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Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday's Muse~Parents In Young Adult Novels

In honor of mother's day I thought I'd write a post on parents in young adult novels. It had kind of been my muse this last week. All too often the parents not only don't play an important role, they aren't present at all. In many books one or both parents are killed or simply are never mentioned. While this definitely heightens tension and drama it can also take an opportunity away to fully develop your character. Don't throw things at me yet. In my first young adult novel both of my protagonist's parents died right away so I'm guilty of this too. However, now that I'm on my fourth young adult novel I'm starting to see how having the parents play an important role can enrich the book.

A child's first role model is their parents and their view of the world is colored by how they're raised. Much can be learned about a character by their interactions with their parents. These interactions can help us show instead of tell. A tender interaction with a mother can show the reader why the protagonist treats women the way he does, or vica versa. An argument over what college to attend can show the reader why the protagonist feels oppressed, overwhelmed, etcetera. Parents can also play an important role in your antagonist's life too. A relationship with a parent, good or bad, could explain part of why they are the way they are.

The protagonists in young adult novels are of the right age where the parents should play some kind of role in the book. They don't have to be key characters but they deserve a scene or two and I think you'll find your book is better for it in the end. Give parents their due time on the page and you might be surprised at the depth it adds to your novel.

19 comments:

  1. Excellent! I make it a point to work in the parents or at least showcase the relationship as it does have such an impact on who the character is. I get annoyed when I see parents killed off left and right (with some amazing exceptions, such as HP, but even there we get to know who Harry's parents were).

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  2. Great post! Those sometimes inconvenient parents can add some interesting additional conflict to a story. I keep thinking about the Twilight series--how Bella's dad doesn't like Edward. It's not the major conflict, but it's additional tension and it's something lots of young girls can relate to--a parent who doesn't like a boyfriend. And that's really just the tip of the iceberg, isn't it? So much potential with present parents ...

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  3. I like how you state that the interaction between kids and adults is a great way to show their personality. I think this is very true. :)

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  4. Me too Lisa! It's a shame to see parents killed off when they can add so much to the story. But, I've done it to so I can't throw stones!

    Great point Portia about the parents adding conflict, no matter how small! I loved how Stephenie made the father in Twilight matter. It made the book that much better.

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  5. Thanks Angela. Anyway we can show personality and build character we've got to do it! Parents are great for that.

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  6. lol. You're so right about the parents missing from YA. I had a fellow writer tell me it's the easy way out so we can focus on the protag and give them independence without having to worry about details like curfews and rules. However, you list some great reasons for including parents!

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  7. Cool post Heather. Thought you might be interested in this pop culture study I did of parent archetypes in YA Lit.

    http://www.firstnovelsclub.com/2009/11/oh-parents-where-art-thou-parental.html

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  8. What your friend said is so true Olleymae, it is easier to write a YA novel without worrying about the complications parents bring. But those problems make the story more interesting and believable!

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  9. Thanks Frankie, I'm clicking over there now!

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  10. Excellent post, Heather! A YA book without parents seems incomplete to me - unless it's deliberate, like the Gone series. I your points! :-)

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  11. Great point about the GONE series. In the right context absent parents can work rather well.

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  12. Well said Heather! It's a trend I've seen other writer's approaching, so maybe change is in the air. :) However, I do think writer will need to be careful how they approach the task. Reading for everyone is an escape, but I think this is more so important in YA literature. They need that escape from the stress of teenage life, and probably don't mind the absence of parents. ;)

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  13. I agree. If parents aren't present there has to be a very good reason. Like the kind of reason that is integral to the plot.

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  14. That's a great point Amanda, writing is an escape and for teens that means no parents!

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  15. True Portia, without a good reason we're kind of cheating the reader.

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  16. Even a glimpse of the parents makes the situation more believable (what teenager isn't worried about their parents finding out about X Y or Z ?) And it allows us to guess a bit about the main character--is he rebelling against his parents or is he a miniature version in the making? Interesting stuff.

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  17. Heather, this is excellent advice. Twist of Faith... the novel I am switching to YA, (Thank you) the parents will be a huge part. Relationships with our parents... tension filled... are part of life and make us who we are. Even the lack of a parent in the formative years makes a difference. A great topic during a great time... Mother's day. PS... you know what MOM upside down says?

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  18. The more I thought about it, I remembered in Twilight Bella's mom was interesting too. Divorced parents, Bella's own fears about relationships, mom marries a younger guy and Bella feels on the outs a bit ... Can you tell I'm still thinking about this? I'm really liking the idea of using the parents in the story to demonstrate the reasons behind inner conflict. Thanks again for getting me thinking on this. I've got some parent relationships in my current work, so this post is timely for me.

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  19. So true Lorel! I love that we can use little scenes like sneaking out at night and getting caught to give a glimpse into the parent/teen relationship and the characters overall.

    Thanks Karlene, I'm so glad I could help you with your transition to YA!

    I forgot that about Twilight too Portia! Bella's mom really did play a vital part in why Bella felt the way she did. Excellent example! I'm so glad it was a timely post for you. :)

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