Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Older Characters as Leads

In the Company of Others: A Father Tim NovelI used to think the lead character in a novel had to be no older than thirty-five. At least that is the way it seemed based on the books I read. I often wondered how those kids got to be so wise. Then, when Jan Karon came out with the Mitford series novels, her main character, Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh, an Episcopal priest was sixty and single. Eventually, he falls in love and gets married in a future book. In the last book I read, Fr. Tim was seventy. There is another Fr. Tim book coming soon and I'm anxious to see how old he is now. Jan Karon's book sales have not been shabby so I suspect there are a lot of readers who like stories about older people.

In Where Love Once Lived, sixty-five year old Liz is bugging Brian about why he quit going to church. Here's what happens as he tries to change the subject:

“I’m going to tell you about that one day, but, right now, I need to concentrate on getting us to Hill Country on time. Why don’t you tell me why you have a picture of Big Ben on the bulletin board back there?” That would perk her up and keep her from asking him questions for a while longer.

Liz nodded back to where the bulletin board was and smiled. “Didn’t I tell you about that? That’s my goal trip.”

“Goal trip?”

“Sure. If you set a goal and visualize yourself achieving that goal, then you will.”

“It’s that simple, huh?”

Brian had a goal. He wanted to hold Karen in his arms for the rest of his life. That goal was easy to visualize.

Liz’s voice boomed back to normal. “It works. There’s scientific proof. I read about it down at the library. I’ll find that story and show you, if you want.”

“Okay, I believe you.” he said. “Why Big Ben?”

“At my age and with my meager income, I’ll probably only make one big trip in my life. So I picked England. That photo of Big Ben is a reminder of where I’m going someday. It’s massive and strong-looking, and it’s a symbol of England.”

“Great idea. I’m sure you’ll make that trip someday.”

What would Karen think if she saw her picture on the bookmobile bulletin board right up next to Big Ben? Brian’s goal. She’d probably think he was crazy. Liz would understand.

“I know,” she said. “I already have my passport. Although, I must say, I cried when I saw the photo of that old lady on it. I’d hoped to travel as a younger person, but it wasn’t to be.” She grinned so big her cheeks pushed up to her eyes, but he could see the regret in her face.

In Elizabeth Berg's The Last Time I Saw You, one of the characters talked about her surprise when she looked in the mirror and realized she had aged. She had not thought of herself differently until it was time to go to her fortieth high school reunion. All the characters in the story were in their late fifties and it was good reading.

I'm sure you can think of many examples of older main characters in novels, and I'm sure there are many successful ones. However, the main character in my next book is thirty-one, just in case.

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