(Edit: My spouse thought the original post was a little confusing with all the time frames criss-crossing so I reworked it, hopefully explaining things a little better. Sorry if you read the original and were confused before. Believe me, it confused me for a while, too.)
One thing I’ve waffled about recently has been the age of Tim, my main character, at the beginning of the story. When I first started playing with this idea, it didn’t really matter – I just assumed that he was going to be in his mid-30’s. (After all, that was my age and it just made sense at the time based on the story.) However, since almost 30 years have passed, I’ve had to look at this more closely and make some decisions.
The Original Story
A lot of it has to do with backstory – when Tim was almost 13, a couple of traumatic events occurred that affected everything that came afterwards.
- First, he was caught kissing a boy (Zach) who he had been secretly involved with. This wasn’t just any boy, but the son of Tim’s pastor, the extremely homophobic leader of a small church Tim and his father attended. Zach was immediately sent away to keep the boys separated and to be cured of his homosexuality.
- Second, Tim’s father planned his own horrific punishment for Tim’s sexual predilections. During it, Tim tries to escape and, in the chase, his father is accidentally hit by a passing car and killed. Before dying, however, he tells Tim the punishment is still outstanding and he will still receive it somehow.
The Two Time Frames
In planning this novel, I had to think about two time frames: the PAST which pertains to the timeframe of the traumatic events discussed above, and the PRESENT which covers when the story opens. This is what I mean when I use these terms in the discussion below.
As I said elsewhere in the Project section, when I originally came up with this, it was somewhere in the early to mid 90’s. If I had written it at the time, Tim would have, for example, been 35 in 1993 and 13 in 1971.
These PAST events would have been horrendous during this time frame. Being outed as gay in a small midwestern town was disastrous – the Stonewall Riots in New York and the start of Gay Pride hadn’t even occured until 1969. More diverse attitudes had definitely not traveled that fast to where I grew up. (I remember watching the hell some of my more effeminate classmates went through whether they were gay or not. It wasn’t fun and entrenched me in the closet even more than I already was.)
Also, the events leading up to the father’s death and the method he chose to punish Tim were pretty horrific in their own way, again especially considering the time period.
My delay in writing this had created this huge issue I chose not to deal with. In my mind, everything was still copasetic.
However, I eventually had to face the truth – the story had changed. Either Tim’s age had to change from the 30’s to the 40’s, 50’s, and then 60’s, or the time frames had to shift. And the answer didn’t come easily.
Leaving Tim’s age at 35
I could have left Tim’s age at 35 but that meant that I would have to shift either the PAST or the PRESENT to a different time period.
If Tim was 35 and I made the PRESENT happen now (2021), that would have put the PAST in 1999. Doing this would have totally changed the atmosphere I was shooting for – in Fort Wayne, being out in high school wasn’t unheard of, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) was around, etc. Opinions were changing and acceptance could be found. Sure, it could still be tough, but nothing like I saw and went through and originally planned.
No, I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted the PAST to occur in the early 70’s like my original story.
Thus, the only other option was then to change when the PRESENT occurred. If Tim was 13 in 1973, then the PRESENT had to occur in 1995 – just as if I had actually written the story then. That would solve everything. Believe me, it was tempting and I seriously thought about it.
Yet, my intuitive side balked. No, the PRESENT had to start now (2021). Plus, I had ideas for the story that could never have happened then because of advances in technology.
The only other option was to change Tim’s age. But, there also seemed an issue with this that I couldn’t put my finger on. Something wasn’t right. Still, I couldn’t have things both ways. I knew I had to intentionally work it out and make a decision about this. Otherwise, I’d never be happy.
Solving the Issue
So, I decided to mind map this using an app called SimpleMind. (No, I didn’t have it listed in my original tools post when I first wrote it; an update to that is next on the list has been added describing the app.)
If you’re unfamiliar with mind mapping, it’s a process to visually brainstorm. As the site mindmapping.com describes it,
“A Mind Map is a diagram for representing tasks, words, concepts, or items linked to and arranged around a central concept or subject using a non-linear graphical layout that allows the user to build an intuitive framework around a central concept. A Mind Map can turn a long list of monotonous information into a colorful, memorable and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of doing things.” (https://www.mindmapping.com/mind-map)
You put your initial idea or question in a circle in the center of the screen. Then, you keep adding additional ideas and thoughts in their own circles around it as they come to mind. These trigger other thoughts and these are placed accordingly on the diagram with lines drawn to show relationships. On and on it goes. Eventually, you end up with this kind of spider web listing all your various thoughts and their pro’s and con’s. Mind mapping is a great way to see your thought’s strengths and weaknesses and where your own biases lie.
My mind map for Tim’s age appears below:
You’ll see I immediately started waffling again – instead of putting Tim in his 30’s, I changed it and made him in his 40’s. (It was like subconsciously, I was trying to get it back there as far as I could.)
Soon after I got started, I immediately saw what I couldn’t put my finger on: I wanted Tim and Zach to meet up again in the present and get reacquainted. In all likelihood, this would lead to a rekindling of their love affair. However, that meant both Tim and Zach were in their 60’s or 40’s. How would readers react to seeing 2 senior citizens meet again and reignite an aborted love relationship from over 45 years prior?
While thinking this through, I began to see my own biases around age. I’ve described before living in an apartment building for seniors (55+). Walking through the lobby, how comfortable am I imagining any of the folks I see there in a sexual relationship? Sure, at that age, sex becomes less of a driving issue, but it’s still something that could, and probably would, be important in a situation like Tim and Zach’s.
And then I thought about myself. Even though I’m 62, I don’t enjoy the thought of being put out to pasture. Like others my age, I’m still a sexual being. Hell, on any given day, I feel like I’m more in my 30’s than 60’s – that is, until I look in the mirror. If I feel this way, why shouldn’t Tim and Zach?
I belong to a group on Facebook for an author of MM (male/male) romances. I almost posted a question there asking their thoughts on relationships between seniors. And then I changed my mind. It shouldn’t matter. I began to see my hesitancy as just a way to avoid discussing something our youth-obsessed society doesn’t want to deal with. Yeah, seeing a hot guy on the cover sells books but is that really what my story is about? No, it’s about facing one’s ghosts – some that are real, but also a lot of the figurative ones that haunt us: growing old, being alone, and dealing with our own mortality.
By writing about this romantic subplot from a senior’s perspective, this could actually turn into something quite poignant. The ability to fall in love knows no age limit. It shouldn’t be stifled here in my story either.
Anyway, I made some decisions. The PRESENT happens now (2021). Tim’s going to be in his 60’s when the story opens and he’s going to return to his home town, meet Zach again, and start their relationship once more. The PAST will occur in the early 70’s. I feel both of these decisions help the story rise above what is expected and offer opportunities to see things from a different perspective.
(Note: Answering this question also took care of a host of others – it was like multiple other issues fell into place. I had at one point considered having Zach commit suicide after he was sent away from Tim. This would have deepened Tim’s sense of guilt incredibly – if Zach hadn’t gotten involved with him, Zach would still be alive. The romantic subplot would still exist, but it would be on an entirely different level. Being dead, Zach existed in an alternate realm – one of spirits and shamanic influences. Tim would have to cross over there to meet him. Much of the story would have taken place in this world with Tim rescuing Zach and others from the vengeful ghost of Tim’s father there. This decision does away with that option, though. Zach will be alive and they will physically meet in this world. And to be honest, I’m feeling pretty good about that.)
Photo by Alex Perri on Unsplash