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My story is set in the US. Would it be believable to the reader if I deviated from the norm that is also supported by demographic data?

How many of the following deviations can I get away with?

  • A female character marries an older guy and have a child before she's 23. Assume this happened in the early nineties (we had Palm PDAs then, not smartphones).
  • A male character from a well off mainstream family marries and has a child before he's 22.
  • a 34-year-old male to enlist in the military (maximum is 35 for Army, 34 for navy and marines).
  • A 47-year-old man to have two consecutive children. That is happening in the nineties.
  • Finally, a female character falls in love and is to be engaged at age of 20.
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    Some individuals are outliers and special cases. They are atypical. Because they are uncommon, there may be some kind of social tension regarding the situation. – Double U Mar 17 at 23:13
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    Remember that lovely statistic that had the average family in the US have 2.5 children? – Rasdashan Mar 18 at 1:38
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    If you're looking at statistics, you need to look at more than just the mean. At a bare minimum, you need to look at the standard deviation as well; preferably, you look at the full distribution. – Mark Mar 18 at 4:48
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    I've personally seen all but the 3rd bullet happen (and given the law, presumably that one happens from time to time as well). – T.E.D. Mar 18 at 13:11
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    Is your story about demographics? Stories typically are about particular people, and those people can be very unique. – Alexander Mar 18 at 17:25
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The first scenario is perfectly reasonable. The young woman might be urged to wait as she is so young, but the heart wants what the heart wants. A cousin of mine recently married a woman nineteen years his junior after dating a few years. Another couple I know, the age difference is more extreme and they are likewise a perfect match.

When I was twenty a mature student proposed to me - I said no, not because of the age difference, which never troubled me, but because it was a shock that he asked and clearly I was not at a point in my life when it seemed apt.

The main objection that friends and family might have to either of those young people marrying would be will they continue their education and attain their dreams?

The mature recruit might need an impetus such as job loss to explain the late enlistment.

Middle aged men siring children is hardly news. You could use them all.

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The norm is the average range. None of your examples are outside the norm, meaning they're all things people wouldn't think were unusual. You seem to be asking "do I have to write characters who are in the center of the average range?" The answer to that is "no."

All of your examples are about age and age has never been a very exciting deviation, except when it is extreme (and maybe not even then). Marriage between people in different decades of their lives has been quite common for a very long time.

My great grandfather had (at least) 4 children with his wife. Three months after she died he married again. This was in 1893 and his second wife was my great grandmother. He was 42 and she was 21. They had (at least) 5 children. I'm sure nobody batted an eyelash at any of this.

Some people marry young, some marry old, some don't marry at all. Some couples are the same age, some are very different in age. Some people start new careers when they're older than the usual career-starting age.

Demographics are important and give you a sense of the scene. But they tell you nothing about individuals. Individuals do things on their own schedule. They don't check the charts to make sure it's okay. While it's true that people tend to follow the crowd, enough people don't that it really isn't unusual at all.

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Demographics is statistics. Statistics never defines individual cases. No single case can 'defy' statistics.

Being beliveable is another thing though. By that we could mean 'too improbable'. But even then a single interaction doesn't say much. If you need the situation to be like this, go ahead and do it. You can even make a point of it. Say, if a character lives in Detroit and never speaks to a black person over the course of the book, that would be 'too improbable'. Yet if you write it that way, perhaps it will tell us something about that person rather than about the author's ignorance of demographics?

Anyway, in your particular examples nothing strikes me as too odd.

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    If they're living in Detroit the city, perhaps, but the Detroit metropolitan area is the most racially segregated in the United States. If they're living in one of the suburbs, it's quite possible they'll never encounter someone who isn't white or Japanese. – Mark Mar 18 at 4:50
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    Sure; as a foreigner, I just couldn't come up quickly with a better example. The idea is still clear, I hope. – Zeus Mar 18 at 6:33
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These all read as totally normal situations aside from the 34 year old military enlistment--there would need to be a compelling motivation there.

  • You might want to add a bit of detail here. Some answers get flagged as low quality because of brevity. – Rasdashan Mar 18 at 15:05
  • thanks, will work on that – Reed Wade Mar 19 at 2:16
  • As Rasdashan has said, this has now ended up in the "low quality" review queue. I'm gonna go ahead and hit "Looks OK", but you really should elaborate on this sooner rather than later. – F1Krazy Mar 19 at 19:45
  • I actually think this was a small but useful insight. Everyone else pointed out how the examples weren't problematic. This answer alone questioned that. And brevity alone isn't poor quality. – bruglesco Mar 24 at 0:24

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