Meet The Millennials

elvis-presley-1973-performance-billboard-650
Elvis Presley at 38 in 1973

I’m at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation or the beginning of Gen X. Most of my students are Millennials. Since I also teach writing for media, I keep any eye out for research, but as a writer branching out into YA/NA, I have to dig deeper.

What’s the difference? The Baby Boomers were the largest group of children born in the United States for about 20 years after World War II. They ended up shaping American commerce and society as much as it shaped them because they were a huge mass market.

The Millennials are an equally big group, almost 75 million at latest count. They’re the group just now hitting their ‘adult’ years, the 20 and 30 year olds. What makes them interesting is that while they’re also a significant market, they’re not nearly as uniform.

The Boomers weren’t actually that uniform either, but Millennials are openly diverse in terms of race, origin, sexual orientation, etc. I can see this just looking around the library where I work. The colleagues my age come from different parts of the world, but we are all, as the Spanish instructor puts it, “Gorditas” – middle-aged women, long past jeggings, and nagging about homework.

The student tutors are Caucasian, Asian, mixed race, and Latino in even numbers. They’re also equally male and female, studying Math and Science primarily. For the writer, this means more of an ensemble cast than the traditional hero or heroine.

elvis-presley-dancing-thesuiteworld
Elvis at 21 in 1956

Millennials have access to incredible amounts of information. Many follow news and developments avidly on the internet. But they lack background. They look things up instead of committing to memory. Many would just as soon hear instructions as read them. They want very specific instructions for what you expect and sometimes struggle to be creative. They don’t always think beyond the facts that they do read. One of the funniest conversations I had was when a student referred to 80s music as classic rock because that’s what he read. I pointed out that rock and roll developed in the 50s, so the 80s was really second generation. What about Elvis?

Most of the student tutors are still living at home – and acting as primary caregiver for grandparents. For the writer, this means your characters are likely to act very differently than expected. They may not shop for an important date, but only pause long enough to order online. That could be a funny scene if the outfit doesn’t fit!

Millennials get a lot of flack about being entitled, but the ones I know are very hard workers. Going to school was my primary job. They have full class loads, maintain excellent grades, and frequently have 2nd jobs. As characters, they have to be busy, busy, and no, they don’t want to spend time on things that aren’t important to them. But where my generation gets labeled ‘heading for retirement,’ they get called lazy.

This could be one reason that their attitude towards relationships is not what you’d expect. The Boomers stage the sexual revolution, Millennials grew up with conflicting social norms. The ones I know value their privacy. They openly hold hands with partners of any sex, but check to see if a book’s racy 1st.

Ways to reach Millennials are not just email, newsletter, twitter, or Facebook, but just as likely to be Tumbler, Instagram, or another program. They still need multiple reminders across multiple channels – Get organized, writers!

The hardest part of this post was finding reliable research to share, articles that weren’t written with a stated liberal or conservative slant. That’s a whole ‘nother commentary on news, but for the writer, it means having to take these numbers with caution when applying them to characters. But you don’t want broad representations of a generation anyway. Your characters need lives and personalities of their own!

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