Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sometimes I Feel Like a (Fictional) Motherless Child

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Since our theme this month is mothers and motherhood, I sat down to write this blog intending to post about some of the fictional mothers in my work. Then I realized, there aren't any! Well, hardly any... And very few of them are ever actually "on stage" during the course of the story.

Here's what I mean: both my hero, Donovan, and heroine, Rylie in The Wild Sight are motherless. Donovan's mother disappeared when he was seven years old, and Rylie's mother died six months before the story takes place. No real mother figures there, and I won't even start on the "daddy" issues!

In The Treasures of Venice, my hero, Keirnan also lost his mother as a child. He was eleven and his sister was sixteen, and she became his substitute mother figure. One of the reasons he is so desperate to save her. The heroine Samantha actually has a mother (At Last!), but she's never seen "on stage." She's also described as flighty and someone who never got out of her adolescent stage, so poor Samantha had to take on the parent role in her early teens.

Okay, my track record isn't very good thus far and I'm afraid my July release The Wild Irish Sea doesn't improve things. My hero, Kevin has lost both his mother and father. And while heroine Amber has both parents, they were divorced long ago, and neither scored many points in the parenting Olympics, especially with protecting Amber and her brother Parker. These two wound up depending chiefly on each other.

To make matters worse, the suspense storyline also involves two motherless children, thirteen year old Meriol and eight year old Ronan. I never really intended to write about young children, much less motherless ones, but these two sort of snuck up on me and insinuated themselves into the story!

Come to think of it, the best example of devoted motherhood in all three of my books is probably a seal in The Wild Irish Sea!

WHAT IS UP with that?!?!

While it is true that I lost my own mother in 1999, I think all these missing literary parent figures goes beyond that somehow. There seems to be a preponderance of orphans and motherless characters in literature as well as contemporary stories. Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre come readily to mind. In more recent stories, poor Frodo Baggins was an orphan who was adopted by his Uncle Bilbo, and Diana Gabaldon's heroine Claire Beauchamp Randall Frazier was raised by her uncle too. Nice to know I'm not the only writer whose characters lack parents.

My theory is that writers, and also readers, feel an instant and sympathetic connection with an orphan. An emotional connection with a character is essential to fully engage the reader. I'm not saying a character has to be missing a parent, but it is one way to provide motivation and conflict, and reader investment.

What do you think? Do you feel sorry for fictional motherless children? Or have you had your fill of all these orphans? What was the last book you read in which the hero or heroine (or BOTH) had lost one or both parents?

20 comments:

  1. I've noticed the motherless thing too.

    You know what I think it is? We authors need for our heroes and heroines to get into trouble, make ill-considered, emotional choices--in short, things they wouldn't do if they had a wise and loving mother they could turn to for advice and help.

    The hero of SEALed with a Ring would never have married the heroine if his mother had been alive. And really, none of the setup for the plot would have happened if the heroine's mother and/or grandmother had been in the picture.

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  2. Check any Disney film. The kids are usually motherless.

    Cinderella? Check.
    Snow White? Check.
    Sleeping Beauty? Hmm, actually she's around, we just don't see her all that much, so there's one.
    Aladdin? Check.
    Beauty and the Beast? Check.

    And so it goes. You're in good company, AC!

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  3. All romances are like that, that I've read, come to think of it! But in Destiny of the Wolf, the heroine has both her parents. :) But you're right, beyond that, each, the hero or heroine, are missing a parent or both. It's the loss of a beloved parent that helps to mold the character, I think.

    On the other hand, I read a book once where the heroine was dealing with all this grief over the death of both parents (and it was well done), and then she time travels, comes back to an earlier time, talks her parents into making other choices that keep them from dying, and...they don't die. What happened? All the growth we suffered through was negated. Everyone was perfectly happy because of a time travel fix it. That didn't work for me.

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  4. I'd have to say I have some sympathy for anyone who loses a parent. Both of mine are gone now, and all of my heroes have lost not only their parents, but their entire world. I think characters who have had to fend for themselves are changed by that loss. Some handle it well, and some don't, which just might be the main difference between heroes and villains.

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  5. Perhaps it's that maternal instinct we (as women, whether we are actually mothers or not) naturally have? It's definitely a trend I've noticed in many books--not just romance!

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  6. Disney was the first to pop into my mind as well, Judi. It begins with Bambi watch mama deer take a fatal bullet and on it goes. I have always wondered what poor Walt had against mommies!

