by Melinda Carroll
I'm currently writing a middle-grade novel. One obstacle in writing for children-- and for young adults-- is figuring out a way to get rid of the parents. Why? Because when it comes to saving the world, parents just get in the way.
No conscientious adult would knowingly allow a child to date a vampire, or go on a quest against the gods to find a bolt of lightening, or have a direct face-off against the world's vilest wizard. They just wouldn't. Somewhere along the way, a parent would say, "Hold up. That's too dangerous. I really don't think you should walk down into that dark cave by yourself to chat with that evil monster who just wants to kill you."
So you have to get rid of the parents.
The challenge is how to do this realistically and creatively. I've only come up with a few ways to make this happen-- and none of them are that creative. But I'm going to share them with you anyway:
First, you can kill them off. Car accidents are always useful for this kind of thing. Even better, you can have them killed by the villain (that allows you the added bonus of giving the hero motive to go after said villain). Killed in a plane crash, eaten by a monster, destroyed in some natural disaster-- really the options are endless (personally, mine get blown up in a grain silo explosion).
The biggest obstacle with this choice is that it is so overdone. Show me a child-hero and I can almost always show you an orphan.
A second option is to remove the parent from the scene of action. Send them on a vacation, or off to work, or into the hospital. It works even better if you get rid of the adult right at the moment they're needed most. For example, an evil wizard is about to attack the school just as the headmaster is forced to give up his position (sound familiar?) You can also move the child. Send them on vacation or away to school.
The problem with this choice is that usually when a responsible parent goes away, they leave a another responsible adult in their place. If they don't, you have to provide a valid reason why. Which means you're pretty much right back to where you started.
This leads to the third option. Give the parent (or other adult) a huge character flaw. They can be crazy, complete idiots, or even evil. This way, they are either oblivious to the danger of sending their child into that creepy cave all alone, or they're aware of it but have no qualms about sending them anyway.
The biggest problem with this choice is realism. Seriously, wouldn't a loving parent at least have some idea that their child is dating a vampire? And if crazy or evil is your method of choice, it's very difficult to portray a totally dysfunctional parent raising a totally well-adjusted child. There's got to be some kind of fall-out. Good authors can sometimes use this dysfunction as the very thing that makes the child a hero-- but it's tricky to do.
So what are some other options? Does anyone out there have a brilliant way to get rid of the parents without killing them, sending them away, or making them crazy and evil? But be warned, if you share it, I just might use it!