Friday, August 14, 2015

Do Your Stories Include the “C” Factor—Children?

Youngsters are a part of life. While I enjoy good love stories, adventures, historical novels, and “cozy” thrillers as much as the next person, I often find them lacking if they don’t contain children in a role that fits seamlessly into the plot, even if that role is minor.

Including children in a story, however, isn’t simply a matter of injecting them into a scene to round it out. They need to “belong.” Adding the son and daughter of a third cousin twice removed—characters that appear only once in the story—doesn’t work. Their inclusion must be well thought out and an integral part of the story. And they must be spontaneous, whimsical, and outspoken as only children are.

Nearly all my books include youngsters, sometimes as secondary characters or, minimally, contributors to the development of the story, always as recurring members of the novel’s cast. Here are two short scenes from my books being released this year. The first takes place between two pre-school-aged brothers whose mother is about to have a miscarriage, the second between teenaged siblings who’ve been kidnapped. In both cases, the children play ongoing roles in the story.
 
by mensatic - morgueFile

  “I can’t find my Dr. Seuss book, Mamaw Barry,” five-year-old Darren interrupted in a loud voice as he bounded down the hall in his red pajamas. “Donovan took it. I’ll make him tell me where it is.” He looked up at Katherine. “Hi, Gram Kohler.” Then he turned and ran back toward the room he shared with his two-year-old brother. “I’m gonna get you, Donovan! I want my Cat in the Hat!” Indignant screams from Donovan added to the din.
  “Oh, my goodness!” Martha Barry hurried after Darren. Katherine closed the door and followed her.
  A few moments later Martha sat on the end of a twin bed, smoothing Darren’s tousled brown hair. He clutched the book his little brother had suddenly found under the covers.
  Donovan ran to Katherine, arms raised and waving. “Up, Gram-Gram. Don’van up.”
  She scooped him into her arms. He looked so like Anne had at his age…and so like Ed. Wrapping his little arms around her neck, he nuzzled his face into her shoulder. “Love you, Gram-Gram.”
  “Mommy went to the hospital,” Darren announced. He crawled down from Martha Barry’s lap and stood in front of Katherine. “Daddy took her there because her tummy hurt, and the babies inside her are too little to come out.”
  Mali pulled the ladder into the corridor and set it under one of the non-working vents. Dragging the mattress from his bed, he placed it next to the ladder. Then he went back into the bedroom and brought out the battery-operated clock.
  “What are you doing?” Haley asked.
  “I’m setting up my telegraph station.”
  “Your what?”
  “My telegraph station.”
  “This isn’t the Wild West, and you aren’t wiring the next railway station about an Indian attack.”
  “Every little while I’m going to climb that ladder and tap out an SOS. Somebody might hear it.”
  “The more you go up and down that ladder, the harder you’re going to breathe. And the harder you breathe, the more oxygen you’re using. That means all our lives are a little bit shorter because you want to spend your last hours fulfilling some stupid fantasy.”
  “Got any better ideas, big sister?”
  “What I’ve got is a headache. It stinks in here.”
  Mali gave her a serious look. “You think we’re gonna die, don’t you?”
  “I don’t want to think that, but I can’t help it.”
  “So think positive. We’re gonna get out of here.” He looked up at the vent over the ladder.
  “I wish I could believe that.” She was quiet for a moment. “I wanted to have kids someday. Mom and Dad would love being grandparents.”
  “Do you think they’ll have more kids if we never come back?”


 
by naomickellog - morgueFile

How do you include children in your stories? Would you like to share a short scene to show your technique for integrating them realistically into your plot?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

7 comments :

  1. My biggest pet peeve is when a character, especially a cop or detective, is given a child and then the child just conveniently disappears with no explanation as to where they are or who is taking care of them. I critiqued a romance story once and told the author she should be sensitive about introducing the woman's kids to the new flame. Lust at first sight is one thing, exposing your kids to it is something else. Her reply was that in Romance novels the kids are just an accessory, like a purse. My advice? Don't accessorize with children. They don't have to be in every scene, but I agree with your advice. If you are going to have them in the story, utilize them to effect rather than an afterthought. They aren't puppies. It also bugs me when characters have pets but are never home to take care of them either. :)

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    1. All great points, Diana. No character, human or animal, should be a momentary convenience or scene filler. Fiction (even fantasy) must parallel real life in ways that allow the reader to connect with the story. Hence, we include children (and pets) in our stories because they are a fundamental part of life -- not accessories to be discarded when no longer needed.

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  2. I had to rethink Danger in Deer Ridge, which was Grinch's story when I checked the previous books to see what I'd already told readers about him. I discovered a throwaway line in the first book (where Grinch didn't even appear) spoken by Ryan. "I told Grinch not to use his kid's birthday as his password."

    So there I was, having to figure out a way to have my romance hero have a child, but not a wife. I like including children, but they can't be miniature adults, and you can't forget they're in the book. Danger in Deer Ridge ended up with two children as major players; Both Grinch and Elizabeth were single parents. Grinch got custody of his four-year-old son after his wife died, but he hadn't seen the boy since she'd taken him from him 3 years earlier, so he was clueless as a father. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was an excellent mother and has to show Grinch how to deal with children.

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    1. Love this storyline, Terry. I'm going to order it today for my Kindle. :-)

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    2. Thanks, Linda! Hope you enjoy it.

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  3. The only romance novel I have ever read was by my friend, Angel Smits. I still give her a hard time for 'cheating'. She wrote a scene that made me tear up.... She used a kid very cleverly and it got me.

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    Replies
    1. Kids do that to us, don't they? While I'm not a huge fan of traditional romance, I do like a few authors who write it. Therefore, I occasionally venture into that territory.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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