Author Topic: Old People characters  (Read 36215 times)


  • Hipparch
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on: January 27, 2011, 06:33:36 AM
In thinking about a story idea I have about the elderly I started wondering about the characters of old people in fiction.  Old people tend to act a certain way.  Are they like that because that's what old people are like, or are they like that because that's want young people were like 60 years ago?  When we're old will we be more comfortable with new technology and change in general?  Will we bore kids with stories about our pasts?  Will we be bad drivers?  Will we assume life was better back then?  My grandparents formed their personalities in a time when rock and roll music had not been invented.  People tended to respect their elders.  Most people did the same job throughout their lives and had little chance to travel. 

Of course the answer is that it's a little of both.  I guess my real question is what will old people of the future be like.  Also, since this is a writing forum, we have to consider that giving someone a few stereotypical old-person qualities is shorthand to the reader that they are reading about an old person. 


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Reply #1 on: January 27, 2011, 09:19:34 PM
This is not a light topic, but if you are interested in exploring the idea, there has been tons of research done on generational world views (the elders, the boomers, Gen X, Net Gen, etc....)  that looks at what has shaped their world views as they moved through the world.  Most of the research is done in generalities of course, but I just finished reading about 'tribes' within these general generational models that describe some of the most common variants within them.  It does not explain every individual of course.  From a writing standpoint, if you are trying to explore how a Gen xer would react to certain changes in the future, do a bit of reading on that generation and how that generation (generally) sees the world.  You could make some leaps in logic from there that would help flesh out a character, or groups of character.  Don't forget to think about the cultural background of the character(s) as well since that may have more of an impact then generational issues.

Of course there are some things that happen to everyone as they get older - they get less impulsive (well, some of them) things start to ache, old wounds flare up, memory and vision issues, organ failures, etc - unless the world you create takes care of these issues, these would be common ground for 'old people' in all points in time.

Hope that gives you another perspective on the topic - it's just my two cents, for whatever that is worth....

“I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge.” - Tolkin


  • Hipparch
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Reply #2 on: January 28, 2011, 01:44:19 PM
I recently sold a story with a MC in his 50s (although I never explicitly state it; however, his partner has gray streaks in her hair, which is supposed to help a little) and I find that he, like all my characters of age 50 or older, are either (a) like my dad or grandfather at that age or (b) specifically based on a real person. I used to work with folks nearing the end of their careers, so I had a lot of exposure to older people who were still able to do jobs that young people did. It helped me to build accurate portrayals of what vital older people are like.

What will the old people of the future be like? The same as they are now, just with different words. Instead of "get off my lawn", we might say "get off my wall". Instead of reminiscing about not being tethered to a cell-phone, we might reminisce about the days when we could shut them off because they weren't implanted in our brains. That sort of thing.

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  • Hipparch
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Reply #3 on: January 28, 2011, 02:49:11 PM
I recently sold a story with a MC in his 50s

Somewhere on this forum a 50 year old person screamed "Fifty is not old!"

Sorry. But, the point I was going to make earlier when I first saw this topic list was easily illustrated there. Old age is nearly entirely subjective. When you are 6, teenagers look old. When you are 20, 40 looks old. When you are 30....
I guess, you might not want to think of characters as "old" people, that implies a stereotypical-ness that doesn't have a whole lot of realism. Old people are just people- they have the same emotions (although research shows that they are actually MORE tolerant and less emotional- the sort of nothing new under the sun phenomenon), they just have seen A LOT more of life. People themselves haven't changed much over the millenia. If you are ever in doubt, read some very old literature like Herodotus, or...whatever. The scenery and technology changes but the basics of motivation, etc don't and won't unless we start grafting extra animal or insect traits into our genomes.

So, basically, reading any fiction from any era will give you a good taste of how cultures perceive the role of the aged in their societies- but the basics remain the same. I think the better question is how will the aged be percieved in the culture o the future? There will certainly be a whole lot more "old people" in the future. I wonder what that means for society as a whole? Will be wiser, sicker, slower, more peaceful or????

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
Ursula K. LeGuin


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Reply #4 on: January 28, 2011, 11:34:06 PM
If you are ever in doubt, read some very old literature like Herodotus, or...whatever.

The Character of Nestor in Homer is quite a good study of an older, more experienced person. Many of his traits are similar to 'old people' stereotypes; he often has speeches that begin something along the lines of 'back in my day'. It's interesting to see the comparisons between a character from thousands of years ago and modern stereotypes. People, ultimately, don't change.


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Reply #5 on: September 21, 2011, 10:26:08 AM
Well the subject of your story look likes to be very good but thing is that how will you compare young to older people character so it will be very difficult for you but a tough time for you and i hope you will complete it easily thanks for your such nice post here


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Reply #6 on: December 18, 2015, 12:23:30 PM
I'm only 26 and it's funny because I live in a completely different world now to my little brother who is only 12. It seems like over the past 10-15 years the age gap has widened so much. People in their 70s now are living in a completely different world too but with technology advancing so quickly I think the age gaps will shorten as we move forward because we'll all be living in a tech age.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2023, 03:57:08 PM by UflinT »


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Reply #7 on: December 29, 2015, 02:39:18 PM
Probably the most striking things I've noticed between older and younger generations recently is the usage of memory and how reliance on technology has changed what we remember. 

My dad is over 70 and extremely technophobic.  He does have a planner to help him remember events but he doesn't use a computer for anything.  He has a cell phone grudgingly but he doesn't even know how to use the contacts in it--he keeps all his phone numbers in a physical address book and dials them manually.  He has a recall that, to me, seems pretty uncanny, especially for things that happened when he was young.

I'm in my 30s and am moderately comfortable with technology.  I can pick up new tech without it being a big deal but I generally choose not to be an early adopter.  I just got my first smartphone last month, for instance.  I have found it handy but don't consider it a valuable part of my life.  I first had regular Internet access when I was 15, and that was dialup and charged by the minute so it was both slow and I had to be very time-conscious whenever I was on.  I first had unlimited broadband Internet when I went to college, where I went on regular Napster binges back when Napster was still what it had originally been, and then Kazaa after that.  I glance at the net to do research but it is to me a useful tool that I only utilize intermittently.  My recall is moderate, I think because of my moderate use of the Internet over my life.

I know some teenagers now who have been using smartphones since they were kids.  They are amazing with new technology, and with the Internet.  They pick things up much faster than me and are early adopters of everything they can get their hands on.  With the web at their hands, they are wizards.  Without the web, their recall is very poor, generally.

I think that much of those (obviously over-generalized) mental tendencies tend to go with the technology that was available during childhood and adolescence in the Information Age.  I don't expect those teenagers will suddenly become more like my dad as they age--when they are in their 70s they will be a later stage of what they are now rather than being more like my dad.  This  is difficult to imagine because right now that kind of attitude tends to be classified as juvenile but that's only because it is less familiar to people of older ages right now.  It seems that every generation when it reaches adulthood, looks at the behavior of their parents as antiquated and quaint and the behavior of their children as new and maybe pointless stupid.  But we all go through all of those stages if we live long enough and we would do well to remember that, maybe the next generation won't be as good at us at certain things but they will certainly be much better at other things, and that's generally how those things go.