Rocket Science, Mainspring, Escapement, Pinion, Green, Endurance and Kalimpura all center around young protagonists. Death of a Starship and the Flowers books deal with people in middle age. (The Before Michaela Cannon, core protagonist of Sunspin‘s ensemble cast, is 2,000 years old, so she’s a bit of an outlier.) With those younger protagonists, a major aspect of the story being told is their own journey to maturation and discovery of their life path. The older protagonists have a lot of backstory and implied action embedded in their preferences, desires, choices and reactions to the unfolding of the plot.

Certainly that latter effect is what Saladin achieved in Throne of the Crescent Moon. Hence [info]bravado111‘s reaction. Those characters had been around a long time, had experienced many prior adventures, had lived.

What I’m now chewing on is whether I think it’s a bigger challenge to write a youthful protagonist or to write an older protagonist. How does this affect the reading experience? Green and its subsequent volumes would be very different books if she were middle aged at the time of the action. Some of the key underlying themes of Sunspin would be null and void if Cannon weren’t literally the oldest human being who had ever lived. And Ahmed’s Doctor Adoulla Makhslood wouldn’t be anything like he is if he were still living in the bloom of youth.

Food for thought, indeed. What’s your take, as either a reader or a writer, on the age of protagonists?

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