What people are tired of seeing in MG fiction
By Sussu Leclerc
How many kids can be orphans in fantasy stories?
Gregor the Overlander, Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter are all orphans.
Either kids are orphans or their parents are away and they lead a lonely and miserable life or they have relatives that are horrible to them.
Is this an artificial device to tug at our heartstrings? Is it so cliché that kids are tired of it?
I see four reasons why a writer would make his hero orphan.
Because he could not think of any other device to keep the grownups away. It is lazy writing.
To give a reason for other characters to be mean to the hero.
In order to draw in sympathy from the reader, making the hero look more humble and more pitiful.
Because it gives the kids a reason to live on their own or escape or seek revenge. In brief, it makes it easier to write the kids into situations most parents don’t want their kids getting into. After all, kids that age want to go on an adventure all by themselves. Independence is a major developmental milestone of this age.
Move the child out of the family home into a place where they can be temporary autonomous, like boarding school, camp, runaways, time-traveling, visiting a family member, shrinking the hero, making her disappear from view.
“Lost and Found: The Orphaned Hero in Myth, Folklore, and Fantasy” by Terri Windling
How many redheads can there be in MG fantasy?
I am puzzled at the number of redheads in fiction. From Anne of Green Gables and Tom Sawyer to Eleanor & Park, Page by Paige, Fancy Nancy, Gwinna and the Weasleys in Harry Potter. It may be more prominent in Young Adult fiction, but MG has its own share too.
Think about it, less than four percent of the total population has redhead and still many MG heroes have redheads, even when their parents have dark hair themselves!
Is it because that makes the hero unique? I have to look at one of my friends’ and her kids being singled out everywhere to be convinced. They go somewhere and everybody turns around to look at them and I cannot count the oh and ah they get when people look at their red hair.
However, in fiction, none of the heroes have problems dealing with the sun, gotten pet by strangers or blush crimson from head to foot, have freckles, been called “Reds” instead of their names or have problems hiding in a crowd. I wonder if redhead is just considered beautiful or if it is just that fantasy fiction is often based on the Viking culture where people, traditionally, have red hair.
Whatever it is. Stop that, right now.
“Away with their heads!”
“Weird Facts About Redheads” by Lisa Collier Cool. Yahoo Health. February 2013.
“Fiery Facts About Redheads” by Katy Kerns.
How many kids can be highly intelligent, geeks or geniuses?
From Nerd Camp, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities to Artemis Fowl, Battle Royale, Magic Tree House, Spiderwick Chronicles, Harry Potter (Armani) are full of prodigies.
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George portrays Celie, who saves the kingdom of King and Queen Glower “with her secret knowledge of the castle’s never-ending twists and turns.”
In Ender’s Wars, gifted children are trained to fight like adults. In the introduction to the 1991 “author’s definitive edition” of Ender’s Game, the author mentions a letter he got from a guidance counselor of gifted children who said that his “depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic.”
Gifted kids are as common in MG fiction as the chosen ones.
Gifted kids are rare, which make them especially interesting characters in fantasy. Kids like to identify to someone exceptional, to someone out of that world, bigger than life.
However, what the authors fail to show is that most gifted kids are only gifted in one subject like music or language and they often did not develop their social skills and are lacking in subjects they are not gifted in.
Many Middle Grade novels show super smart kids not only fitting in perfectly with other kids, but also ending up leader of the group. Many mysteries show kids repairing computers or solving clues like Sherlock Holmes, skills usually attributed to exceptional adults.
But if it is unthinkable to see them lacking of anything or being wrong, how can kids identify with them? They would admire a geek like they admire adults, but they would not identify with him.
I see several reasons why a writer would use the genius card.
Because authors think that kids need heroes who are positive role models. Perfect heroes cannot make mistakes and if they have small flaws they are easily forgiven.
Because Middle graders tend to see things in black and white. People are either smart or dumb, good or evil.
Because the fantasy hero often has to win battles against evil and defeat his or her worst enemy and save the world. Kids that age are looking for empowerment; they want to be more mature and would love being super-heroes.
Because geeks notice things other heroes do not notice, which allows the story to go forward.
Because using perfect heroes keep the writer from writing subplots and side conflicts while offering a fast-paced action where kids do not think inwardly or reflect on a situation. It keeps it sweet and simple.
Finally, because a popular hero attracts a clique around him, while tweenagers are at that age where they are trying to create a circle of friends around them.
Create stories where kids do not have to save the world even though everyone is telling you the stakes are not high enough.
Use fairy tales. The heroes are often not very bright, but they have inherent qualities that make them selfless and courageous.
