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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Superteen Love

This week’s assessment comes from Megan. She’s writing a YA about six teenage foster kids who develop superpowers. Way different premise, and challenging due to some of the issues she’s got her two MCs working through.

First we’ve got 17-year-old Lisa.* She was adopted at the age of two after being found abandoned in a car. Her adoptive parents died in a fire when she was 12, putting her in foster care and creating a fear of fire. After years pass in a stable home environment, she feels safe and comfortable. She’s intelligent and overly curious, often to her own detriment, and she’s opening up to friends and a possible new love.

Her love interest is Derrick,* also 17. He was burned by his mother as an infant which put him in foster care. As a young teen, he rebellious and into drinking, sex and playing hookie. His superpower manifested a year ago. It took an elderly couple to help set him straight so he could excel at school and home. Derrick refuses to date or let anyone get close to him because he’s scared he could hurt someone with his superpower if he loses control. But that’s exactly what happens when he lets his guard down with Lisa and almost hurts her, causing him to close himself off and push her away.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Megan wants to accurately portray the relationship between these two teens. She’s got the desire and attraction they feel and Derrick sending mixed signals of overprotectiveness/closeness/standoffishness. Lisa pushes his buttons, wanting to figure him out and enjoying the mystery of a first love. Both struggle with their powers and both continue a cycle of getting close and then stepping back as they start to open up about their pasts.

Megan wants to know if this is realistic and if I have any recommendations. And you know I do! ☺

First thing that struck me is the role fire plays in your novel. You’ve given both your MCs tremendously traumatic histories, both involving fire. When I read that she’s actually afraid of fire, my head swarmed with possibilities to show this fear, like a high school bonfire, 4th of July fireworks, flames of candles in a restaurant…things like this.

Lisa was 12 when her adoptive parents died (more on that later), so that’s plenty old for her to really have an overwhelming fear. The specific term would be pyrophobia. So you’d have to give her a pretty good reason for showing up at a bonfire, but if you up the stakes—like for a high school girl with a first crush, Derrick would only have to ask her to be there—that shouldn’t be too hard. Also, she might have to wrestle with the burn scar Derrick has. Initially that would probably freak her out. Just something to think about.

I’m not sure what Derrick’s superpower is, but your premise would be so awesome if Derrick had a superpower that involved fire. MAN! That should make an agent or editor take notice! The idea that the heroine and hero should be polar opposites. She’s scared of fire, so he’s a fireman…or to put it in more heroic terms…he’s TorchMan or something like that. Conflict is embedded in a premise like that. And then you’d have a nicely rounded character arc for your heroine to go through…that of dealing with her fear of fire, which love would help her conquer. Every teen girl (and probably adult) reading your book would absolutely sigh at the end of it.

So about Derrick. I’ve worked a lot with foster children, so likely some of what I have to say would hopefully apply not only to him, but also to your other characters. Foster care is something you just about have to have experience with on some level to truly get how the lives of these children differ. Most foster children—on average—are shuffled through at least six different homes before they are 18 and emancipate out of the system. SIX HOMES. Many of them are depressed and overly sad…but this is manifested as anger and tough-man/tough-girl syndrome. Many are forced to get counseling, and it can take years for a therapist to make a dent in this type of anger. I know it took me two years to get to a working place with one 10-year old boy.

I’m not trying to say that an elderly couple couldn’t step in and make a huge difference in his life…but it would take time. So make sure to have some time lapse between when he’s taken in to the time when he’s excelling at school. Otherwise, that might seem contrived and a little too convenient.

Not all foster children are little balls of anger. Some take to it quite well. They are just thankful to have a home and food and to be clean. But the other aspect of Lisa’s situation to consider is the ongoing grief she would have over her parents death. For all practical purposes, her adoptive parents were her real parents…and her grief would be the same as what anyone would experience losing their parents. So start your book off with her in a new home and feeling safe and comfortable, but have her remember and grieve over her parents. This wouldn’t be so prominent with Derrick, since he would have been in foster care since he could remember.

