Thursday, September 1, 2011

Parental Controls -- The Conversations your MC will Never Have!


I’ve been doing a lot of critiquing lately, primarily in the genre of YA contemporary.   I am averaging three to four manuscripts a week and have started to notice a distinct pattern – PARENTS. All in heavy doses, and all extremely supportive.

You all know my sentiments on parents and the purposeful insertion of moral lessons into YA literature.  If you don’t, take a look at last week’s post No Preaching Allowed.  But I am not here to reiterate that post, rather speculate as to why me and my fellow CP’s are suddenly seeing the insertion of June and Ward Cleaver into nearly ½ of the books we are critiquing.  For what it’s worth, here’s my take on it.

In the last couple of years, we have seen the emergence of a new phenomenon – the crossover novel.  A significant portion of YA sales are being tracked to the 25+ crowd, a population that has survived the tumultuous teenage years.  Add in the fact that the YA genre is seeing an explosion of new authors, a lot of whom are in that crossover age bracket, and I think we've found the problem. We, the authors, possess an unfortunate amount of hindsight.

Hindsight is fantastic when you are thirty-something and trying damn hard not to repeat the idiotic mistakes you made as a youth.  It’s what makes me fill my tank every time my gas gauge goes below a quarter of a tank.  It's what prompts me to drink liquor before my beer and never leave the house without makeup.  What is doesn’t give me is license to inject my clear-headed, rational thoughts into the out of control life of my MC.  It does not give me the go ahead to insert my opinions into the novel via supportive parents.  And it sure as hell doesn’t give me the right to treat my MCs with kid gloves.

Do my Mc’s make heinous mistakes?  Absolutely; in nearly every chapter.  Do I want to reach out and slap them, scream at them to just stop and think?  You bet.  Do a make a conscious effort to rein that urge in? HELL YES!  Why? Because being a teenager is messy business. Sure we all got the parental talk about sex, and drugs, and drinking and driving.   I got it on both ends – parents and Catholic School.  But not once did anybody ever talk to be about what to do when your boyfriend of two years gets drunk at a party and decides to play a little game of Russian roulette with his father’s police-issued pistol.  I never heard the conversation about what to do when the girl who sits next to you in Chemistry class is no longer there, her brother having gotten drunk that weekend, wrapping his car around a tree and killing his only sister.  And I sure as hell never got the lecture on what to do when your best friend decides to get pregnant rather risk losing her boyfriend to some college girl three thousand miles away.  

These are all things your teenage mc’s have to struggle through themselves.  Let them!  Let them grow, and learn, and fall flat on their asses, but please, please don’t let their parents swoop in and make everything perfect!

17 comments:

  1. Fantastic post. It's so important for us to remember that our experiences and our knowledge belong to us and not our MC's.

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  2. Great reminder! It is important that our MC's are the ones who learn how to fix their mistakes rather than have mommy and daddy fix things for them! Just like in real life, it is important to let your kids experience fixing their mistakes rather than always riding to the rescue.

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  3. Perhaps that's why so many YA have absentee parents--to reduce the temptation ^_^

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  4. I'm trying to remember that as I write, but it's so tempting to have a parental figure come in and fix everything. Thanks for the reminder!

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  5. I don't mind whether parents are there, or conveniently absent but, indeed, please don't let them fix things. Where's the fun in that?

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  6. Great reminder! But there can't be anything wrong with supportive parents who DON'T swoop in and fix everything. Or even better, parents whose support actually worsens the situation. ;)

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  7. The absent tee parent is the norm in YA books, I agree with JA Johnson it would make an interesting book.

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  8. Love this post, Trisha. I'll have to pass this on to a friend.

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  9. I'm pro-parent presence in YA novels when they are part of a plot/subplot conflict, but I don't like them there as dispensers of wisdom, who make it easy for the MC to never have to learn anything on his own. And I think you did a good job of that with your sex scene because many others would say "No, it has to be protected or you'll send the wrong message." Reality: teens sometimes have unprotected sex and I think YA should always reflect reality. And like you said, stop sending messages anyway. Great post.

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  10. But good parents make for a balanced child! *snickers*

    My hubby says my MC is too balanced. Yes, she's messed up, but she knows it and accepts the fact. Her parents can't fix her life even if they want to, and so I'm left wondering how she is supposed to develop if she's so well adapted.

    I don't write contemporary, but it's nice to know I don't fall into your pet peeve category. =)

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  11. Great advice, Trisha! I don't write YA, but I'd love to try it out sometime. I'll definitely keep this in mind. :)

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  12. This is definitely someone everyone needs to keep in mind when we write YA. They aren't us, they don't have our mindsets or our personalities. We can't let them know what that sort of thing is like unless they're experiencing it right in the story.

    They're teens. We need to let them be. Good post!

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  13. Excellent point! Teen years are all about imbalance and figuring stuff out.

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