Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

My Writing Sin: Parents

A thread on AbsoluteWrite’s Young Adult forum actually inspired me to write this topic.

We’ve all got writing sins, something we either do a lot because we don’t like it or don’t know how to write around it–or it just might be a common trope. In the case for me,  I just don’t like writing parents, and I realize absent parents are a trope. At the same time, my characters aren’t without adult figures, but these adults figures also don’t try to act as replacement parents.

In fantasy and paranormal books, parents can do a lot to slow down the protagonist, especially if said protagonist has powers the parents don’t have, or the protagonist is required to go on some dangerous journey the parents won’t approve of. So I try to axe the parent element altogether, mostly tumblr_moqg8rkRn41r348tgo1_400because I don’t want to write about them. I can read them in other books just fine, but having to write them myself–no. But I don’t fall into the trap of making my protagonist an orphan either, because that really is a tired and cheap way of getting rid of parents.

  • When Stars Die (AEC Stellar Publishing): In this novel, I have Amelia and her brother run away from home because her little brother is a witch and Amelia is terrified that the sins her parents committed to birth a witch are going to eventually unearth themselves and destroy their family. So Amelia takes her brother to a place she has learned and read about (Cathedral Reims), and hopes that by becoming a nun, she can cleanse her familial blood of this taint. So her parents are very much alive; they just have no idea where their children are at.

But Amelia does have parental figures–mostly the nuns at the cathedral, especially Mother Aurelia. At the same time, these nuns are also authority figures and teachers, and they are just plain busy, so they don’t hover around the girls like parents often would, and they don’t demand conversation or constant insight into the thoughts of their pupils. They are there when they can be, but they don’t force themselves into the individual lives of the girls. This allows these girls room to strengthen their friendships with one another so that they learn how to help and get long with one another, as they do spend enough time around each other.

Amelia probably wouldn’t be the independent person she is with her parents around–and her brother would remain naïve of the world instead of learning at an early age that the world isn’t always a kind place.

  • When Stars Rise (WIP): Alice Sheraton is the new protagonist of this book, and while her parents are present in the beginning, I quickly axe them by sending Alice off to a safe house for witches where parents obviously cannot be present (since her parents aren’t witches anyway). By now Alice’s world has a system in place for dealing with witches–often through executions–but her parents love her enough to want to prevent that, so they did whatever they could to protect Alice and found her a safe house hidden in a forest several miles from Malva, where Cathedral Reims is.

Of course, she, too, isn’t without adult figures. Pastor Brandon is the constant adult figure in her life at the safe house, but he is more of an ally than a parent, offering advice without the expectation that Alice will follow any of it.

  • Stolentime (WIP): Gene’s mom is in the first chapter, but his parents are quickly gone after that when I shove him through a bought of psychosis that causes him to run away from home into unfamiliar territory his parents likely won’t find him. Claude, a puppeteer, saves Gene from himself and acts very much like a parent, but he doesn’t demand constant insight into the goings on of Gene’s mind. He only interferes if he feels like Gene is harming himself or is about to be harmed. Otherwise, Gene is a free agent, able to develop as a character on his own terms.

So, if you’re a writer, what are your writing sins? As a reader, what writing sins have you noticed in other books?

 

Stay tuned for Sunday’s post, where I do a cover reveal of an awesome book from an even more awesome author.

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7 comments on “My Writing Sin: Parents

  1. jennpower
    June 21, 2013

    Reblogged this on It's all kids stuff. and commented:
    That sounds really interesting. Now I’m wondering if there are any books without adults in them at all? How do you think something like that would be received? Or why do we focus so much on the ages of the characters in books? Do we need to be given a character’s age to gain insight into them? Or is it enough that we can know their personality, their relationships with others, the way they handle the problems they come across? We’re still very much stuck in a place where the character’s age and their maturity or what they are capable of handling are interconnected. Why is age an issue when reading? Another thing to think about: Can you mention a book with no adult figures at all? Much like a Bechdel test, where there is a show that has at least two (named) women talking to each other about something other than a man? Are there any children’s books we can think of featuring no adults, no longing for an adult, or a book where a character’s age is not mentioned? This blogger/author seems to be going towards that- at least with the no parents and no orphan-status characters.

