The Concept of Aging and Time in Novel Writing


Cute, eh? That’s me, more years ago than I’m prepared to acknowledge. I think I was barely two.

Then I was five … 

… and suddenly eighteen.

And now? Let’s not even go there! I’m looking back through the years since then and shaking my head at all the changes they’ve brought. Aging means more than accumulating a few grey hairs (okay, so it’s more than a few), and arthritis. I like to think there have been significant accomplishments and contributions along the way, and perhaps a smidgeon of wisdom gained, too. One sure thing is that time doesn’t hover motionless as the calendar pages flip.

Authors are confronted with the need to provide realistic aging in stories and series that span large periods of time. Consider Alex Haley’s ROOTS, a multi-generational family history written in 1976, and the Cleary family saga, THE THORN BIRDS, written in 1977 by Colleen McCullough. The latter covers more than sixty years while four-year-old Meggie transitions into a mature woman.

J.K. Rowling didn’t face that dilemma to the same extent, but when it came to filming her HARRY POTTER series, the actors were challenged to retain the aura of school children over a period of several years. There’s an interesting video here that shows the ten-year aging process of Daniel Radcliffe.

Historical fiction may take us into a previous era, but a contemporary series must deal with the element of time, too. Which brings me to ask if you’ve written novels that require you to cope with the passage of time, be it in a character or a community.

What things would need to be taken into consideration when writing a saga or series?



Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

12 thoughts on “The Concept of Aging and Time in Novel Writing

  1. That’s food for thought! I think the biggest challenge is trying to keep it realistic, people (I think) do change, not only physically but mentally too, it’s just so gradual that many don’t even notice it. The problem is doing this in a novel or series of novels, you need to find a balance between making the characters change but making it seem natural.
    Great post!

  2. I’ve read novels that were sagas or series novels where the characters age, but I’ve never really thought about the passage of time unless the main character stays the main through every book. I think then my mind just assumes they have to age even when it’s not spelled out. Though when I go from book to book and we switch from parents to children, there’s always a little shock when I realize the parents are died though I just read their book and they were young adults. I didn’t read the transition it just happened. That tends to be a little disconcerting for me for some reason.

  3. Carol, thanks for another thoughtful post. I think one idea is to create a very good Note.file on your computer. In this you can put the time line, dates of birth, death, marriage, etc. You can track it like a family tree or you can make it more linear. One thing is for certain, if you don’t keep up with the growth of your characters (especially in a series or saga) you will make serious errors. Following a character from her young adult live, through a marriage and into her becoming a young mother takes time. I live through my Note.file with each of the books where I know I will either have a long period of time elapse or where I want to create a series.

  4. Good morning, everyone. Thanks for stopping by this morning to read and comment. As we age many things change in addition to our looks. Our thinking evolves, too, perhaps as a result of education, trauma, travel or peer influences. The complexity of creating a believable character arc over an extended time frame is more challenging than in a story that takes place over a summer or single year. I like Florence’s idea of keeping a timeline. Is “Note.file” like Microsoft’s “OneNote” or Mac’s “NotePad”?

  5. You are so cute. Look at those little cheeks–why I could just tweak them. Sorry, I know you’re a grown woman now. A grandmother. A grand-grandmother! Someone who one day historians will be writing about. Don’t laugh. Your great-great-great-great-grandchildren might find themselves trying to determine just who Carol J. Garvin was.

    Yes, I’m trying to get around the subject. Why? Because I wouldn’t know the first thing about writing historical novels. Love to read them though. I loved War and Peace. What astonished me the most was how little we’re changed since Leo’s time. Not so sure that’s a good thing.

    Thanks for letting chew this over. Hope your day is swell. Remember when everyone used to say “swell”?

  6. Love the pictures you posted, Carol 🙂 I also don’t write fiction, or at least haven’t so far. But I enjoy all your thoughts and good questions and the comments you get back. Your blog is educational and inspiring to me.

  7. Thanks for your comments. Even if you don’t write fiction I imagine you read it and can appreciate the authors who do a good job of depicting the changes time brings to a plot and its characters. When done well, we get a clear mental picture and can follow the smooth transitions.

  8. Oh, you were (are) so adorable!

    I don’t know if I’d have the patience to write a saga–or even a series. But you’d certainly have to take all those internal and external changes of everyday life into consideration.

    And is your character the kind who pulls every gray hair or could care less? Which reminds me–I think I need a trip to the hairdresser.

  9. I’ve never written a saga or a seies so I can’t really answer that question. I’m really just here to say how cute you were. It amazes me how much your two year old self looks like your eighteen year old self..I think it’s the eyes. 🙂

  10. Sandra, I think once you’ve plowed through to the end of writing any novel, you don’t stop to think about whether you can do it again… you just keep writing. LOL! I haven’t yet created a character who has been concerned about grey hair. Maybe it’s because I’m not. I have too many grey hairs to pull out, and I can’t face constant colouring, so I’m philosophical about living with it.

    Laura, I’ve never been told that before, although some folks say they would recognize me anywhere. I’d like to think that means I haven’t changed much, but it would only be true of my eyes! Age and weight camouflage the rest of me altogether too well!

  11. Love the pics!

    In my first manuscript, I have an 8-year-old boy. In Book 2, he starts off at 11, and in Book 3, he’s an adult. His parents go through the aging process as well. I had to take into consideration speech patterns, and maturing physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

    Susan 🙂

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