Writers, I need your help with character headspace

One thing I struggle with, when writing a character, is what I call “headspace,” meaning someone’s view of the world as molded by their era, upbringing, and milieu.

Writing something contemporary is difficult for me because I’m just not up to speed with all the crap people do nowadays. My life does not revolve around my phone. In fact, I didn’t even own a smartphone until a year ago. I only sold out because I was worried that the day I really needed to make a call would be the day my Go Phone no longer received service. I even made sure not to learn my own cell phone number for years. I still refuse to set up my voicemail, though. You have to draw the line somewhere.

I don’t do social media because I just don’t care. WordPress is my only online social activity.

Aside from a few modern appurtenances, my life really isn’t that different since the turn of the millennium given that I live with my baby boomer parents. I mean, we didn’t even have a microwave until maybe five years ago. Our oven is sixty years old (though how many ovens manufactured today will live to see that birthday?) They’ve had the same landline phone number for forty years. My music-playing device of choice is a transistor radio. Nintendo Switch? Try N64!

I do have an internet addiction though, so maybe that negates everything I just said. But I’ve suffered from that for at least twenty years so my point technically stands. It’s amazing I’m still alive considering all the weirdos I would talk to online when instant messenger arrived on the scene. But I don’t know anything about the apps people use nowadays to meet people. Given my prior proclivities and my intractable naivete, it’s probably for the better.

I am finally coming around to my point. Because my brain is still stuck at the year 2000, I do not sound very convincing when I write about adults living in the year 2020. I was born in 1988, which mathematically made me twelve in 2000 (in maturity years, I’m still twelve). Let’s say I were to set a story in 2000. I would not write about twelve-year-olds but rather adults. Here’s the issue: if I wrote about a thirty-year-old in 2000, that would mean they were born in 1970. I have no conception of the headspace of someone born in 1970, which would not make for a convincing character. However, if I write about a thirty-year-old in 2020, they won’t sound very convincing, either. (I think these are reasons why historical fiction sounds so cringey.)

So here is where I need your advice, dear experienced writers: how do you handle writing characters that differ in age and/or era from your own direct experience?


26 thoughts on “Writers, I need your help with character headspace

  1. I am not a writer . I am a budding writer of non fiction.

    But I was born in 1970’s… yup I am old.!!!!

    I would say that each person is unique. Each person nurturing is unique. Like wise their nature. Up bring etc, as you know from your life experiences.

    I point being is your character a thinker? Or are the shallow? Mature, immature …

    I graduated in 1993 th a ba hons in computing. But there was no person computers at the time, not even email, or mobile phones. Personal computer may be came in 1996. I dont know when the internet came into the home, and when Mobile phones came.

    I was career minded I worked hard, but I was also spiritually minded. A homey person.

    I am not typical. Others were career mind, party goers. And materially successful. Ambitious.

    Some wanted to be stay at home mums . Didnt want to work.

    Somewhere spoilt and everything had to be their ways and blamed others.

    I personally feel that each generation is the same. You have your a class person and your u class person.

    I dont know if this helps 🙃😉😊

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, I forgot. Commodore, and BBC basic, and Toshiba. I so forgot. And mac’s. And with the Toshiba we had a cassette player for software games. How could I forget ( but I did forget)

        Thank you for the correction as I clearly forgot.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment. You’re definitely not old! I think you are onto something when you talk about people’s motivations and personality profile. Maybe focusing on the uniqueness of an individual can help me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Themes and people are universal. You don’t want real names of bands and apps and songs anyway because some of that is copyright protected when used in print. She thumbed through her dating apps, checking for possibles works just as well as brand name x. Your next best friend is Google. Head time is not really my thing. Paint their personalities so we know who they are. And we know who they are by what they say and do. Open up, let them talk to you and don’t worry about it. Mine just show up. Hey, I’m a valley girl prima ballerina, an old blues guy, a feminist foldout Queen, you got time for me? I say well yeah, I do. If you need some authentic slang the urban dictionary is good, find some street cred in rap/r&b lyrics and then what you don’t understand go back to the urban dictionary. For behaviors stand around a convenience store for twenty minutes. Plus there’s always YouTube. Search trending and you’re in the middle of pop culture. Best bet, though, is listen. They’ll tell you who they are. And then if you have to feed them surfer slang, go find it. Every character has a voice and a rhythm. Listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your advice. I think specific references are tacky and can date things anyway. It’s more the mentalities and psychology that interest me. Human condition crap. When I do go outside my comfort zone character-wise I tend to make people into caricatures so that they can be laughed at instead of me. I just don’t feel I’m very credible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. People are people. If you buy Myers- Briggs, which in my experience is pretty reliable, 25%of people, give or take, aren’t going to like you anyway. So do what you do and the hell with them. But dwelling on you as a character or you as the product manager are counterproductive. Instead of writing what you want to write, write what they give you and don’t second guess it. After that see what you have before you judge it. Just write what shows up for a week. Screw depression and all that, sit down, open up and see what you get. You and whatever story shows up, no bullshit. You might be amazed.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You watch any of the StarTrek series? Stargate? Smallville? Futurama? Fairly Odd Parents? Spongebob? etc. You know, those shows where absolutely nothing was real except the people and the problems and goals?

    If the character headspace is an issue, then be yourself, but in another era or setting. Imagine selling home furnishings in 1790’s New England where some boss, a commerce Luddite who is friends with but detests Adam Smith’s philosophy of capitalism, wants you to work longer and harder but for no additional pay or vestment.

    Or you’re on the Moon, in a gift shop just outside the Flying Caverns, great indoor flying spaces where humans can flap fake wings and fly like condors. And you watch some chinzy adult steal a 3-D printed model—made of regolith—of the LunarLander. What do you do?

    They say Hemingway ran out of personal stories to tell. I think he was just fucked up. His imagination worked just fine. And that’s all this is, imagination. Dream up something impossible and make it real through words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, you make a good point about imagination. Somewhere along the way I threw out my imagination because I thought well, if I never saw something before, I can’t be very convincing about it. But you rightly point out that people imagine and write about fantastic things all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you can write your characters older then yourself and even younger- just avoid using modern or old school slang unless you’re comfortable with using it outside of your writing. That’s what trips writers up when they create characters outside of their own age range.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You have to listen to the music your characters liked to listen to – that tells you a lot. I figure out the year they were they born and listen to the popular music they were probably been conceived to. Nutty I know. But that just me.

    Liked by 1 person

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