Why does this matter?
There are a few reasons.

  1. Depending on who your target market is, your characters should be a similar age as most of your readers.
  2. At different ages in your life, you had different priorities, worries, and thoughts, the same goes for your characters and readers. People like to imagine they are the characters in the story, so make it easy for them, create characters with similar personas to your readers.
  3. Think of age category as reading age-appropriate, like TV content rating; General, Parental Guidance, 14+, Mature Audience 18+, and Restricted. It would be immoral to read 50 Shades of Grey to a child, no matter how many books were sold. 

Quick Reference:

*The age of the protagonist/s is similar to the age of the target market of the reader.

*Your theme plays a big role in each category. What does the protagonist learn about him or herself in the story? Or what does the protagonist learn to cope with in the story?

*The voice, the language you use, is another characteristic that is noticeable in each age category, primarily through the concerns, motivations, and inner thoughts of the protagonist/s, and through the style in which the story is written or told. Younger children have less of a vocabulary and read every word, whereas adult’s vocabulary is far greater, or they know to skip over a word they don’t understand, or look it up. Stephen King, says to write to a grade eight reading level, that way the majority of readers understand and do not feel stupid.

Children’s (C) Readers

Ages: Birth to Kindergarten

0-2 Listens to the story.

2-5 Looks at the pictures and follows along, love the colors and action, tries to memorize the sentences.

Voice: 3rd person, beautifully illustrated, and with fewer words. Many times, the story uses rhyming sentences.

Word Count: 200-300 words

Themes: Fun and Funny, Friends and Family, Feelings, All about me, and Creatures. Picture books use illustrations to tell the story and often share life lessons related to emotional intelligence (empathy, forgiveness, kindness), relationships, social connections, and morals.
Content Rating: Keep it virtuous. No violence, sex, or coarse language!

Young Readers (Y)

Age: 6-11 Grade 1- 5

They have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality.

Voice: 3rd person

Word Count: 4,000-15,000 words

Themes: A short, uncomplicated story with words and illustrations. The words used are simple, with short sentences. The challenges are about what a child might face, like feeling left out, making friends, courage, belonging/identity, family, loss/grief, growing up, anger, suffering, jealousy, or love.

Content Rating: May have little or no violence, mild language, and no sexual dialogue or situations.

Middle Grade (MG) Readers

Ages:12–15 Grade 6 – 9

Teens are vulnerable, inexperienced, still developing their sense of self, and they have a strong desire to fit in, meaning, deep adult concepts may not be easily dismissed. A teenager may, unfortunately, make a deep and lasting negative impact on the content written (this group of readers needs less graphical content!).

Voice: 3rd person

Word Count: 30,000 and 50,000 words

Themes: The protagonist (and narrator) generally does not delve too much into self-reflection but instead focuses on real-life situations, emotions, friendships, and adventure. Characters typically react to what happens to them within their immediate world with a focus on friends and family.

Content Rating: Contain no profanity. May have slight inappropriate language, suggestive dialogue, and/or very mild violence, with very little sexual content (limited to crushes and first kisses).

Young Adult (YA) Readers

Ages: 15-24 Grade 10+
Word Count: 50,000 and 75,000 words +

Voice: 1st person with a sense of immediacy and ‘in-the-moment’ storytelling. 

Themes: All about life. Coming of age, finding your first job, getting an apartment, dealing with relationships and breakups, getting established in your career.

Content Rating: May have crude humor, drug/alcohol use, inappropriate language, strong violence (may include some amounts of blood and gore), sex, and moderate suggestive themes or dialogue.

Adult (A) Readers

Ages: 18+

Word Count: 80,000 to 100,000 words +

Voice: 3rd person, and often told in the style of a reflection on the past and sometimes presenting an omniscient perspective. 

Themes: Most popular for fiction and nonfiction are identity, diversity, family & community, courage, immigration, women studies, overcoming adversity, loss, love, inspiration, psychology, crime & justice, current events, or language.

Content Rating: Anything goes; Graphic violence, Sex, Drugs & Alcohol, Gambling, Rape, Murder, Suicide, Coarse or Crude Language, etc.


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