Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kids! (a.k.a contemplating parent characters)

Right now, I'm busy with rehearsals for my school's production of Bye Bye Birdie. The main set of parents sing a song called Kids, which is about how unruly and horrible kids (specifically teenagers) can sometimes be. Eventually the entire parental population of the town comes together and sings Kids Reprise. Here are some lyrics from it:

Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What's the matter with kids?

What's the matter with kids?

What's the matter with kids today?

Mind you, this takes place in the late fifties or early sixties. People today are always saying how kids aren't anything like they used to be, whether it's an issue of respect, work ethic, or morals. This may be true. I don't know. I've only been on this earth since 1992. Still, one has to wonder if this kind of mindset tells more about the teen-relationship than it does about the depravity of the next generation.

I don't have any answers.

When it comes to writing, specifically, I can be a bit in the dark about parents. Some of my parent characters admittedly end up flat and stereotypical, never having too big of a role in the plot, only appearing to drive the teen around, lay down the law, or act sentimental. The relationship between a teenager and his or her parents can be so complex, but it can also be sparse and superficial. Maybe this is what makes writing parent figures so hard for me. How much should they even be involved in the character's life? How distinctive do these parents need to be?

The above mostly applies to my Young Adult writing, though. In my first middle grade book (which still has a major revision looming in its future), the main character's relationship with her mother is HUGE, and many scenes between them are integral to the plot and explain the character's behavior elsewhere. In the new middle grade book I'm writing, I foresee one of the main character's parents playing a major role in who she is and the pressure she feels to conform. Obviously, with bigger roles, these parents become more developed. I'm sure the age of these middle grade characters has something to do with this, but then again, there are some Young Adult books with dynamic parent-teen relationships too.

Thoughts, everyone, on writing parents? I'd love any tips or insights you have to give! Also, anyone have good examples of well developed parents with major roles in either YA or MG books? When I have the time, I hope to read some more MG.

Credit for the bumper sticker, here!

1 comment:

  1. In one of my classes, we were told that often the problem of writing the parents is solved rather simply, by killing them off.

    Of course, the biggest example of this is Harry Potter. Apparently having dead parents makes for a more sympathetic character. It also makes the character a lot more 'free' to do whatever they want (this could also be seen as the author saying, 'Now the parents won't be able to oppose any of the terribly dangerous situations I want to throw my character into.')

    At the same time, I don't think that killing off the parents works as well in YA as it does in fantasy. Teens tend to have parents and often, they have a massive impact on their lives. It wouldn't be realistic if in every book the parents were dead.

    Okay, not sure if any of that made sense. I do have some good recommended reads where parents are well developed/take on major roles.

    -Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
    -Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (this isn't YA and the relationship between the mother and daughter isn't the plot of the book or anything, but it's very well done)
    -Saving Francesca also by Melina Marchetta
    - Little Women (but you've probably already read that)