Trans-generational writing and why authors should decide who they are

Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers

 

Okay, so a guy is in his sixties wants to write a  novel.

The world is  his oyster.  He brings a lifetime of experience to the table. He will have dealt with the work a day world, the issues surrounding marriage and raising a family, the approach of old age, the loss of parents or other people dear to him.

From this pallet he must pick a story that is a  microcosm of the human experience and flesh it out, not as some abstract treatise, but in the form of a tale suitable for telling around a campfire, the chronicle of events that will capture the interest of his readers in the first few sentences and never let go of them to the end tens of thousands of words down the line.

One of the questions that haunts me in this process is how the writer is to deal with persons whose world view is vastly different from his own.

For instance, I remember once reading that laws in the United States are crafted by people who, for the most part, are law-abiding.  Sociopaths and amoral characters of various stripes usually play no role in the sausage grinder that generates our criminal codes.

Once when I was a young prosecutor I got a glimpse into this scenario.

There was an accused in the jail who was potentially facing the death penalty for his crimes.  As such things go, he came to Jesus in the hoosegow, and remembered certain details that would provide the basis for the arrest and conviction of some of his comrades who participated in the heinous act.  This revelation provided an opportunity for him to cut a deal that would result in a reduced sentence for him, allowing him to skirt the confines of the death chamber.

The deal was cut, and the time came for him to enter his plea.

We waited in the courtroom for the deputies to bring him before the judge.

Minutes passed, hours passed.

No defendant.

Finally the word came from the jail.

He wouldn’t come out of his cell because he was watching a TV show about the upcoming Super Bowl game.

Really?

He was craw fishing on a deal that would save his life because of a TV show about football?

My point is that for the accused the consequences of his actions didn’t matter.  He didn’t live in a rational world, he lived in one where only immediate gratification was important.

I know this is an extreme example, but I believe it is much like the situation facing authors when they choose their cast of characters.

I couldn’t get inside that accused killer’s head because his way of thinking was so foreign to me, and to most people.

Likewise, even though I have spent many years in the presence of teenagers and once was one myself, I have little point of contact with the world they inhabit today.

I could take a stab at portraying a teenager as a lead character in a book, but more than likely the character I would produce would be a card board figure, a mere cliche.

We have talked about boomer lit some on these pages, and the notion of bringing the sum of one’s life’s experience to the table strikes me as the critical starting point for such literature.  Boomer lit, as I see it, is  nothing more nor less than mature people attempting to carve out stories that reflect the essence of what they have learned. It is not writing about old people, but it is writing from mature persons who bring decades of living to the table.

The really important thing for authors is for them to decide who they are.

That decision will drive the next one: About what should they write?

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  • David Atkinson

    I find listening to my children, and when I worked in the call centre at a bank the youngsters round me, helped.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    I often feel that writers are like the defendant who wouldn’t come out of the cell. We don’t live in a rational world either. If I had a teenager as my primary character, I would have to set the novel in the 1950s. I know what teenagers thought and what they did then. I have no clue about today’s teenager. Different world. Different turmoil to deal with. I’m merely a stranger in their world.

  • Dale Carnegie said to talk about topics for which you have “earned the right to talk about,” either through personal experience or thorough research.
    Good advice for speakers and writers.
    So, don’t shy away from writing about a different world or different people, do your research.

  • jack43

    I don’t write contemporary stories, not yet, but I could. I’ve worked with people much younger than myself until recently. I’ve counseled teenagers as well as those at the cusp of adolescence and adulthood. I’ve taught children-at-risk, incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities for crimes, some serious. I suppose I could write it off as research if ever I turn my hand to writing a tale set in the modern era. However, for now, as I write about history, being of a “historic age”, I don’t have any problem.

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