Thursday, May 3, 2012

Stop the Parenticide! - cj omololu

I have to confess, I killed off my mom. Not my real mom, but the mom in my book Dirty Little Secrets. Had to be done - she needed to be out of the way for the story to unfold the way it did. She's found dead in the second chapter, but she lives in flashbacks and in what made my character make the choices she did. I worked hard to make the mom more than just a one dimensional villain, because who is more influential on kids, for good or bad, than parents?

Even though I committed parenticide, I'm always a little bugged when I read YA books where the parents are absent, either by killing them off for no reason, or by sending the teen away to boarding school. Now I have to admit, some of my favorite books are set in boarding school and many of them require the setting, but in a lot of cases, it's just a way to get rid of the parents so that the kids can run wild and have their own adventures.  There aren't many kids who have either had their parents die or are sent to live at boarding school (okay, my husband has had both of those things happen - and he says that Hogwarts aside, life in a co-ed boarding school in England was as awesome as it sounds) but there are lots and lots of kids out there who have to deal with their parents every day.

Which is why I'm committed to not getting rid of parents anymore. In my new book Transcendence (not out until June) my main character not only has to worry about flashbacks of her past lives and saving the world and the boy she loves from someone out to avenge a wrong, but curfew, homework and cello practice. Her boyfriend's mother is a main character and is the confidant through all the craziness in the plot. It wasn't easy. There were so many times I wished I could just off them and be done with it, but I wanted it to ring true for kids.

Now I'm not saying that your parents have to be on every page. If they're wealthy, they might even go on a long safari in Kenya where they are basically unreachable for weeks at a time <whistles>. But I think it's good to have them lurking in the background providing an extra challenge for your main character. Can she go out and develop her special brand of magic powers and save the world from certain doom? You bet. She just better make sure her chemistry homework is done first.

18 comments:

  1. I'm almost never bothered by absent parents in YA, but I do want the absence to make sense and have an impact on the characters. I only see a problem when parents are CLEARLY killed off just to make things easier, and their deaths have no real impact on plot and characterization. But I do agree that keeping parents alive can add something special, even if the adults never appear and you just see the MC creatively dodging their attempts to regulate things. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Gemma. It was one of those things that once I noticed it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Even wondered if I could have kept the mom in my story alive (nope).

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  2. I've gotten rid of plenty of parents because my contemp YA characters usually have some type of damage and dysfunction in their life.

    But the first YA story I wrote though has great parents who help the damaged boy get his life back on track and even though it's been temporarily trunked, I will get back to it sometime.

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    1. Yes, if the story is about the death of a parent (or going to boarding school), then that's the way you have to go. I just think it can be so much more interesting if you keep them sometimes.

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  3. I'm thinking this is more of an issue in contemporary. In historical fiction, it's perfectly plausible for people/parents to die from any number of miserable diseases and happenings!

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    1. It is plausible...but some survived, right? ;)

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  4. Amen, CJ! It's challenging to keep the parents in the story while still allowing the"kids to run wild and have their own adventures". But who doesn't love a writing challenge? ^+^

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    1. Thanks Angelina! I'll be the first to admit it isn't easy. Which is why extended trips to Kenya are always an option.

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  5. I totally agree. Parent-child relationships can be so fascinating to write from a YA perspective. Some writers are really throwing away a goldmine of opportunities by getting rid of the parents! In my current WIP, the MC's relationship with her parents is the most important one in the story. Way more important than the love interest!

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    1. I think that's great - a lot of writers have done that really successfully. You go!

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  6. I'll second that amen, CJ! I really love it when YA characters actually LIKE their parents!

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    1. Thanks Holly. My MC at least likes OTHER people's parents;)

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  7. I've been thinking the same thing. My parents are disengaged by the afterlife situation in TOUCHING THE SURFACE but they are more than present in my wip THE OPPOSITE OF GRAVITY.

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    1. There are some situations that absolutely don't invite parental involvement. Like the afterlife.

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  8. I find myself rolling my eyes as soon as I see missing or totally inattentive/oblivious parents in a book, because it's become such a trope.

    So while my WIP has an MC who is a 122-year-old vampire whose parents are long-since expired, she has both a vampire substitute mother who keeps tabs on her and a foster mother who pays attention to what the kids are up to and sets curfews, and her boyfriend's parents are strongly involved in his life. Do kids really dream about having parents who are dead or don't give a fig about them? I kind of doubt it.

    Besides, if you need conflict or extra difficulties for kids to work around in your story, parent/parent figures come in very handy!

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    1. As the parent of teenagers, I can attest to the conflict that parent/kid relationships can bring.

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  9. It is tricky, isn't it? I find myself writing a lot of dysfunctional parents but yes, my focus is to keep the action and conflict on my mc and not her/his parents. But even in absentia, they inform what a character is like, don't you think?

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    1. Absolutely. My MC's mom is seen only through flashbacks, which are of course filtered by my MC's point of view. But still super important.

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