literature

30. Bittersweet Sixteen

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Why is this even a thing?  No—better question—why didn't I write about this sooner?

Well, despite knowing that this complaint is frequently used as a petty reason to bring a character down, the reason I didn't write about this is mainly because it's so stupid, shallow, and I figured that the only time anyone would ever even consider the age of a character as a disparaging factor, is if the character was too young to be in a group, or to work, or some other stuff where you have to be, at minimum, a certain age to be able to attend something, which is fairly reasonable.  But no.  Sixteen is that demonic number that automatically puts a shade over a character.  

Should the age of a character really be enough to add a point to the Mary-Sue score?  Really?!  Should every character over the age of sixteen have a point just for having been sixteen for a year?  Are we really supposed to treat the number sixteen as the thirteenth floor in Chicago hotels?  It's ridiculous.

For those of you who are intelligent, open-minded beings, you might think that age doesn't matter, which it shouldn't, but, much to my chagrin, it apparently does, especially if you're submitting/reviewing character sheets!  There are numerous OC reviewing books or entries, and it seems that every time someone submits a character who's sixteen, I see "Mary-Sue age" from the person reviewing the character.  How is that in any way constructive?

Could the story be better if the main character was older, or younger?  Possibly, but it heavily depends.  For one, young readers are more than likely to read about young protagonists, so sixteen year olds are more than likely to read about protagonists of high school age.  If writers want to attract readers of that age, they'll more than likely write about protagonists of their age.  It's a marketing tactic.  Secondly, if the plot stays the same, but the character's age is changed, it may simply not work.

Part of the reason the Disney show Kim Possible was so successful was because Kim was in high school.  She promotes that her age and gender doesn't get in the way of her being able to do anything, with her motto being "Anything's possible for a Possible," and comparing to saving the world from incompetent super villains, high school has just as much drama, if not more.  There's the stress of getting good grades, attending a committee, doing volunteer work, and of course being cheer captain.  It's not the same as college, or saving the world being her job, or having a job other than saving the world.  With college, no one makes a fuss if you simply not show up for class.  In high school, there's usually a phone call to your parents, detention, suspension, expulsion, or kicked off from extra curricular activities if it's not excused, and if you don't show up enough times, you get to enjoy your days at juvenile hall and your parents may face fines or jail time.  Kim Possible has had part-time jobs before, one at a fast-food restaurant called Bueno Nacho, which she quit more-so because she hated it rather than her being too busy, and another job at her favorite retail store Club Banana, which she kept to the end of the show.  If there's a Club Banana in Italy, she'll probably put in the paperwork to work there.  So when she graduate's college, and takes on a full-time job, I'll have no doubt that she'd be able to do it, but it wouldn't be as dramatic (in a comedic way) as when she was in high school.  Plus, as stated in the first point, as a marketing tool, her being in high school made her more relatable to younger audiences, even if they aren't in high school yet.

Another reason as to write about teenage characters is because dramatic changes happen during teenhood.  Puberty, interest in romantic relations with other people, curiosity about alcohol and drugs, curiosity about the world, construct of society and boundaries, experimenting with identity, and more.  Once you hit eighteen or twenty, most mellow down and know who they are and are relatively comfortable with themselves, which can also be a good character to read about, but there's nothing wrong with a teenage character just for being a teenager.

If we're going to ban teenagers (ages thirteen to nineteen) as protagonists, we wouldn't have:
  • Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling)
  • Kaijudo
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Winx Club
  • Detentionaire
  • Ouran High School Host Club (Hatori Bisco)
  • Naruto Shippuden (Masashi Kishimoto)
  • Fruits Basket and Fruits Basket Another (Natsuki Takaya)
  • Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning (Kyo Shirodaira)
  • The Body Finder (Kimberly Derting)
  • Bones of Faerie (Janni Lee Simner)
  • Avatar: Legend of Korra
  • Twilight (Stephenie Meyers)
  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
  • Inuyasha (Rumiko Takahashi)
  • Wizards of Waverly Place
  • The Secret Circle (L. J. Smith)
  • Pretty Little Liars (Sara Shepard)
  • Storm Hawks
  • Teen Titans
  • Your Lie in April
  • Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl's Heart
  • Hana Kimi (Hisaya Nakajo)
  • Mirror Mask
  • The School for Dangerous Girls (Eliot Schrefer)
  • Tell Me What You See (Zoran Drvenkar)
  • Kamisama Hajimemashita (Julietta Suzuki)
  • Vampire Knight (Matsuri Hino)
  • Silver Diamond (Shiho Sugiura)
  • D.N. Angel (Yukiru Sugisaki)
  • D. Gray-Man (Katsura Hoshino)
  • Bleach (Tite Kubo)
  • Red River (Chie Shinohara)
  • Yu Yu Hakusho (Yoshihiro Togashi)
  • Sketchbook (Totan Kobako)
  • Psychic Academy (Katsu Aki)
  • Wallflower (Tomoko Hayakawa)
  • From Far Away (Kyoko Hikawa)
  • Poison (Chris Wooding)
  • Death Note (Tsugumi Ohba)
  • Batman Beyond
  • Ultimate Spiderman
  • 6Teen
  • Generator Rex
  • As Told By Ginger
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
  • Daria
  • Ben 10: Alien Force
  • Brave
  • Chaotic
  • Young Justice
  • Danny Phantom
  • Static Shock
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Koji Kumeta)
  • Kiben Gakuha, Yotsuya Senpai No Kaidan (Furudate Haruichi)
  • Diabolik Lovers


And many, many more.  Did I name some of your favorites?  This is just the stuff I've watched, read and indulged in, and I'm sure this isn't all of it.  This was just the things on the top of my head.

Now, does this mean a character's age can never be questioned or criticized at?  No, of course not.  If there is an age restriction, it should be followed, unless the character acknowledges that this isn't allowed, and does it anyway in secret.  Want alcohol or want to get in an adult club, but is underaged?  Fake I.D. Want to be a member of some secretive group to protest against the government but is underaged?  Fake documents.  Want to be the president of the United States but isn't thirty-five yet?  Well, you better have some darn good resources and fake documents because you would be scrutinized in every facet of your life.  Does the character have to get caught in the story?  Not necessarily, but there should be added stress of not getting caught.

Otherwise, age does not matter, and should not be an automatic sticker-point towards Mary-Sueism.
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cartoonygothica's avatar
[:clap: You can add Voltron: Legendary Defender to that list too.  To be honest, I find teenagers more relatable than most adults, probably because I'm young and still seem to have the emotional maturity of a teenager.  Plus, my characters would age naturally in the stories they're put in; the ones who were originally preteens when first created would be teenagers now.]