The above is probably one of the biggest examples from my generation. ‘The Breakfast Club’ was always a big ‘coming of age’ story. It had a group of high schoolers in detention where they got to know each other. They grew up a bit over the course of the movie and changed. This is what a ‘coming of age’ story tends to be.
At least, that’s what I think it is.
The truth is that I’ve never been clear on this type of story. Growing up, it was all about real-world teenagers maturing and getting closer to adulthood. I’ve heard other people use the phrase to describe movies where a character loses their innocence and find out how harsh the world is. Others simply use it when a story has a teenage protagonist because they assume growth will take place. It makes it rather confusing to figure out the exact definition.
I guess the common thread is that a character will change in a way that they become more of an adult. This can be different from person to person because we don’t always see adulting as the same thing. One may view it as growing up and making mature decisions while casting away childish things. Others define it as losing their sense of wonder and accepting they have to stop playing around. Guess it’s an optimistic or pessimistic view of growing up, which can sway a person into using the ‘coming of age’ term. No wonder it isn’t a stable genre.
This brings me to ‘coming of age’ stories in fantasy. I’d been told that Legends of Windemere counted, so I have it as an Amazon keyword/phrase. Yet, I never really thought about it until now. Luke Callindor does start as an arrogant, immature teenager and grows into adulthood over the course of the adventure. He does this through a series of victories, losses, traumas, and other experiences. Same goes for Nyx and Sari, who are in the same age bracket. Delvin, Timoran, and Dariana are older or more experienced, so they don’t really fall into this category. Yet, I do think ‘coming of age’ could work for a series that has its heroes mature.
Maturation and change is the key here. ‘Coming of age’ can’t work with static characters because they end where they started. For a teenager that means staying immature and not learning from their experiences. To be fair, we all know at least one adult that would fit this description. Yet, that is not the type of character one wants as a protagonist. For this kind of story to work, there needs to be change and they have to be less childish than when they started. It doesn’t mean throwing away their hobbies, but to see the world in a more adult way . . . No, I don’t know how that works either.
Every time I write one idea about this concept, I come up with more questions and scenarios. ‘Coming of age’ differs in people thanks to their own experiences, upbringing, worldview, and aspirations. A story where the person matures to leave the dreams of running a business behind to work on their art wouldn’t be seen as an adult decision to some people. Others would have the same issues with the opposite journey. So, you aren’t going to hit the target with every reader. Those who would mature in that way or at least understand why it’s appealing may see it as a ‘coming of age’ story. Since those tend to be uplifting and positive, you really need readers to think the change is for the better on some level. Can’t really predict that all the time.
So, what do other people think of ‘coming of age’ stories? Do you have a good idea of what they are supposed to be about?