Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!
I have my last A-Z post up at the Ferret blog today! Go check out Does YA Fiction Make Too Many Excuses for Young Adults?
The establishment of future generations is the foundation of every society. Nothing matters if there isn’t anyone to pass it on to.
But you can’t pass the responsibility of life on to mere children, and different cultures have different beliefs about what makes one an adult and no longer a child. In modern Western society, this line has become extremely blurred with the phase of being a ‘teenager’, and I think that’s only to our detriment, but that’s a whole other topic.
And yet we are all still familiar with the idea of coming of age. That mysterious time when one recognizes that they are passing from childhood to adulthood.
Coming of Age
- What age is considered being on the cusp of adulthood?
The more technological your society, the later this age is likely to be. In the United States, you don’t reach the age of majority until you’re 18 – regardless of any other circumstances.
In a society that is focused on being able to procreate, coming of age is often determined by a girl’s first menses, or the onset of puberty in boys, which is usually around the age of 12.
- Are there any specific criteria that must be met for a person to be fully into social life as an adult?
Do they have to complete a certain amount of schooling, or demonstrate a certain amount of skills? It can be ‘simple’, such as completing a solo hunt for the first time, or more complicated – like surviving a vision quest. (Seriously, those things could be brutal.)
- Does the criteria differ in accordance to gender, or do all adolescents have to meet the same standards?
Do the girls just have to prove they’ve had a menses, while the boys have to overcome a physical trial of some kind? Or are they all considered adults at a certain age?
Culture affects how everything is viewed through the eyes of your characters. Culture is how children how reared, and how expectations for society are formed.
Does the criteria for ‘adulthood’ make sense for the culture?
- A more technologically advanced society will likely value the accrual of knowledge over physical feats.
An example would be that a high school degree will take you much farther than winning the rodeo in modern society.
- A more agrarian society will value the abilities of provision (food, shelter, etc.) and virility over ‘book knowledge’.
However, in the event of the zombie apocalypse, that high school degree won’t do you much good if you can’t tell the poisonous plants from the non-poisonous ones, or build a shelter.
- A warrior society will likely have a physical feats that must be overcome to be considered a member of society.
Then there’s the matter of how many zombies you can kill…
- There are a multitude of ways coming of age can be affected by culture, this is only a sampling.
Are there any rituals that have developed around those criteria? What are they?
Rituals serve a purpose – they imprint an event, a vow, into a person. It is a memory that holds weight and binds a person to a community and a way of life.
It can be as simple as partaking in a celebration, or as serious as a blood oath.
What happens when those criteria cannot be met?
If someone cannot meet the requirements for coming of age, are they shunned? Killed? Or do they continue on in society as they have been, doomed to rely on the kindness of others for the rest of their lives?
Moving into adulthood is a significant moment in a character’s life, and to a community. Even if you don’t have such an occurrence in your story, knowing how it might have affected your character’s past will help you know who they are.
Original image used in header is by Werner22Brigitte, public domain.
My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!
Patricia Lynne (@plynne_writes)April 29, 2014 - 2:21 pm ·
I have a story where this would be interesting to explore. I don’t think it’d end up in the story, but it would be fun to write about.