Heroes Younger Than I

Anybody who has seen any of my artwork or read many of the stories I’ve written over the years probably realizes that my preferred subjects are teenagers. This may seem like a strange choice to some, perhaps, but I simply find them to be the most interesting characters.

There’s something fascinating to me about the teenage years that give them such a dynamic range of topics, struggles, and characterization. When you’re a teenager there’s still a bit of “magic” to the world, locked into that delicate balance between becoming a full-fledged adult and still being a child and having fun. You have your whole life ahead of you, and you’re getting your first tastes of responsibility, independence, and individuality. Teenagers are still finding their place in this world and working to form lasting opinions on its many issues, while at the same time trying to make sense of everything, not to mention trying to make sense of themselves and who they are as a person. This age of discovery is such a ripe bed of story and character ideas, and teenagers will naturally have some sort of character arc to them just by existing in the world of a story. Not to mention children and teenagers are always so expressive, moving in wide motions that waste energy and display their raw emotions bare for the whole world to see, not caring who else sees or hears them other than their immediate friends.

Adults, on the other hand, tend to have things figured out–even if only in their own head. They’re stiffer, less pliable, more reserved. Every action is subconsciously thought out, even things so simple as a basic walk cycle or standing in place. They’ve already been through the trying fires of adolescence and, having mastered mastered the many trials of puberty, their personalities and emotions are far more stable and static. That’s not to say I don’t find adults fascinating. It’s just that their character arcs tend to be very different in nature, and stem more from the circumstances of what’s going on around them instead of welling up from within themselves.

Sometimes I feel like I should grow up and write more “mature” characters, or start filling my sketch book with more “grown-ups”. But I never seem to stick with it for very long. The fluidity of youth is more fun to write or doodle than the subtleties of adulthood. And it’s not like I’m alone. The majority of young adult literature is written by actual adults, after all.

There’s also the difficulties of perspective. A decade ago I was a teenager. While clarity fades with time, I do still remember what it was like and how it felt. On the other hand, I’m single and don’t have any children. That makes writing from the perspective of a parent, for example, more difficult. It’s not that I can’t put myself in the place of a parent when writing a character–I do so all the time. But it takes a lot more research to craft and understand, because I can’t rely on my own experiences to the degree I can when writing about, say, young siblings interacting.

Looking back, I realize this is nothing new in my life. It seems I’ve always favored characters that are younger than myself. When I was nine, I wrote a story wherein the hero is a four year old. When I was a teenager, most of my characters where either very young teenagers, or more often preteen. Perhaps there’s more than a bit of longing to it?

Now that I’m less than a year away from thirty I’ve noticed I’ve been slipping ever more twenty-something protagonists into my work. Tachi and Eva, the main characters in Another Star, are in their early twenties, and the player character Serenity in Junction is roughly twenty-eight. Perhaps when I’m ninety I’ll be writing stories about all those spy young whippersnappers in their seventies.

2 thoughts on “Heroes Younger Than I

  1. I have the feeling that in general, RPG players are looking for more mature characters recently.

    I personally don’t really share that sentiment, but I also think it depends on the type of game. For example in Tales of… games I’d rather have hilarious dialogues like in Tales of Graces rather than everybody being super serious like in Tales of Vesperia or Tales of Xillia. But when I play a game with a high level of immersion, where I’m basically taking the role of the main character, I indeed prefer it, if he’s closer to my age and can act I like would do.

    Also I recently thought about how Amnesia does the immersion perfectly by letting each game start with the main character having lost his memory. It makes sense because then the main character only knows what you know.

    It’s similar to what you say about teenagers – they are newbies and have to learn stuff. If you start an RPG, you are new to the world and its systems and all, so a teenager would kind of better reflect that.

    Makes me wonder if there’s an RPG where you start out as a teenager but end up as adult man at the end.

    1. Amnesia does start off well, but I’m careful about giving characters any form of amnesia in games because it’s just been done so many times; especially in RPGs.

      Makes me wonder if there’s an RPG where you start out as a teenager but end up as adult man at the end.

      In Dragon Quest V you start out as a kid who can’t even read. By the end of the game you’ve got kids of your own.

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