Don’t Parent Your Characters, by Sue Bradford Edwards

Ask writers about problems in their work and you’ll get a variety of responses:

“The adults keep taking my story over.”

“I don’t want my characters to suffer.”

“I have problems creating enough tension in my plot.”

“I don’t want to write edgy even thought that’s what sells.”

If you have one or more of these problems, then I’m issuing you a challenge: Stop parenting your characters. There are a lot of ways that writers parent their characters but no matter how you do it the end result is the same—a story that just doesn’t work and ultimately won’t sell.

Fortunately, it is a habit you can break.

Getting in the way of a good story

The number one parenting problem that characters face is adults, usually parents, who stop the fun and solve all of the problems instead of letting the characters get into trouble and then get back out again. The solution is somewhat obvious. Get Mom and Dad out of the way.

“I recall my horror when first starting out to hear Betsy Byars recommend killing off my characters’ parents,” says author and writing coach Esther Hershenhorn. “But she was right. A young character acting, moving forward on his plotline, against all odds, is what ultimately empowers the character and thus the reader.” From The Boxcar Children to Harry Potter, there is a long tradition of killing off Mom and Dad to get the story underway. Even Hershenhorn opted for this solution. “I have indeed orphaned a few characters, namely Pippin Biddle and his sisters in my picture book Fancy That.”


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