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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Only Children

Confession 1- I have never written a character who is an only child
Confession 2 - I am an only child

What's up with that?

Time Magazine's cover story this week, discussing the myths around only children, made me think (and not for the first time) about my propensity for writing characters whose sibling relationships are extremely important in their lives. Since I have virtually no experience at being part of a sibling relationship.
Now a short explanation of my experience is that I do have a brother, he was born a month after I graduated from high school, when I was 18. So, my childhood/adolescence was free of siblings, without a hint that there would ever be a sibling. While, I'm pretty sure that my existence in no way defined my brother's life, he at least (while also raised as an only child because I was already out of the house) had the experience of always having a sister, albeit a much older one, so he is sort of a quasi-only child, and I couldn't say if he was any more spoiled selfish or solitary than he would've been without my part in his life.
Because those are the myths Time is debunking. From Time "The entrenched aversion to stopping at one mainly amounts to a century-old public-relations issue. Single children are perceived as spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. No parents want that for their kid."
Read more:,8599,2002382,00.html#ixzz0tkOy55Hk
I'd hazard a guess that quasi-only children are becoming more prevalent with second families, fathers who have nearly adult children and start new families, or step families. And, the article says that families with one child and no plans for more are on the rise, as they rose during the Great Depression. Interesting.
When I thought about it, I realized that the main characters in the two biggest (YA) Literary phenomenon of the last zillion years have been only children. Yes, Harry Potter, and Bella Swan. I don't know that anyone could call either of them spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. Or could they?
There have been times in my life when I was all of the above. But my own children, less than two years apart, have also been spoiled, selfish, and yes, I have one who could be called a solitary misfit. (I'm sure there's creative genius in there!)
So, what's the deal with only children in literature? Holden Caulfield was a spoiled, selfish, solitary misfit and he had siblings.
And, as fun as the alliteration is, (spoiled, selfish, solitary, spoiled, selfish, solitary) Time, and many sources in the past say that these are complete B.S.
There might be plot based reasons why a character is an only child, like Voldemort killing your parents, leaving you an orphan, and stopping your parents from producing any more children. Or divorce...I don't remember how long the Swan family had been divorced. As a plot device, having another sibling hanging around might have been inconvenient (or interesting).
I'm going to scour my bookshelves for YA only children (Pudge in Looking for Alaska, Melinda in Speak) and see how comprehensive a list I can come up with.
For tomorrow I'm preparing a post called The Sibling in YA literature. That sounds nice and official, doesn't it?

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Blogger Kara said...

I'm an only child and my first story had a loser, college dropout brother in it. But I agree with the myths in TIME. I had hardass parents who forced me to socialize so I would never become a loner.

July 15, 2010 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger Horserider said...

I have a half-brother and half-sister (both almost old enough to be my parents), but I call myself an only child. I've written stories about only children and children with siblings, depending on what the story calls for.

July 15, 2010 at 6:25 PM  

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