As to teen romance, gosh…most anything would be realistic. I mean, do teens really know what they’re doing anyway? I’m sure there are two steps forward and one step back. One thing for sure to include in teen romance is friends. The proverbial “Feeler-Outer” who sort of paves the way for their friend. The backup friend on the cell phone who will call you at your signal to get you out of a stick situation. Teens have independence issues…and definitely run with the pack mentality. So their romance would be influenced by their friends. Perhaps this would lend a bit more credence to Derrick’s mixed signals (in addition to his fear of losing control and hurting her)?

That’s about all I’ve got. If you’ve got more questions, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do. But I’m intrigued by your premise…and hopefully have given you a few ideas. (It would be totally weird if you made a comment in the comment section that Derrick DID have a superhuman power of throwing fire, or something!) Anyway, thanks for writing in, Megan!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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MeganRebekah said...

Jeannie, this is so awesome!!! Thanks so much for getting into this. You've already helped me re-arrange a few scenes (well in my head right now, the physical re-arranging will happen later tonight).

Derrick's power isn't related to fire, but someone else's is. Someone she desperately wants answers from. And of course fire ties in at the climax.

I used to work with foster children as well, which is where part of this premise came from. My six teens are all foster kids, with varying situations. Some in good homes, one in an abusive home, and some just overlooked or ignored for the most part.

Okay, I better stop or I'll end up just pasting the entire story :)

Thanks so much for this though, I am so excited to dig back into my book tonight and reassess some things!!

Stephanie Faris said...

Great analysis. You're incredible!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

megan - i'm so glad it was helpful. thanks for stopping by the blog to comment.

and thanks stephanie! :)

Katie Ganshert said...

That is so sad about foster kids. I knew a little, from your story, but, that's heartbreaking.

Tana said...

That was an awesome assessment! I'm writing a YA series and this helps emencly. (Still going to email you! Don't know where time is going????)

Jessica Nelson said...

Cool! Megan, I didn't know what your story was about but it sounds great!
Thanks Jeannie.

MeganRebekah said...

I was thinking over something that you had said during lunch. Let me know your thoughts.

I hadn't mentioned it, but Derrick was burned as a baby when his mother spilled hot grease on him (while aiming at someone else). So his burns are more chemical than fire.

Do you think that Lisa would still react negatively to them? They're covered by clothes, but pretty thick and grotesque without a shirt. And how negative - scared? disgusted? Taken aback, but not wanting to hurt his feelings? I know a lot has to do with when/where she sees them. It's just a reaction I hadn't given too much thought to and want to nail.


Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

hmm. i think the reaction to the skin would still be the same. and you know...just about anyone would react negatively to some thick/grotesque burns, no matter the cause. so repulsion wouldn't be too hard to imagine. i think if you can't change the origin of the burns for derrick (to something more fire related...cigarette burns, perhaps?) than stick with what you have and really write a creative scene where she discovers the burns. could have her jump to conclusions about HOW he got the burns...that would be reasonable. i'd think someone was burnt in a fire, too, if i saw skin like you're describing. happy writing!

Tara McClendon said...

Wow! The elements in real life are sad, but in fiction, they make an empowering story. Thanks for the post.

Danyelle L. said...

As always, your posts are wonderful! Thank you. :D

MeganRebekah said...

Okay, one more question. I've been working on some revisions tonight.

Lisa's foster mother is a kindergarten teacher and gave Lisa advice/tips on how to deal with a campfire during a camping retreat.

What kind of advice/tips would be appropriate to give?
So far I've got deep breathing and concentrating on something else around her to get distracted.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i think an average mother (not a therapist) would probably advise her daughter to stay on the outskirts of the far away as she can while still being part of the group. she'd probably say stay away from making smores or have a friend do it for her. the deep breathing idea sounds like she's a therapist. but concentrating on other being with her friends, the guy she likes, the smell of the woods or mosquito repellant...anything like that sounds very "average-y." plus, as a kindergarten teacher, she'd likely try to make it a game of some sort. "see how long you can sit by the heat" vs. "let's see how long you children can stay quiet as a mouse!" get the idea? :) that might not be appropriate at all for your mother character, though. your call. :)

MeganRebekah said...

Thanks so much - you're awesome!! :)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

you're welcome! thanks for writing in.

SM Blooding said...

WOW! I am sooooo glad you posted in my blog today and I was able to find this! This is...a treasure trove! We were just talking about how we use our muse as our psychologist, but having a psychologist for our characters? Ingenious!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks, SM!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.