We’ve talked about the importance of a character's voice matching her age, but we also need to make sure the character’s wisdom matches it, too, an especially tricky feat for characters who are young in age and/or maturity.
Whether you're writing for adults or younger readers, your story may include a younger character who matures over the course of your piece. While maturity can result from the passing of time, the gaining of experience or both, we need to make sure that what the character realizes about his or her life - and how he or she expresses that knowledge - matches the individual's stage of life.
One reason it can difficult to tell that we've run ahead of the character's maturity level in writing her thoughts and dialogue is that wisdom reads well, regardless of age. So when we read a particularly wise bit of insight that's also been written well, we tend to feel that we've accomplished our goal. In one sense, this may be true, because the character has made progress and because our prose has also. However, we have to make sure that we haven't given the character either more insight than he or she should have at that age, and that we haven't framed the insight in way that goes beyond the character's intended age.
Some characters, though young, are wise beyond their years. What we want, however, is to make sure we develop the character at a believable rate. If you're wondering whether you have given one of your characters, especially one that is younger, more insight than is believable within the context of her life and your story, ask yourself these questions:
- Has enough happened in this person's life for her to realistically have this piece of wisdom?
- Does the prose accurately reflect the character's personality and stage of life?
There's nothing wrong with having a smart character. We just need to make sure the person's wisdom, and how she expresses it, match where the character is in her life.