Choose humorous characters or characters so helpless they can but do better.
Research your characters a little better.
Write your heroes as quirky as you can think them.
“Social and Emotional Problems Affecting Gifted Children” by Carol Brainbridge.
How many kids have to rescue the world in MG fantasy stories?
In Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Kendra “must find the courage to do what she fears most” to save the world.”
In Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, “when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.”
The list goes on and on.
Can you even imagine a fantasy fiction without saving the world?
Maybe it is because to have a proper villain, you need to take over the world or end it and the fantasy hero has to free or save the same world against the villain. That’s certainly appealing to the Middle grade kids. Who does not want to be a super-hero at that age: saving the world, end starvation, slavery, fight the bullies off or come up with a plan that will fix all the problems in the world? Kids that age are into justice and fairness and all their childhood has already been bathed in fairy tales where heroes usually rescue someone or save a kingdom from horrible witches.
Uh? Double back. Did you say fairy tales? Isn’t fantasy an extension of fairy tales and mythology?
Write the next Peter Pan or Little Prince.
Write dark fantasy like Coraline.
Stay away from mythology and fairy tales.
If you do not save, then give (remember Pay it Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde),
share (remember Charlotte’s Web or The Giver),
try to understand (The One and Only Ivan or Jinx),
rescue yourself (The School of Good and Evil),
acquire a skill or something, a quest (The Ability, A Tangle of Knots, A Dash of Magic),
or try to solve a puzzle (The Inventor’s Secret, The Wig in the Window or The Magic Tree House).
“Not Saving the World? How Does That Even Work?” by Jo Walton. Dec 14 2012
How many thieves, assassins can there be in MG fantasy?
In The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, “Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’ stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus.”
In The magic Thief by Sarah Prineas, “Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery’s pocket and touched the wizard’s locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not.”
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner enrolls the help of a skillful thief to get to a treasure.
The list is so long, it has almost become a fantasy subgenre. Maybe the more represented thieves and cutthroats are pirates. Think Peter Pan, Magic Marks the Spot, The Vampirates and Piratica Series.
Tweenagers love pirates because they are funny scoundrels. No character charms more a 10-year old than the bloodthirsty pirate. Their getups include every item kids dream of, from fun weaponry, eye patches, hooks to the muskets and sabers and old army long coats. They bury treasures, outwit their enemies and like a good battle as well as a good laugh. They are superstitious and cunning. They like to travel, mix cultures and they add spice to everything like their language or the way they treat their prisoners. Pirates are fascinating for tweenagers because they allow the kids to play with language and it allows them to get away with everything, at least virtually.
Thieves or street urchins are liked by tweenagers because they are usually independent and witty. They are usually good kids who have learned to survive. They attract our sympathy. Kids that age love tricking their parents and friends, secret codes and playing pranks. They love keeping secrets even if they are very bad at keeping them. For this reason, they like magic tricks and magic in general. No wonder they can root for children thieves.
However, pirates and thieves have been so much done, it is hard to make them fresh. They have their own subculture which distinguish them from other characters and if you try to describe pirates or thieves any other way, your reader will not take you seriously. They have their own codes and language and community structure.
I can see several reasons why a writer would write about thieves and pirates.
Writers are attracted by these characters because it is easy to draw dear consequences from their acts. Stealing will get you in trouble even without trying and living among pirates will get you into situations you will have to fend for your life. Choosing to write those characters makes a plot come to life naturally, without much effort.
Write about pirates who travel through time and have to change a few habits on the way to survive, although a pirate who is not allowed to kill or battle will lose his charms. So make your pirates still intimidating and make them steal, but change all the rest about them.
Your character could be one member of the pirate ship nobody pays attention to like the cook.
Your thief could steal without wanting to. Your character could mistakenly be taken for a thief and would have to go after the real thief to save himself.
Make pirates and thieves part of a subplot.
“Pirates: Fantasy’s Forgotten Scoundrels.” Fantasy faction. August 27, 2012.
Thank you so much, Sussu. Now here is a review for Sussu LeClerc’s Book…
Germanic Book Rider, by Sussu Leclerc.
Book review by yours truly… Me
Okay, guys and girls, coming soon is an adventurous read that sneaks in a lesson in another language without you realizing it. I just read Sussu LeClerc and I am excited. The concept is fun. Sussu’s characters are mischievous, inquisitive and strong. Germanic Book Riders was so entertaining that I wouldn’t put the book down until I knew what was happening with Thalia, Tim, Zede and a cast of menacing troublemakers. I’ll keep you posted for when it’s live and you can read it too.