Q&A

How Do I Write Like an Adult?

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Hello! First of all, I love Mythcreants and have been a fan for years. Now, onto the question! I’m a writer, but I’m also not quite an adult yet. However, the stories I write are about adults (because I don’t want kids in my military sci fi). So what is the difference between teenage and adult perspectives? Any tips on making my adults sound more distinctly, well, adult? I don’t want to get sent to the YA zone by a potential publisher because my age is apparent through my writing!

-Megan

Hi Megan,

Thank you, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site!

When it comes to depicting characters who are older than you, the thing to keep in mind is that there isn’t an actual line with kids on one side and adults on the other. People age and change throughout their entire lives; young people just change faster. But even though the rate of change slows down, an adult in their 20s probably has more in common with a teenager than with another adult in their 40s.

As people age, they:

  • Are more independent and depend less on their parents. (People in their 20s are a lot more independent than most teenagers, but they often still rely on their parents.)
  • Figure out who they are, what they want to do with their lives, and what works for them, often growing in confidence.
  • Are less likely to take risks.
  • Are less likely to get involved in social drama, just because their social lives often become more stable.
  • Are more experienced and educated.
  • Have less energy and stamina. They value sleep a lot more and as they age, change habits to avoid aches and pains.

However, these differences are often much smaller than the differences between individuals, and for some people, the reverse could be true.

Considering that you must have already consumed countless stories written by adults and featuring adults, I don’t think you’re going to create adults that your readers don’t believe are adults. Instead, I would look more at the specialities your adults are involved in. For instance, telling a military story is pretty challenging for someone with no military experience, regardless of age. That’s something you’d want to do a lot of research on, and you might consider reading fiction and nonfiction stories by people in the military about military life. Parenting young kids is another area where you might want to get some input from people who are parents.

The reason why few teenagers publish novels is simply because building the skills to write a publishable novel takes so many years that most teenagers are adults by the time their work is at that level. It’s not because there’s something wrong with writing as a teenager. I don’t think your age will add some weakness to your stories that never appears in the writing of inexperienced adults. If a publisher does want to publish your work in YA category, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Tons of adults read YA, and the bestselling YA novels usually outsell other genres. In fact, I think the biggest reason YA is looked down on is that it’s associated with women.

I could give you some advice on making your work feel more adult, but I think that would be doing you a disservice. Instead, you should simply practice and improve your craft, research the subject matter you’ll be covering, and tell the story you want to tell. Any compromises you make to those things to seem older – or avoid the YA category – will only hurt you.

Happy writing!

Chris

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    What I (as a 40-something) would add to Chris’ list:

    -you know more about what you can and can’t do, so you can judge situations better (you’re less likely to get yourself into trouble that way)
    -experience can make up for the loss of stamina and energy over time, since you know the best way to accomplish something quickly and efficiently (but you actually need less sleep in older age – you do, however, tend to keep more regular sleeping hours and not do all-nighters)
    -you are less reliant on what other people think of you (unless you’re in politics or another field where it’s important what people think of you)

    I do also think that military spec-fic is a very high goal to aim for when you have no experience with the military life. That needs extensive research and you should talk to a lot of current and/or former soldiers to find out what the life of a soldier is really like. Afterwards, you will have to extrapolate what changes in technology would do to that life. I wouldn’t think I could write a military spec-fic, despite being much older than you, not without extensive research (and bothering my dad, who was a soldier for 5 years, a lot).

  2. Erynus

    Adults had more time to consume media and have more choice on what to consume, hence an adult writer have more sources available. On the other hand YA literature is usually categorized by the plot and not by the author’s age.
    You’ll eventually realize that adults have way more leeway into how they behave, just because they are adults.
    A teenager that drives recklessly or spent the evening drinking is frowned on, but when is an adult who does it, people think its just his business. The main difference is that a teenager is not legally accountable for most of the things he does, but an adult is.
    Power and responsibility , as Uncle Ben said.

  3. LeeEsq

    Being a real person lawyer, I can’t say that there can be that the difference between mature and immature people is necessarily aged based but it can be. I think anybody who pays basic attention to society and world events can find no shortage of some rather impulsive, not mature, and self-centered adults. A distressing number of them are in positions with a lot of power.

  4. Megan

    Oh my gosh! I can’t believe my question was chosen to be published! Thank you so much for the advice you’ve given. I’ll keep it with me and use it well. You guys are my heroes, and it’s so incredible for me to get such a lengthy response. Thank you again.

    • Chris Winkle

      You’re welcome! You would have gotten this answer from me by email weeks ago, but unfortunately the email address you entered didn’t work

  5. Chris

    I think the biggest difference between adults and kids is how grand and important things seem to be. An argument between friends can seem like a life-altering event when you’re young, but as an adult you’ve likely been through some of those arguments before, and maybe even lost some friends because of it, and you know that the world will not end because of it, though it may still be unpleasant. A younger person might connect with someone in a way that has never happened before(“I’ve never met someone I can talk to about X”) and be completely swept off their feet thinking they’ve found their soulmate, while an older person will simply be excited about having found a new friend.

    All of this is a matter of experience, and can vary from person to person more than from adult to child. Somebody might have been very sheltered growing up and so most of these things are still new to them, or they might have had a tough life and had to grow up fast. They might have gotten into plenty of fights, and so arguments and maybe even violence don’t phase them, but they’ve never cooked a meal for themselves or they panic because they screwed up the laundry and now they’re worried they won’t have any clothes.

    A quick and dirty way to do it: ask yourself, “How has this person screwed up in the past?”

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