How To Write a Coming-Of-Age Story

The coming-of-age story is a time-honored genre featuring a young protagonist who, in the course of pursuing a goal, moves from being a child to being a young adult. A well-written coming-of-age story can shed light on universal truths that accompany the transition from childhood to adulthood while also telling a unique and compelling original story. This is probably why the genre is so popular. Here are some things writers can do to write a good coming-of-age story.

  1. Give your character a goal and obstacles. A coming-of-age story can get bogged down if it doesn't stick to the tried and true structure that makes all stories work - that is, a story should follow a character who is overcoming obstacles to achieve a certain goal. In other words, don't think of your story as "This is when Susan became an adult." Think of it as "This is the story of Susan trying to save the family farm when her dad has a stroke, her mom crumbles under drug addiction, her teacher accuses her of cheating and her dog dies." The "coming-of-age" part of your story should come organically from an actual story.
  2. Plan the character arc. If the major thing motivating you to write this particular story is the desire to demonstrate how a character changes from child to young adult, you will want to spend considerable time mapping out that character change. That change will be key to your story. The road of change a character follows during the course of a story/plot is usually referred to as character arc. For instance, Luke Skywalker starts out as a wimp and ends up a Jedi thanks to the different events and people he encounters during the various Star Wars movies. When you start to put together your story, think first of who this character is to begin with and what makes her immature:  Is she selfish or scared or has no luck with boys? Think of who is she at the end: mature, giving, socially poised, etc.?  After you know your point A and point B, you'll have to do the much tougher work of figuring out how she gets there. Make sure the changes are incremental and not instantaneous - few coming-of-age stories take place overnight even if the inciting event that pushes the character toward adulthood does occur within that span.
  3. Consider rites of passage - and put your own spin on one.  If you're trying to find events that a character may experience which could help her grow up, consider traditional rites of passage. These could be religious ceremonies like bat mitzvah or confirmation. These could be ethnic events like a quinceanera. These could be cultural - like the American tradition of moving out of your parents' house for college or a job. Could your story revolve around one of these events? If so, be sure not to give your reader or audience the "same old, same old" - put your own spin on these events - make the scenario original, specific and unforgettable.
  4. Consider what events in life may force a person to grow up. A lot of times, people go from child to young adult because events in their life force them to. Say a parent dies, the family goes bankrupt, someone gets sick. Things that happen make a young person take additional responsibilities or that make a young person deal with new and intense emotions can be good things to include in your story.
  5. Consider your own life. If you're an adult (even if only in name...), you may be able to pinpoint the year or the time of your life when you feel you passed from youth to adulthood. While your personal story itself may not work in the story you're creating, consider how you felt, what you did, how other people reacted to the changes you underwent, and even how those "coming-of-age" events may still affect you now. These real emotions can potentially add truth and authenticity to your story even if they come from different fictional circumstances in your actual work.

The coming-of-age story has probably been around since the first storytelling humans were old enough to reflect on their childhoods. Good luck with creating another great story in this very traditional writing category.


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