Guest post, Indie Author Month

Indie author month: guest post – G.R. Dix

Adults in children’s fiction – Villain, Useless or Reactive?
GR Dix

I think a useful ‘rule’ to have in children’s stories concerns the adults that interact with the main character(s). Essentially this rule states that, in terms of the events of the story, every adult in the hero’s life must be either:
• the Villain – self-explanatory;
• ‘Useless’ – not completely useless, but provides no help with the problem your hero must overcome (e.g. a parent);
• or, ‘Reactive’ – that is to say, they will only provide the specific help, advice or information that they are asked for.

The character(s) will then have the impetus to investigate, or challenge, or whatever it may be, for themselves. The child reading the story will find it easier to empathise, and so this helps to establish a protagonist as a point-of-view character.
Looking at popular children’s fiction, we can see clear examples of this. Roald Dahl, so adept at crafting notable characters, creates obvious villains in the shape of Aunts Spiker and Sponge (James and the Giant Peach) and Miss Trunchbull (Matilda), and ‘useless’ adults such as the sympathetic but ineffectual Miss Honey (Matilda). Good examples of the ‘reactive’ category are Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall in the early Harry Potter books. Dumbledore even makes a point of saying to the protagonist that help will be given to those who ask for it, but for the most part he and his friends are left to figure things out for themselves.
This is a rule I try to follow in my own books. In the world of Brian Brackbrick and his best friend George Bum, there are villains (Harry Hatman, Carl Scorpion), and there are ‘useless’ characters, such as Mr. and Mrs. Brackbrick. Brian and George also have grown-up allies, but as per the ‘rule’, they only ‘react’ to the main characters’ requests, they do not intervene, and they do not act pro-actively. For example, Dr. Harley Letters (the Librarian) is the equivalent of Google for the boys, and can provide whatever information they need; but, crucially, they must ask for the specific knowledge they need, every time. Similarly with Fancy Nancy from the cake shop, whose cupcakes will be critically important in a later book – but, again, they are prepared following the specific instructions of Brian and George.
There is, of course, the question of balance, and at what point the reader will think “hang on, why aren’t the adults stepping in here?” This becomes more relevant as the readers become older, and I think it could be a guide rather than a rule with YA stories, for example. In early reader stories, though, I think this is a useful tool.
After all, who wants to read about boring grown-ups solving problems?

Written by GR Dix, author of:
Brian Brackbrick and the Hazard of Harry Hatman
Brian Brackbrick and the Mystery of Mrs. Blumenhole (TBR Sep 2018)
Facebook: GR Dix Author
Follow Brian Brackbrick on Twitter: @BrianBrackbrick

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