Character Ages in Children’s Stories

If you write for children, have you clearly indicated the age of your characters somewhere early in the story? Writers sometimes think that leaving that fact vague allows the young readers to believe the characters are their own age, whether that is five or nine. Not true!

Leaving the protagonist’s age vague usually works for adult readers. We tend to think of ourselves as “young” no matter our age! Or like to recall when we were young or how we’ll deal with things when we are older. So age is less of an issue for adult books.

In picture books, this is less of an issue, too, simply because the protagonist can be seen. But I specialize in editing fiction for the older child, which is all text by that stage, and I can tell you that young readers need to know the age of the character early in the book. The reason is that each year in a young person’s life is a unique stage. They want to know that this character is, in fact, their peer or just a year or so older (they like to think of themselves as a bit more “mature” than they are). There are age ranges, true, but they are specific and cover only about three years at the most. In that case, readers within any age range, for instance from 9 to 12, prefer a character to be in the upper end of that range (a 12-year-old in this example).

Dialogue can clue readers into the ages, but that can be awkward to pull off well without sounding “planted.” It is easier (and accepted by publishers) for the fact of age to be simply slipped into the narrative.

You could insert a reference to the child’s grade in school or give a comparison to an older or younger friend or sibling. These facts can be slipped in without barely noticing them, but, in the process, the young reader will recognize that their own concerns and attitudes will be reflected in this main character, who just happens to be the same age!

Need specific help with writing your children’s book? Check out my editing services at Bristol Editing Services.

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