One of the hardest problems I had when I started the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment was: What age should Rachel be?
This issue turned out to be extraordinarily difficult. To this day, some readers are not happy with the solution. Here are some of the issues that went into the decision:
Rachel must be young: In the original game, Rachel was very young—younger even than in the book. This meant that she was facing problems that were way above what she should have had to deal with at her age. Things that were hard. Things that should not have happened to someone so young.
The result was that she felt everything that happened much more strongly than she might have, had she been older. This was one of the qualities that I liked about the character, one of the things that I felt made her a sympathetic heroine I wanted to write about…the rawness and sincerity with which she faced her experiences.
I did not want to lose that. Therefore, for the story to work, Rachel had to be quite young.
Old enough for young readers: Current wisdom has it that kids like to read about characters who are older than they are. This suggested that Rachel should be older than the intended reading age.
Thus, I wanted to make her as old as I could get away with.
If I picked an age that was two years older than the ideal reading audience, however, Rachel would be 17 or 19. That is too old for the above criteria.
Dating: When I was young, I recall some of my friends kissing and dating at 11. However, I have discovered that some adult readers report are repulsed by the idea of a young girl having a boyfriend. In my first draft, Rachel was 12. I received complaints from some Beta Readers. Even now, when she’s 13, I still get complaints from people—usually parents of girls—who find the book uncomfortable.
The problem is: Part of the plot requires that Rachel be too young to be dating. When I started the series, my daughter’s classmates were 12 to 14…and many had boyfriends. More recently, the 13-14 year old boys in our Boy Scout Troop had girlfriends.
These kids certainly did not think middle school age was too young to date. If anything, I ran the risk of them finding the reluctance of those around Rachel to the idea of her dating unbelievable.
Rachel finds her age:
So how do I find an age that adults would be willing to read about and kids wouldn’t find too old to be believable?
Twelve was, apparently, too young for older readers to stomach, and fifteen was too old for younger readers to find realistic.
That left 13 or 14.
In choosing between these two numbers, I considered one additional issue. Every time I increased Rachel’s age, I also had to increase the age of the characters around her. Twelve-year-old Rachel might not be that different from fourteen-year-old Rachel but nineteen-year-old Dread was quite different from twenty-one-year-old Dread!
In the original game, Gaius was 14. Making Rachel older made Gaius older, too. As he became 16, 17, or 18, his relationship with young Rachel seemed more disturbing rather than less.
Finally, I decided to go with 13. That put Gaius at 16, and I made Dread a year younger in relation to Rachel, which put him at 19.
Was it ideal?
Few things in life are ideal. No matter what age I pick, someone will have a personal experience that leads them to find her too old or too young. I think, however, that 13 is the age that best meets the needs of the story.
Before I close, I want to take a moment to make a brief statement. Sometimes, an author writes about a child of a given age doing a certain thing, and critics respond, “Author X thinks it is fine for children of X age to perform Z action.”
So, just in case it is not clear: Rachel’s having a boyfriend at 13, or being kidnapped at 13, or fighting demons at 13 is not intended to be approval on my part, or to suggest that I think children should behave in such a fashion.
There are many children in the world who do have to face things no child should face. The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment are about one such girl. They tell the story of how she is pulled into events that tax her beyond what someone her age should have to endure, and how—through diligence and friendship—she perseveres in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds.
It is meant to show how the human spirit triumphs under adversity—not to recommend adversity as a way of life.
In closing, once, during the roleplaying game that inspired these books, the moderator of the game, attempting to defend some decision made by Rachel’s parents, turned to John and I and asked would we let our own 11-year-old go out alone and fight demons.
My immediate response was: “My eldest son is 12. I don’t let him pour milk!”
Through October 18th:
The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is still FREE
The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel is 99 cents
Also, there is now an audio version of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin avaiable on Amazon and Audible.Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)