Coming of Age (or Internal) Genres

So, before I continue on the path of laying out each individual genre in this continuing series, I think it’s good to take a moment to talk about the category ‘Coming of Age’. This is the Internal Genre, where the story is driven by the hero’s personal struggles, rather than a villain they must defeat.

By ‘Coming of Age’, I do not mean a teen romance. I’m willing to bet that, when you hear that term, you think of a young adult category.

I won’t argue that these types of stories certainly seem to appeal in a deep way to young people who are only just beginning to understand life; however, a ‘coming of age’ can imply far more. Every person is learning and re-learning life all the time, and stages of maturity and realization happen for us sometimes at 12, sometimes at 20, and sometimes at 75, so I think it is fair to say that a ‘Coming of Age’ story can happen for anyone, and appeal to anyone.

There are 4 ‘coming of age’ categories that my brother and I have been able to identify so far. I’m not sure yet if there are more than these, and would love to hear what you think!

They are:

  1. Death
  2. Self-Delusion
  3. Romance
  4. Responsibility

I’ll use death to explain this a bit more. Sometimes there is a story like My Girl, where the main character has to deal with death at a young age, and matures through that process. But there are also stories like A Christmas Carol, in which an old man has to come to scrooge-and-tim.jpgterms with his own mortality, and becomes a more whole person because of it. Both of these, in a sense, are ‘Coming of Age’ stories. They deal with someone who begins the story incomplete, or possibly broken, in some way. And when the story is over, they have grown, learned, and moved on, embracing the reality that they had before ignored or been ignorant of.

So the criteria for a ‘Coming of Age’ story is:

  • There is a reality, or truth, of life – such as death or love.
  • Main character denies or does not know about this reality.
  • The reality confronts the character with unavoidable force.
  • They run from it, rebel against it, do not want to accept it.
  • Finally, they must accept it, although they have to die (in a metaphorical sense) to a part of themselves to do so.
  • They are a more complete person after accepting it.


So there you have it! I’ll be diving into each section in detail soon, so keep an eye out.

Are there any ‘coming of age’ stories you can think of, or any other genres that fall under this heading? Are there any stories you would like me to explore to see what genre they fall under?

5 thoughts on “Coming of Age (or Internal) Genres

  1. Coming of age should really be called reinvention. I keep thinking of all those stories that start with a move and the protagonist has to decide what face (s)he wants to show to a new set of people. Remember The Sandlot? Smalls has to chose to become interested in baseball to make friends. And during the course of the summer he matures into a new person. One of my favorites, by the way!

    1. Yes! I love The Sandlot! Although I have to disagree about Smalls being the main character, funny enough. He’s definitely the one we follow the most, and he does have a character arc. But I think Rodrigues is the hero of the story. We see him through Small’s eyes, and he has to decide whether or not he’s going to claim his moment to be a hero. In that moment, at the end when he faces ‘The Beast’, Rodrigues has to decide if fear is going to rule his life, or if it’s going to be his love of baseball. And that’s the reality he has to come to grips with. So it’s certainly a coming-of-age story, and a case can be made that Smalls also has a realization by the end of the story, but I think Rodrigues shows the point best. He puts aside childish things – fear – and accepts the reality that life is more than just about his fear. Does that make sense?

      I’m also now wondering if fear is actually a category inside coming of age…? You’re making me think, I love it! 😁

      1. I like that idea, well both actually. I like that it’s more about Rodriguez and fear as a category. It’s also weird because I don’t know that we ever outgrow the latter, we just learn how to push passed it.

      2. True! And I think that’s the case for all the internal genres. I’m not sure we ever learn to really live them the best way possible, so much as we deepen in our ability to live with them. That’s why each death is awful – even if we’ve already experienced death. And every time we are called upon to love, it’s still a struggle.

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