Friday, August 04, 2017

Wednesday Night Writers Discuss Aging Characters

"What I want to know is why every older person in a book either has to be filled with wisdom or is decrepit," Faraway said. "What's wrong with having a mature person who is just like the other characters in the book -- messed up and passionate."

Divine looked startled. "Passionate?"

Faraway frowned at her. "Don't tell me that you believe old people don't have sex."

"I believe they do, but I try not to think about it," Aromance muttered. She shuddered.

"America is aging," Faraway said, glaring at Aromance. "The Baby Boomers are going to be in their sixties and seventies soon. They won't be content to wither away quietly. Books should reflect that, and they don't. Instead, books feature young people. TV shows feature young people. Movies feature young people. Listen, kiddies, I don't worship in the cult of youth. I never met a teenager yet that could carry on a decent conversation about anything important."

"The blueberry muffins I brought have fiber added," Cookbookins said. "And we each get two. TWO. No more, no less." She held up two fingers.

"Did you say two?" Realer asked, with a smirk. He waggled three fingers at her.

"I think fiction will change to accommodate an older audience," Begenre said. "I've recently read several mysteries that feature sleuths in their sixties and seventies. I think fiction overall will reflect an active maturity as we see more vital people in real life who are in their sixties and seventies. Remember, it's only been in the past few decades that medicine has allowed people to live longer and healthier lives."

"TV is to blame," Eongo said.

The others sighed.

"Even I can see that TV isn't the greatest evil on earth," Divine said. "And I write letters protesting that degenerate MTV all the time."

"No, listen to me," Eongo said. "Advertisers want to buy advertising on programs that target young people because young people spend more on disposable items."

"Like bling," Faraway said.

"Exactly," Eongo said. "So networks and television studies make shows that feature young people because those are the ones that make the most advertising revenue. Remember what happened to Murder She Wrote when it was placed opposite of Friends?"

"I saw those shows on NetFlix, I think," Teenwriter said, uncertainly. "Don't any of you watch Game of Thrones?"

"That was more of an audience decision," Begenre said. "More people wanted to watch Friends than Murder She Wrote. You can't blame the networks for that. They're only giving the public what they want."

"I can blame them and do," Eongo said. "They create the demand for the shows. They only show us programs with young people so people are influenced by those shows to want more shows with young people. They create the demand for youth-oriented shows and so they produce youth-oriented shows and that creates more demand for other youth-oriented shows. It's a vicious circle."

"If the choice is between older people and hot young people like Matthew Perry, the hot young people are always going to be the audience's choice," Aromance said.

"Angela Lansbury was just as hot as Courtney Cox," Eongo declared.

Realer spewed muffin across the room as he coughed. Begenre thumped him on the back.

"Seriously, do any of you watch Netflix?" Teenwriter asked. 'And who is Matthew Perry?"

"Just because you wasted a good muffin doesn't mean you get another one," Cookbookins said.

"That's my point," Eongo said, pointing at Realer. "We've been conditioned to think youth people are desirable. What's wrong with showing older people who are desirable?"

"I'm not sure that has anything to do with fiction," Begenre said. "I think it has to do with babies."

"Babies?" Eongo asked.

"Throughout history, men have wanted younger wives because they could produce more babies," Begenre said. "If you believe in evolution, then we have a biological need to reproduce, and so we orient toward young people because they can have more babies than an older person can."

Divine frowned at the mention of evolution.

"Then you saying fiction will continue to feature young people," Faraway said. "That's unacceptable."

"I agree," Divine said. "We are more than biology." She looked at Begenre. "Much more. Fiction doesn't just reflect reality; it can also shape reality. As writers, we have a responsibility to write books that uplift the readers and change their values in a positive way. To claim that you're only giving the public what it wants is to cater to the lowest common denominator. It's using your writing gift simply to profit yourself and not others. Great fiction challenges the reader. It helps them grow."

"It's like chocolate-dipped pineapple chunks," Cookbookins said, shaking the crumbs of a muffin off her dress.

The others looked at her.

"See, I was dipping strawberries in chocolate for my niece's wedding reception," Cookbookins said. "But I didn't have enough strawberries because the store was out. So I looked around my kitchen and saw several cans of pineapple chunks. I drained the chunks and then dipped them in chocolate." She smiled at the group.

A pause.

"I don't quite follow you," Begenre said slowly. "How does that relate?"

Cookbookins sighed. "Isn't it obvious? I wrote in my newspaper column about using pineapple for dipping, and several of my readers wrote in to tell me that they had tried it and liked it, too. I wrote about it yesterday. Doesn't anyone read my column?"

"I haven't had a chance," Faraway said. "But I will as soon as I go home."

"I don't take the paper," Begenre muttered.

"My point is that by writing what I did, I influenced my readers to do the same," Cookbookins said. "So I -- how did you put it? -- shaped reality."

"Ah," Begenre said. "I get it."

"That actually made sense," Realer said with wonder.

"And it related to what we were talking about," Aromance said.

"Of course, it did," Cookbookins said. "I always make sense. You just don't understand me."

"We'll try to do better," Realer said. He exchanged bemused glances with the others.

"Since we can shape reality, we need to careful to portray mature characters in an active and interesting fashion," Faraway said. "Old age is not the same as useless and uninteresting."

And on that note, we were out of time.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

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