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If you’re reading this article you grew up in culture of movie and games and likely have an intimate familiarity with their associated rating systems. For quick reference;
G: General audiences – All ages admitted. // E: Everybody.
PG: Parental guidance suggested – Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned – Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. // T: Teen. 13 and up.
R: Restricted – Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. // M: Mature. 17 and up.
NC-17: Adults Only – No one 17 and under admitted. // AO: Adults only. 18 and up. (
(Interesting tidbit, NC-17 replaced the “X” rating, which was basically commandeered by the porn industry back in the day. Because certain movies were not pornographic, but clearly adult in nature, NC-17 was born.)
Anyways, these ratings of course are based on the nature of the content, affected by these particulars;
G/E – No profanity. Minimal non-consequential violence. No drug use content-no smoking characters. No nudity. No sex.
PG – Light profanity. No sexually-derived words. Mild violence. No drug use content. Brief nudity. Sexual content permitted as long as it passes other restrictions for rating; primarily appears as innuendo. Crude humor.
PG-13 – Slightly greater profanity than PG. Extremely limited use of expletives like “fuck.” Intense violence permitted, but not extreme or realistic; limited amounts of blood. Mild drug use content. Greater than brief nudity. Sexual content permitted as long as it passes other restrictions for rating. Crude humor.
R – Full profanity. Intense, extreme or realistic violence including ample blood, gore, mutilation, and depictions of death. Graphic drug use content. Strong sexually oriented or graphic nudity.
NC-17 – Represents the extreme end of content in all aspects without being pornographic in nature.
But from a writing perspective, it pays to ask, do these content elements alone define the maturity of a work?
Of course, since you’re here reading this article, the answer is a resounding, NO!
Before we take a look at what really defines the maturity of a story… and why it matters, let’s first define maturity;
MATURE – adjective
* fully developed
* having reached an advanced stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult:.
* (of thought or planning) careful and thorough.
Fully (or carefully and thoroughly) developed.
An advanced stage (characteristic of adulthood).
The essence of maturity points to complexity and depth.
Always write for yourself first.
However, as a professional writer, you need to recognize your audience/demographic.
In turn, you must have the honesty and objectivity, to realize if you’re actually writing for that audience/demographic. And of course, you can’t make that assessment if you don’t know what the parameters are in the first place!
When we speak of maturity of fiction, we’ve got immature on the one end of the scale and mature at the opposite end. That maturity can be assessed in the nature of the writing itself, AND in the person(s) processing that information (the readers or audience).
Primarily when we speak of an immature audience, we’re talking about kids.
But we could also be discussing an audience and type of entertainment fiction that is pure escapism… where people just want to turn off their brains and enjoy the entertainment strictly at face value without having to expend any effort in comprehending or “figuring it out.”
Well written immature fiction is no less difficult to write than well written mature fiction… in fact, if you have any experience writing comedy, you probably already know, well written immature fiction can be exceedingly difficult.
Obviously, the elements of content defined by all the descriptors in the rating systems are the low-hanging fruit of fiction maturity.
Clearly if your content has extreme violence, rape, drug use etc, those are all things immature people don’t really understand. These elements also have potential to traumatize or corrupt a developing mind.
Most would argue these elements are simply not appropriate for immature readers.
But “content” is a broad sweeping term. So let’s breakdown some of the specific narrative devices that live in the content and see if we can’t pinpoint some ways to recognize and control the maturity of our writing;