Friday, May 11, 2012

Should Parents Stay or Go?


Amber’s mother has to go. It’s too bad because I really thought she’d make it. She survived the first and second drafts and got even more ink in the third. Then my agent and I had a long talk. And that’s when I knew Mom needed to leave the story.

What to do with her? My initial thought was to kill her outright. Something neat, quick, and painless—car accident, plane crash, beheading. But maybe there’s a way to keep her alive. Let her run off with the mailman or “find herself” in a remote area of the Andes. Or cruise into the sunset with her third, fourth, or fifth husband.

Dead or alive, the woman must disappear. She’s a pleasant enough person—actually quite lovely--but she doesn’t add anything to my plot. Worse yet, she takes the focus away from what my story is really about. And that’s unacceptable.

My brother Dan and me in high school.
Dad teaches me to be an acrobat.
Don’t feel too sorry for Amber’s mom. Disappearing parents are common in young adult lit. In Fairest of Them All I killed off Oribella’s dad when she was a toddler. It could have been worse. In an early draft he was an anonymous sperm donor. At least he had a name in the final version. Oribella wasn't parentless, though. Her complicated relationship with her insecure mother was       critical to the plot. 

My protagonist Aspen in A & L Do Summer has two very normal parents who get plenty of ink. They also load her up with chores, ground her when she and Laurel get into trouble, and generally complicate her life. What they don’t do is solve her problems.

Which is the reason so many parents are absent in YA lit. Teen characters need plenty of room to fall in love, solve mysteries, and mess up their lives without their parents around to put them together again. 

No so the authors. I would give anything to have my parents back. Mom and Dad, love you, miss you every day.

9 comments:

  1. That's the key, isn't it? Our MCs always have to solve their problems on their own--they are the rescuers, not the rescued.

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  2. I'm kinda thinking the dad in my current WIP might have to go. He isn't around, only heard from through the occasional e-mail. He doesn't really move the story foreward. So why keep him? I've been kind of going back and forth, but your post makes me think it's time for him to disappear. Thanks.

    I'm lucky to still have my own.

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    1. I'm glad I helped you make a decision. We hate to leave our characters parentless, but sometimes it needs to happen.

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  3. I love how horrible it sounds when we start plotting to kill off fictional parents, but it's so necessary sometimes! Maybe authors are secretly serial killers... :-)

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    1. It sounds dastardly, doesn't it? We're okay as long as all the crimes are on paper and the victims are fictional. Otherwise, could be trouble.

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  4. It's tough, but good parents often pose a problem for the best stories. So, we'll horde them in real life instead.

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    1. I like that. We need to appreciate them while we have them.

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  5. Beheading! LOL. I have a character that needs some of that. Plus, I love, love, love the picture of you and your dad.

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  6. Thanks, Lauren! In case you couldn't tell, my dad was an amateur bodybuilder. He drank protein shakes long before they were popular and lifted weights in our garage.

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