Rants, raves, fiction, and laughs

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"What's With All the Old Guys?"


Okay, the million-dollar question that I've been asked by more than a few of you, "Why do your comics/novels all feature middle-aged men? What's with all the old guys?" It's true. They may not always be main characters, but they are always prominent. Gilbert for "Knights of Leviathans" (no longer running), Dunstan and Avi in "Skeleton Crew", and Linus Weedwhacker in my "CRIT!" and "Must Love Dragons" series. All have similar traits; they are all men in their mid-fifties,and although drastically different in temperament, they all have to relate to masses of younger people. Usually they are reluctant to do so.

I've had people guess at every reason for this. I've heard, teacher-pet complex, to mature bread-winner complex, to freudian father complex. None of these are exactly true because... beacause shut-up, that's why. *sigh*

Here's why (as best as I can figure)

First of all, I just like writing for them. I found our long ago that, contrary to what movies/telly would have us believe, not every person worth watching and reading about is twenty-five years old. In fact it was downright depressing that all the cool things in the world happened to beautiful people just out of college or highschool. Even the adults who are past the "ripe old age" of 28 still LOOK like they're 28 (Brad Pitt anyone?)

Old Guys as Everymen: "Hey Monica, who wants to watch some OLD GUY do stuff?"

Personally, I love the rugged older male lead. Honestly, who doesn't have a soft spot for Indiana Jones, and John McLane, and Aragorn? Would they be half as much interesting if they were flawless young men? I think not. They have all aged WELL, lets not kid ourselves, but they still have grey hairs, and forehead lines and slightly doughy mid-sections. That makes them real. We have a character, who because he's real and not a perfect specimen, that we can relate to and root for. He's not an invincible youngster who can dodge bullets, and fly through the air, he's a harried underdog who makes mistakes and can never seem to catch a break. We want him to win, because it always feels like him against the world. I think everyone can identify with that.

Old Guys as Mentors: "Hey Monica, if you like old guys so much, why do you stick 'em with a bunch of kids?"

Good question. You ever hear of "Sam the Explainer?" It's an archetype that's used a lot in books and movies. He's your exposition guy. There were like six of them in Jurassic Park. Their job is to tell you every scrap of information about everything that could ever be important to Joe Reader/Viewer who doesn't know jack about dinosaurs, Middle Earth, or the Pirate Code. That's one reason to stick an "old guy" into just about EVERYTHING. They come in very handy to your eager 20-somethings who just want to run in and break stuff.

MY favorite way to get exposition out of the way is something I have called "Stan the Explained-To." With "Sam the Explainer" you have an expert, usually a scientist or a wizard pontificate on a subject. I hate that. As much as I love history and science, who wants sit through a symposium on the history of a planet we've never heard of or the properties of some amazing element?

With "Stan" you have a person, usually a kid or a young adult, who is so gormless that he forgets/ doesn't know the most basic of information. The Mentor (read: old guy) can then explain the exposition while berating "Stan" on his idiocy. You get some really fun dialogue in those.

The other function of the Mentor, is to bring a little balance to the character groups. Your head-strong twenty-something is always wide-eyed, always fascinated by everything, always willing to go through the greatest obstacle the hard way. Your Mentor tethers him a bit. The Mentor has seen it all, done it all, and in some cases, lived to regret it all. He keeps the young guy's fire from burning out of control, and at the same time gets dragged into situations he might have avoided if left on his own-read: conflict=good. As much as I love my rusty veterans, I have to say that all the fun is sucked away unless they have young people around, irritating them. I don't hate young characters. I need them to make any story work. Just don't expect a set age range. In Skeleton Crew, the younger guys Dunstan interacts with range from 26-to-45.

I think I only have time for one more question...yes you in the back...

Double Standard Much?: "How come you don't have any middle-aged women?"

Okay, you got me. As some of you know I hit the big 3-0 this Friday. This terrifies me more than it should. Again, I blame it on all the 20-something-looking people on the telly. That's kind of why I haven't really featured mature woman more prominently. It's a mortality thing, I guess, but it's also an unfamiliarity. I think spanning the leaps of imagination necessary to delve into the mature male's mind is easier than the much shorter leap to an older woman, and I haven't really embraced that yet. I do have some older women characters, like Linus's wife Dierdre, but they play smaller roles which I'm beginning to develop.

My mature women all tend to be mothers, and I try not to make them caricatures of my mother, or of me which is the first hurdle.

There's a lot of ME in all my characters. I like to think I have the cynicism of a 50-year-old man, but every one of the people I write for is a tiny version of me. Me as a dumb kid, me as a condescending teenager, me as a bewildered young adult, me as a clueless's all in there somewhere. I'd rather people look for themselves in my characters. Find out who you relate to (and for those of you who know you've influenced a character directly, that doesn't count!!.

The character doesn't have to be your age, gender, orientation, or any of that, there just has to be that spark in there that makes you say..."Yeah...I get that."


Icy Sedgwick said...

Personally, I think that Brad Pitt just keeps getting better, the older he's getting...

It makes sense to have an older character though. You're right with the examples of McClane, Indy, Aragorn - but they've got a sense of self-confidence and a bedrock of past experience that also yields some interesting flashbacks!

Monica Marier said...

OOh! Excellent Point, Icy. Another bonus of putting old guys w. young guys is the fact that all old guys were AT ONE TIME young guys.

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

I like me some old guys... maybe because I'm old... You're 30 today, I hear.. really? I have hangnails older than you! (heheheheheh) Happy birthday, Monica and keep on writing about sassy, sexy, smarter and richer older men. (Got a spare banana peel kicking around?)