Charlie Brown’s Teacher – Adults in YA


 Anybody who grew up in the 70s and 80s knows exactly what that is. It’s Charlie Brown’s teacher giving him his orders. Or his mother. Or his father. It’s an adult in the cartoon world of Peanuts. That’s what the audience hears. We depend on Charlie to translate the discourse. “What’s that, Mrs. Smith? You want me to translate your words for you.” In other words, only the Peanuts crew can hear what the adults are saying. And the adults are always off-screen. Never does the audience actually see an adult.

Is that the real world?

In Young Adult fiction, adults are sometimes treated with a close proximity of this notthereness of the Peanuts universe. They are to be neither seen nor heard. Either that, or they are brief fleeting moments of cardboard necessity. But every now and then you read a young adult story where the parents are actually well-drawn characters. Giving your minor characters (in YA, this means THE ADULTS/PARENTS) dimension does not mean they take over the show. There has to be a happy medium between that monotonous bass adult mumble of Peanuts and an intrusive adult that no young adult wants to read about.

When writing young adult, remember the story’s perspective is that of the young adult. They still have to deal with their parents on a daily basis. Think of the story as the orbit that surrounds the main character. The adults are going to float in and out of that orbit. They are going to put up roadblocks for the character and they are going to occasionally be of help and service to the character. This truth gives them a role in the story. Just not a main role. What it means is you can’t have them shouting at the characters from off-screen. They will take the stage at some points. Take advantage of this truth and create memorable adult characters…just not characters who only want to be there to tell their own story. The young adult story you’re telling is not going to focus around the parent/adult, but they are emphatically a part of the story.

Find the happy medium. You don’t have to do a lot to create a memorable character who is an honest to God fictionally real 3-dimensional puzzle piece to your story. If you don’t take the time to form even your smallest character into a real person, you run the risk of having pieces of cardboard walk on and off of your story stage. Please don’t do this! It’s painfully noticeable to your reader. Adults have a place in YA. Give it to them.  

Say NO to Stick Figures!

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.


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