Developing your world by examining adulthood

fireworks-180553_640Every culture throughout history has had some sort of tradition that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. These traditions vary widely, ranging from wild parties to vision quests to marriage–which often involved a massive party anyway.

Now that pretty much everybody lives to adulthood and a great many people aren’t religious, the vast majority of us don’t celebrate adulthood with some ancient cultural tradition, but we do celebrate. Oh, and adulthood starts much later now than it did a couple hundred years ago, when fourteen year old girls were commonly married and fourteen year old boys were working.

Today’s challenge is to write a story about one of your main characters making the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

Pay particular attention to these things:

What age does adulthood begin at in this culture? Is it connected to a specific marker of puberty?

Does becoming an adult mean starting work right away?

Is there an actual celebration? If so, is it religious?

If there isn’t any major celebration or trial characters go through when they reach adulthood, why not?

How soon after adulthood begins is the character expected to marry? (I.E. Are people at the celebration asking them when they’re going to marry? Or is a marriage already arranged?)

Even if your characters aren’t going to be coming of age during the story, this exercise can tell you a lot about the culture you’re working in.There are all kinds of things you can infer from this information. A culture with a high infant mortality rate is more likely to have a massive celebration when children become adults. A culture where the main coming of age ritual is marriage will likely have extremely sexist laws.

You can do this exercise if you’re writing in our world, too. After all, we do celebrate adulthood, and if your character is of a different religious background than you, this exercise might be very informative–as long as you research to make sure you get the feel of the event right.

How do characters in your world celebrate coming of age? Did you enjoy this writing exercise?