    • amberskyef
      June 21, 2013

      Thanks so much for the re-blog!

      Those are all extremely interesting questions. It’s interesting too because characters’ ages in YA often are mentioned–whether they are implied or outright stated, their ages are there. In When Stars Die, however, I don’t even think I mention or imply Amelia’s age, but I know she’s eighteen, because while she is surrounded by adult figure, she herself is the adult figure for her little brother. She eventually does come across her father in the book, but if you decide to read it, you’ll see that Amelia is very much the adult in the situation, and she has to be because she put her and her little brother in a situation where both of them had to grow up.

      And I can’t think of any YA books with no adult figures at all. There is The Lord of the Flies, but the message of that book went in the direction that kids need adults or else they’ll turn into savages–the message is much deeper than that, but we readily assume adults can easily get along with one another due to maturity while kids need guiding adult forces to get along with one another. Then there’s the Children of the Corn, but, well, this book assumes too that kids need adults or else they go insane. So it would be extremely interesting to read a book where kids have no guiding adult forces (or even desire them) but manage to grow up well without. I don’t know how it’d be received, but it’s such an interesting concept that you mentioned.

      • Mariah E. Wilson
        June 22, 2013

        Gone by Michael Grant has no adults in it. 😉 It’s on my TBR pile so I don’t know much more than that.

  2. Wanderer
    June 21, 2013

    Interesting article, I was thinking of doing a post on something similar.

    My MC’s are usually older characters so parents are usually dead or not a huge factor in the story. Now that I think about it I don’t think I’ve ever had parents take an active role in a story.

    My writing sins have to be ‘The Damsel in Distress’ cliché. It gets people’s backs up a little but it’s just the way I see it it’s just an easy way to get the MC emotionally involved in the plot. Although I do try and be as original as possible, but a damsel in distress is always a damsel in distress no matter how you try to cover it up. In fact the more you cover it up, the more obvious it becomes. So now I just embrace it.

    I have a love for the wise old man trope too. Usually appearing as former professors or priests. I think it is just a by-product of my love for Gandalf the Grey.

    • amberskyef
      June 21, 2013

      Damsel-in-distress isn’t my cup of tea (unless she at least tries to fight back), but I say people should ultimately write what they want to write. Cliches are clichés for a reason, after all.

      I have a love for the wise old man trope too. Mine stems from my adoration for Dumbledore. But in my When Stars Die trilogy, in the third book, I plan to break the wise old man trope and instead go with a wise, young girl wizened through trauma.

    • jennpower
      June 22, 2013

      Interesting- the damsel in distress trope. I’m a major in English at University and I’ve taken a few Women’s Studies courses- but the damsel in distress trope is definitely one of those things I think left over from patriarchy. Right? The female is emotional and in need of rescue; and the male hero is the protector. For challenging that though- what about those with inner turmoil? What of them saving themselves-Like the Tale of Peter Rabbit- or Jack in the Beanstalk? Or even one where the girl exposes the other’s ignorance? Like in The Emperor’s New Clothes? They’re still great stories- and there’s no rescuing involved. I can see though how the damsel in distress works out- even Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone uses it during the troll in the bathroom scene- Hermione faints and she’s frozen in terror while Ron and Harry try to fight it. It doesn’t make the stories bad, but I do think that we need to find an alternative to casting women as damsels in distress as the default plot in books.

      • Mariah E. Wilson
        June 22, 2013

        My favorite example of a damsel in distress that doesn’t need anyone to rescue her—Drew Barrymore’s version of Cinderella in the film Ever After.

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