In my post on age demographics last week, I talked about choosing the correct themes for the maturity of your audience. In my own novel, I’ve created a bit of a challenging situation for myself on that front, as the manuscript is aimed at ages 13-15, but deals very strongly with the theme of death in a way that is intended to be light-hearted and humorous. Under normal circumstances, I would think that readers in this age range are quite ready to start discussing heavier topics such as mortality, but to present it in a style that strips it of its emotional weight requires an understanding and maturity that would probably only be found at the top of this age bracket.
My solution to this was to lighten the theme of death by using known characters that the audience should already see in a non-emotional way. I mentioned in another post that I have tried to use legendary figures that my audience has never heard of, because it really is a fascinating subject with so many under-valued deities. But in order to keep the tone light, I also featured characters such as Hades, Anubis and the Grim Reaper, who are already widely circulated in pop-culture and quite often presented in a light-hearted or non-threatening way. I hope that the inclusion of these familiar names will help to remind the audience that the theme here is not “Death” with a capital “D”, but “death” written in felt tip pen on the back of a sweet wrapper.
That’s not to say I never want to take a serious tone on the subject. Writing about death without even the slightest hint of emotion would lessen the impact of the plot to the point where it becomes more of a slap-stick sketch than a novel. But I don’t want my readers to end every chapter staring into space as they contemplate their own mortality. It’s supposed to be fun. At least, most of the time.