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?