Entering the coming-of-age world one plot-point at a time

Monday, May 27, 2019
by Erika Tan

Think back in time to the you who was fresh out of high school, with the world at your feet and the presence of the unknown looming over your head. Now think about the you of today, of the person you’ve become and the milestones you’ve achieved to get to this point time. The in-between of then and now is your own personal story full of twists, turns and hurdles. All the places you’ve been, the connections you’ve made, and the knowledge you’ve acquired can all be classified under one genre: coming-of-age.

Hand holding a clock.

What is coming-of-age? It’s a genre of novels and movies that surrounds the growth of a protagonist as they transition into adulthood. Sound familiar? The reason this genre is so emotionally deep and impactful is because the content is so relatable. We’ve all had our fair share of challenges and awkward instances that come with the baggage of being an adult. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read about characters that don’t always have it together and who learn how to embrace the imperfections in life.

Gif of woman talking about growth.

What classifies the coming-of-age genre? Not all novels and movies are the same when dealing with the theme, but there is chronological series of events that happen. If you’re ever writing a story, reading a novel, or watching a movie based on the genre, you may notice that there are certain elements included. Here is a checklist of all the basic plot points to consider:

Gif of woman talking about exploring the world.

Introducing the maturing protagonist: the main character often goes off in search of education, self-discovery, or to explore the real world

A problem arises: the character is then faced with a conflict or problem that questions their identity and goes against what they thought they knew

The struggle is real: thus the journey begins. With the challenges the character is going through, they slowly try to adapt

The momentous decision: the main turning point of the story is when the character has to make a life-altering choice

A change of heart: finally the character is able to learn from their past, and come out on the other side with insight, a strong grip on reality, and gained experience. Wisdom has been achieved

Gif of woman talking about change.

What are some examples? There are thousands of stories out there that check off all the boxes of the coming-of-age theme. These vary from books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Harry Potter to movies such as Mean Girls and Stand by Me.

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky book cover.
However, for me, there is one book that stands out among the pack. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky encapsulates the genre to a tee and jam-packs the story with all the classic elements. The novel is written in the form of a letter and you’re introduced to Charlie, a shy but sweet ‘wallflower’ used to being on the sidelines. His challenge throughout the novel is tackling the ups and downs of high school including first dates, new friendships, and problems with his identity. The reason the book is so spectacular is due to its honesty, originality, and quotable lines. In the beginning, Charlie is portrayed as a naive character but he eventually loses his innocence throughout the novel. Overall, Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story of growth and shows readers that you don’t always have to figure things out to feel complete in yourself.

The world of the coming-of-age genre is definitely one to explore. Check out any books that revolve around the topic and see if any of them resonate with how you feel or have felt in the past!

Perks of Being a Wallflower quote.