    From a writer (or reader) perspective, I suppose I can see the growth-through-loss aspect as the others have pointed out. But really, how common is it for relatively young people to have lost one or both parents? No very, I would say. Frankly, I see no problem with a well rounded hero or heroine who happen to have a mom around somewhere! I think I will let Lizzy stay alive for a good long while!

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  7. Interesting about the whole motherless hero/heroine issue. So much of the time when the mother IS on stage, it ends up being a dysfunctional relationship that helps build a character arc, but it can easily become cliched or annoying.

    I'll admit there's a weird mother/daughter dynamic in one of my books Sourcebooks acquired, but hopefully I handled it with humor instead of angst.

    Great post, and what an interesting concept to ponder!

    Tawna

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  8. Morning MM,

    You really think dear old Mom could talk her headstrong offspring into NOT making poor choices?!?!

    Never worked for my mother, or ME! But then, we are talking fiction where there has to be a certain amount of logic... UNLIKE real life! ;-)

    AC

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  9. Hey Judi,

    Movies are REALLY bad too, aren't they? If some plucky kid actually HAS a parent around, something is bound to go wrong! I'm thinking The Black Stallion and the ship-wreck...

    AC

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  10. Terry,

    Interesting point about the time-travel book fixing everything and leaving a dis-satisfied feeling. I remember a movie like that a few years back -- "Frequency" where the hero speaks to a younger version of his father via short-wave radio. His father was a fire-fighter who was killed in the line of duty and the son manages to save him. The great part about this film was how EVERYTHING ELSE went wrong once the father did not die! That was obviously what the book you read needed too.

    AC

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  11. Oh my gosh! I wrote a blog on a similar theme for later in the month. My characters don't have mothers either! Glad it's not just me being mean.

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  12. Excellent point, Cheryl!

    How a character handles loss is a great tool for us writers. I actually thought of your characters when I was writing my post. They have lost sooo much, and yet somehow keep going. How they each manage to do that is very interesting!

    AC

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  13. You're right, Danielle,
    It's not exclusive to romance. And it is definitely not just us contemporary writers. I'm sure somebody, somewhere has done a thesis on motherless characters in literature. I'd love to read it! ;-)

    AC

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  14. LOL, Sharon!
    Wouldn't Freud have a field day with ole Walt's work?!?! I remember my sister and I and a couple of our friends going to see Bambi when we were in junior high. We were all sobbing our hearts out (must be Danielle's maternal instincts) when Mommy dear bit it!

    And you're right, losing one or both parents is NOT the norm, which makes it even more interesting because it is so prevalent in stories.

    AC

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  15. Great post, Cindy! Most of my heroes and heorines have been orphans. I always thought it was because parents are hard to deal with in books--like the father in the current book I'm working on. I sent him out of town to get rid of him for a while! :-) I'd never want to do that in real life.
    Amelia

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  16. Good point, Tawna!

    Often when the parent IS around, the relationship is dysfunctional! That's the case with my two heroines, Samantha (and the mom who never grew up) and Amber (whose mother didn't protect her). My hero Donovan's relationship with his father is also strained and for very good reason, but I think that made for some of the best scenes in the book!

    I look forward to reading your dysfunctional mom/daughter!

    AC

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  17. LOL, Shana!
    Great minds! ;-) And no, you're not just being mean... or if you are, you've got LOTS of company.

    AC

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  18. Hi Amelia!

    I'll admit, I also thought of your poor orphaned Henrietta when I was writing my post. She not only lost her parents but kept losing guardians too! Poor girl! At least with your new story, you are only sending the parents out of town! LOL! How much more humane of you. ;-)

    AC

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  19. I hadn't given it much thought but there really are not a lot of good mother role models in fiction or movies. I have to admit not many nice mommie in my books either. Hmm, I wonder what that says about me. I'm going to have to work on that.

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  20. I read Mariah Stewart's Coming Home. The heroine was raised by a flaky mother, and when she was 19 and got into trouble, her mother gave her the address of a brother she never knew existed and his father. The mother dumped the brother on the father's doorstep years before the heroine was born. Coming Home was fabulous, the father, brother and heroine formed a strong family--then the mother shows up at the brother's wedding. Family dynamics are sooo fascinating. Wonderful, wonderful book.

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