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Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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DrG2
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Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby DrG2 » Sat Oct 31, 2015 10:12 pm

I took my shelved Middle Grade Fantasy off the shelf and sent it in for critique at a writer's conference.

I was told a few things in my manuscript were deal-breakers. Here are two:

1. The Dead Parent Problem. Apparently, middle grade fiction cannot include an effective adult mentor/role model, unless he dies soon. Adults need to be antagonists or absent.
I disagree with this so much. A kid needs to have a supportive, present adult in his life, even if it's not his parent.

2. Wizards are passe. Can't use one, even if you twist the trope.

Anyone have examples where these have been violated recently (post Harry Potter)?

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pls
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Re: Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby pls » Sun Nov 01, 2015 11:42 am

Where I'd agree that wizards are passé, I'll join you in disagreeing that dead or missing parents are very much current. However, I think you'll find nearly all MG novels will eventually show a wandering kid hooking up with an older mentor. In Gary Paulsen's "The Car" a 14-year-old boy is faced with the departure of his feuding parents, each thinking that the other parent would be left at home to take care of him, and he finishes construction of a kit car and takes off for parts unknown. Eventually he meets a somewhat questionable Viet Nam vet who takes care of him.

So if it's good enough for Paulsen, it's good enough for you and all MG writers. Well, maybe not every one of you.
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onceuponwednesday
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Re: Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby onceuponwednesday » Sun Nov 01, 2015 1:33 pm

Maybe able and supportive parents are like cellphones, they allow whatever problem the kid is facing to be solved easily.
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Re: Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby Oldtimer » Sun Nov 01, 2015 2:26 pm

Read samples of my Martian series (by Dorothy Piper) and two romances (by Joni Havel) on Smashwords.
Hard copies of all are on Amazon.

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nhope
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Re: Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby nhope » Mon Nov 02, 2015 7:15 pm

Was that a comment from one person or a collective? It's all subjective in the end, isn't it? I still say just write your story. If it's really really good, it will get published.

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Re: Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby James A. Ritchie » Wed Nov 04, 2015 8:03 pm

They've been saying this for thirty years, even as bestseller after bestseller pops up that break both these tropes. I write middle grade fiction more than anything else, and no one, not agent or editor, has mentioned these tropes being bad. Or any other trope.

There is no such thing as a trope that's a deal-breaker. There's only stories that are copycats of books that have used a given trope successfully. Copycat book may work once or twice, or even ten times, but then readers reject them, and some dum-dum then says the tropes mean you can't do that anymore. It's silly. Good storytelling, which means being either original or better, and good characters, trump every bit of such silliness out there.

I don't think agents and editors even intend to make writers believe this. Their intent is to stop writers from copycatting. It comes out like a stern warning, and it's a disservice to writers, and to readers.

But I understand the point. Has anyone here gone through a few hundred middle grade fantasy slush manuscripts since Harry Potter hit it big? The writers somehow think they're being original, but manuscript after manuscript after manuscript could be turned into a Harry Potter novel just by changing a very few details. Often just by renaming the main characters.

The Dutch Uncle's critique of a new writer more or less says it all. "What you wrote is both good and original. Unfortunately, what is good is not original, and what is original is not good."

This is the problem agents and editors have with common tropes. With all stories, really, but it shows up in common tropes more than anywhere else.

There's nothing wrong with good, responsible parents, as long as the writer knows they can't solve the child's problem, and as long as the writer puts the child, or the parents, in a position where the child must solve his own problems. Too many writer fail to do these things.

Wizards, too are good. They're fine. But they should be just like every other wizard we've read about. There's no reason you can't use wizards, and still be both good and original.

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Re: Dead Parent Problem and other Middle Grade Tropes

Postby davidtrounce » Thu Nov 05, 2015 3:49 pm

I have come across this sort of thing before, but usually it's more subtle. This sounds like they are giving the game away, which either means that some junior clerk wrote it or their is some other agenda - as James suggests.
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