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Main characters? For the plot? Lore? Why some Gen Z-ers talk about themselves as if they're fictional characters.

Credit: @roman_redd / @simondoann / @faroukiie via TikTok

Members of Gen Z are harnessing literary concepts to talk about their real, offline lives. On social media sites like TikTok and X, they use words like “main character,” “lore” and “plot” to describe how they’ve acted or what has happened to them.

For instance, “main character energy” or “main character syndrome” might describe someone who is the center of attention or easily forms adversarial relationships like a fictional protagonist. If that person does something “for the plot,” they’re being dramatic in a way that might escalate drama and move their “story” forward, even if the outcome is bad.

“Lore” is the latest literary term to catch fire. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “traditional knowledge and stories about a subject.” Used in the conventional sense, a fictional character’s “lore” is the character's backstory — what happened to them before they entered the narrative. In Gen Z parlance, friends, relatives and strangers have “lore” as well.

It’s not unusual for young people to see their own lives as a narrative arc, psychiatrist Joshua Stein, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist for Newport Healthcare's PrairieCare Program, told Yahoo News. He said that across generations, people have created their own “personal fables” — a psychological term that describes “the belief that an adolescent is special and unique compared to the average person.” Millennials and Gen-Xers express their personal fables differently, but the concept is an “age-appropriate psychological mainstay” for young people.

“From a developmental perspective, it allows teens to experience common events as unique and believe that they can successfully manage, if not flourish, where others cannot,” he said. That’s why media with a “chosen one” theme like Star Wars or Harry Potter appeal so much to young people.

Erin O’Connor, a professor at New York University and chief of education for the parenting platform Cooper, told Yahoo News that Gen Z has grown up in the “golden age of young adult writing,” which led them to embrace narrative fiction.

According to O’Connor, even the musical artists they love like Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Beyoncé, “embrace narrative tools” in their work.

It’s not just the media they consume or the celebrities they admire who are presenting their stories in that way, either. O’Connor noted that Gen Z has been “raised watching succinct storytelling media — YouTube, TikTok and Instagram” that influences how they perceive the world.

Stein shared a similar sentiment. He told Yahoo News that through social media, Gen Z has developed a “dynamic platform to write their own personal fables.”

“They can present their best side, their flair and their individuality in a way that, in fact, does allow them to control the narrative,” he said.

Caitlin Begg, a sociological researcher, told Yahoo News that the use of these literary terms makes sense for modern young people because they’re immersed in “exaggerated and fictionalized” content from their peers so extensively that they’re “starting to view their own lives in that way.” She calls it the “contentification of daily life.”

Creating a personal fable might be a quintessential adolescent experience, but using the power of social media to craft a public-facing narrative about yourself for a broader audience is a modern phenomenon that affects how Gen Z thinks about “plot” and “lore” outside the confines of English class.