Parents: What Are They Good For?

We love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. But both of them suffer from the curse of YA books—i.e., nary a parent in sight. Sure, okay: Katniss has a mom. But Katniss is really the one holding her life, and family, together. And the arena is a strictly no-grownup space. Meanwhile, Harry’s got some teachers chilling back in Hogwarts, but they’re conveniently absent when all the really dangerous stuff happens.

Enter Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins (which you can start reading on Figment). There are lots of guardian figures in this novel—both good and demonic. It can be hard to incorporate adults into a YA story without smothering the teen protags, but Wendy makes it work like a charm. Read on for her thoughts on believable and appropriate adults!

Try fitting a couple of over-20’s into a piece of your own! Write a dialogue of 150 words or fewer between a parent and a child. Tag it with HigginsChallenge by 12 p.m. on May 21, and the Figment editors will choose the four best pieces–based on quality, creativity, and relevance to the prompt–to feature on the Figment homepage alongside Sweet Evil. See the full guidelines here. This promotion is open to international users.

Parental involvement, or lack thereof, is one of those things that can really bother readers of YA if the balance is off. Like so many other elements within a story, the importance of adults in YA is going to vary for different readers based on personal preference. Some readers will get annoyed if parents/adults are too present in a story, while other readers become frustrated when the parents/adults are virtually absent. There needs to be a realistic balance.

Unless you’re writing a story like Lord of the Flies or the Gone series, where the cast is all youth, adults must be written into the story in a believable way. In “real life,” kids are accountable to adults, kind of like adults are accountable to their bosses, etc. That’s just how it is. If your characters are off running around on adventures for days at a time, the reader is going to start to ask, “What about the parents/guardians/teachers? Shouldn’t the main character wonder if the adults in their life are freaking out?” Cover your bases, because in reality your characters could expect to come home to distraught parents and police reports for missing persons.

Adults can be a very useful writing tool. They can be used for information, resources, guidance, support, and comfort. My mother and I had a very open relationship while I was growing up. I went to her for nearly everything, so I love to see close parent/child relationships in stories. On the other hand, many of my friends did not have that kind of relationship with their parents, so for them it might feel kind of weird for a character to turn to adults too much. Again, it’s all about balance. Teen characters need to figure out some things on their own. They need to show the kind of character development that comes from branching out with independence, making mistakes, facing consequences, taking chances, being brave. But keep in mind that sometimes being brave means asking for help and relying on the people who love us.

Figure out the relationships that your characters have with the adults in their lives. Ask yourself how involved they should be and stay consistent. Happy writing!

Remember to tag your 150-words-or-fewer dialogue with HigginsChallenge for a chance to be featured on the Figment homepage!

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6 thoughts on “Parents: What Are They Good For?

  1. Higgins Challenge

    “Morning, Dad, I made us breakfast.”
    “Thanks, honey, but I don’t have time to eat. Have to stay on schedule.I know you made this special for me, sweetie, but I’ve got to get on the road. College fund. Car payments. Mortgage on the house. You know the drill.”
    “Okay, I’ll make them into an egg sandwich. How’s that?”
    “Sure, honey. That’s great.”
    “See you tonight. Right Dad?”
    “Honey, I’m going on the road. Didn’t your mom tell you?”
    “No, she didn’t, and neither did you. You promised to give me a golf lesson.”
    “Did I? I’m sorry. If I don’t go on this trip, I could lose my job. Tell you what. I’ll be back on the weekend and we’ll go golfing Saturday and Sunday. How’s that?”
    She threw her arms around his neck and squeezed.
    “Thanks, Dad. Don’t forget now.”
    “I won’t and you can hold me to it.”

  2. Does it have to be pure dialogue? Like the titanic flash challenge? As in:
    “Good morning, Mom. What’s for breakfast?”
    “Bacon and eggs. Your favorite.”

    Or can it be like this…
    Going out of bed, I went to the kitchen first.
    “Good morning, Mom. What’s for breakfast?” I said, yawning.
    “Bacon and eggs. Your favorite.” she replied cheerfully.

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