How old should a protagonist be?

The ideal age range for a young adult (YA) novel's protagonist is between 14 and 22. At 13 and 23, characters can be considered "on the verge" of becoming young adults. The subject matter of the books is frequently a better and more accurate indicator of the target audience's age range than the characters' actual ages. When deciding how old your characters should be, you, as a writer, should consider the phenomenon of readers "reading up," in which they gravitate toward characters who are one to three years older than they are.

Ages That Are Considered Standard Across All Age Ranges

When it comes to almost anything that has to do with books, the lines separating age limits and the boundaries of different genres become blurry. For example, when making distinctions between the major age groups, ages such as 14 and 20 become more muddled than others. On the other hand, a character who is 27 years old is doubtful to appear in a book written for middle schoolers. The following is an overview, but keep in mind that these are all gray areas, and nothing is written in stone:

Middle Grade (MG)

The protagonist of a book intended for middle-grade readers is always younger than 14 years old and, in most cases, falls between the ages of 11 and 12. The storylines in books for middle-grade readers are typically more straightforward, and the emphasis is placed on coming into one's own identity and gaining an understanding of the fundamental life skills associated with maturing. This could mean coming to terms with the effects of one's actions or becoming a better person. There will be no sexual topics, violence, or language appropriate for adults in the middle-grade level.

Young Adult (YA)

The protagonists of young adult books will typically be between the ages of 14 and 21, with some age overlap in new adult books, particularly when darker themes are explored. The age range that encompasses young adulthood is quite broad. The books geared toward children typically fit into being "sweet." This indicates that they have minimal to no profanity or adult content. There is a tendency for more "steaminess" in the older end of young adult, which borders on new adult. This indicates that they deal with more mature topics and contain material suitable for adults, such as profanity and sexual references.

The characters' ages in young adult fiction are not nearly as important as the circumstances in which those characters find themselves. The protagonists of young adult books are coming of age, having their first experiences, and figuring out what they will stand for (and what they won't).

New Adult (NA)

The typical age range for new adult protagonists is between 22 and 25. When a person reaches the age of 25, they have officially entered their adult years. The subgenre of fiction known as a new adult is becoming increasingly popular among readers in their late teens and early twenties. The main characters in new adult books frequently struggle with issues such as graduating from college, transitioning to independent life, finding love as an adult, and beginning their professional lives. The level of sexual content and language appropriate for adults that can be found in steamy adult novels is often found in new adult fiction, which is known for having a steamier tone. On the other hand, some new adult novels are considered to be "clean" on the market.


Adult protagonists are adults. It appears to be relatively easy, doesn't it? Seriously though, if you're going to write a book or series for adults, the main character should be at least 25 years old at the very least. However, because age categories become less distinct as people get older, your protagonist might be as young as 20.

Books written for adults typically center on topics that are experienced by adults, such as divorce, marriage, children, careers, and aging parents, among other things. The scope of the various genres in NA books is comparable to those in MG, YA, and NA books. This indicates that these "adult" topics are handled in whatever setting is suitable for the associated genre, regardless of whether or not that setting is a classroom or a bar.

What exactly does "Reading Up" mean?

People are said to be "reading up" when they have a propensity to identify with fictional protagonists who are one to two years older than themselves. This is most likely because the characters are dealing with situations they anticipate being in soon and can relate to on a more personal level.

Things You Should Always Keep in Mind When Writing a Character of Any Age

When you are writing a character, regardless of age, the two most important things to keep in mind are:

  • Does the age given to this character seem plausible to you?
  • Do the things they go through seem relevant to their age and readers around the same age?

By asking yourself these questions, you may gain clarity and be better able to make any necessary adjustments to ensure that your characters behave according to their ages (seriously).

Series Writing With Ageing Characters

When writing a series that spans multiple years in the characters' lives, it makes sense to depict character growth. In contrast to adult book series, in which the difference between 32 and 37 is not significant, the difference between 14 and 19 is enormous. Your characters go through a lot during that period, and you must ensure that your writing reflects this. You'll want to consider:

  • varying motives and desires
  • Coming of age sexually and experiencing first loves
  • Thinking about adulthood, college, and 'what comes next.'
  • A minor maturational shift in the character's voice.

When writing for young adults as an adult, it is often difficult to adopt the perspective of a 14-year-old. You must place yourself in the mindset of a 14-year-old and consider whether your character's dialogue, actions, and motivations are realistic. Participating in a critique group or assembling a group of beta readers is a great way to obtain genuine, frank, and objective feedback.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.


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