1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I am confused about coming-of-age stories...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, May 29, 2012.

    Basically, there's a scene in my head that is insisting it's part of a coming-of-age story, but I'm not exactly sure if it is or not.

    It's basically a boy in his early teens, lost in the wilderness, dressed in a fur tunic (he had been missing for a month or so, and he spent that time learning how to live off the land, etc), armed with a stolen bowie knife and facing down a wolf that is threatening a herd of sheep in some remote farm somewhere in the countryside. (I keep picturing this to be set in the northwestern area of the US, somewhere close to Canada, perhaps?)

    My Mind: "See? This could be a perfect coming-of-age story! Kid gets lost in the wilderness and learns how to be a man! Oh, and he has dangerous, yet exciting adventures as he makes his long journey back to civilization!"

    Me: "Uh, what? That could easily just be a simple action-adventure story about a wilderness kid who decides to protect a remote farm for reasons not yet known."

    My Mind: "No, no see? It IS a coming-of-age! Maybe he's naive in the beginning, falls in love with the ranch girl, then discovers sinister, dishonest people are scheming to get rid of the ranch, and he has to fight back to protect the people he cares about?"

    Me: "So, instead of telling the ranch girl, 'Hey, can I borrow your cell phone? I need to dial the police and get them to take me home to my parents', he decides to retain his new identity and become sort of a lone warrior for them? How the hell does that make any sense at all?"

    My Mind: "...He's an orphan?"

    So, yeah. I have no idea what to make of that idea in my head. What do you define as a coming-of-age story? If I were to make this a coming-of-age story, what would I have to do? Do you think, as I do, that this is just a simple action-adventure story?

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A coming of age story is typically centered around an epiphany, in which the character symbolically lets go of his or her childhood and faces adulthood straight on.

    What aspect of his youth is he unconsciously and unrealistically holding on to? Does he come to a decision that the security of "home" is no longer where he needs to be?
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's the thing. I have no idea what he's holding onto.

    Maybe, if he's an orphan living in the wilderness, he wishes he can go back to being what he used to be? So when he finds this remote farm, he's happy until he realizes a) he's changed completely, and b) the farm is in danger, and his new self isn't going to sit there while innocent people suffer?

    When you say aspects of his youth, what do you mean?

    Wait, maybe his parents weren't exactly good parents? I mean, he likely had no qualms about stealing from someone if he's got a stolen bowie knife. Maybe he came from a criminal background/raised in a seedy part of a town, so he wants to have the comfort and security of an actual, stable home?

    Other problem I have with this:

    #1- The setting. It's likely in modern times (somewhere in the 2000s.) I am not sure if its realistic for a young teen to get lost in the wilderness for a month without having a cellphone that has a map or GPS on it. Even if it were destroyed, he probably wouldn't be content to just live by himself for a month before hiking back to civilization. He'd want to do that ASAP.
     
  4. Caldenfor
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    Caldenfor Member

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    Maybe he never got lost...

    Plus, I don't have a cellphone, but I am not a teen either.
     
  5. Lumipon
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    Lumipon Member

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    Usually coming of age-stories have the protagonist unable or unwilling to accept the responsibilities of becoming an adult. He is afraid, unsure of himself, lazy, or too dependant on somebody. The reasons are varied.

    Then he is put into a situation that forces them to overcome their weakness and accept responsibility and change. Or fail trying.

    The point is to resist the change and realize the inevitability of adulthood, as no-one can stay a child forever.

    Now, if you want a coming of age story, we need these elements to be present. For example:

    The MC is a lazy modern teenager sent off to a relative's farm somewhere far away, as the MC's single mom/dad has to work abroad for a few months.

    When at the farm he needs to start working daily, or to not eat. This ticks him off and he resists the change.

    Enter the supporting character, who is a perfectly normal teen plus she helps around the farm every day. Contrast.

    The MC starts to question himself blaadibla, evil rival farm, romance, bla.

    In the end, the MC is presented with a choise: to embrace the challenges and joys of adulthood or to back out and revert to his lazy unambitious self. Like, "Will he testify for or against his uncle?", or "Will he leave the farm as his dad comes back?"​

    Something like that.
     
  6. Caldenfor
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    Caldenfor Member

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    Perhaps sent to the farm, rather than work everyday, he goes off into the woods?

    Then, through coincidence/etc, he sees the girl and eventually through wanting to help her must face the wolf/antagonist.
     
  7. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    In my opinion, coming of age or "bildungsroman" as I learned in school, is a pretty wide genre. This past year I had a fiction class with a unit on coming of age. Some of the books I read that were considered coming of age were: a complicated kindness, cabbagetown, fugitive pieces. With these three books, the common theme was external pressure from society. I.e, WW1, confinement from a technologically-challenged town. The characters have issues dealing with the obstacles presented, and eventually find ways to deal with them.

    I feel like it is a wide genre because a character's growth is usually evident when one considers the change from the start of a piece to the end. To my knowledge, the emphasis on external pressure from society or other characters, and the protagonist dealing with these pressures, is a very important characteristic for coming of age stories. Hope this helps.
     
  8. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I hate the term 'coming of age story'.

    Pretty much any story with a child character who undergoes character development gets called a coming of age story, and then they try to paint it out as if the character somehow magically turned from a kid to an adult emotionally, when real growing up doesn't happen that way. And the change isn't always a positive one, nor is the character they were at the start necessarily negative.

    For example, one of my favorite movies is called Spirited Away. In this movie, a family is moving to their new home, and their timid, cranky daughter is whining about it. On the way to their new home, they find an abandoned theme park that inexplicably has some food in it. The parents decide to start eating, while the daughter keeps saying they should just leave. It turns out the food belongs to spirits, who turn the parents into pigs and enslave the girl. Then she has to figure out a way to save her parents. In the process, she gets more confident in her own abilities.

    You could paint it out as a coming of age story, but in my opinion that would do a big disservice to the girl she was at the start of the story. The thing is, she was actually showing more sense than her parents by being afraid. And her crankiness about moving also highlights her parents' flaws - they don't listen. They figured she'd enjoy the new place fine, which may or may not be true, but does not in any way negate the fact that she was unhappy about leaving the old place, and resented having her entire world uprooted by a decision she had no input in. Similarly, her parents drag her along when she's afraid of exploring the theme park, and ignore her warning not to eat the food they find there. She could've been less whiny about it, but in actual fact, she was right and they were wrong.
     
  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I see.

    A popular coming-of-age story I read was Theodore Taylor's The Cay. In short, a racist, white blind boy is stranded on a cay with an old black man after a U-boat torpedoed the vessel they were on. The boy treated the man like crap, but the man didn't react against it (he only struck him once after a particuarly nasty insult). The boy learns to be tolerate to people who are different than him, and learns to not feel sorry for himself because he's blind.

    What irked me about this coming-of-age story, was that the black guy was just your typical "wise old member of minority who imparts life lesson on the white main character." Plus, all it took was one smack across the face and the kid does an immediate about-face and becomes less of an ass to him (Literally no less than two paragraphs later, the kid is asking the man if he would be his friend!) Like you said, Ettina, real growing up doesn't work that way. Realistically, the kid would've hated the man even more now that he's got an actual reason to hate him; hell, it would likely further cement his racist outlook on life. Instead, mere seconds after being smacked, the kid gets an epiphany and becomes better for it.

    That's what I often found weird (and almost insulting) about stories like that. Seems like they believe that there's this magical button or switch and, if you hit it at the exact time and place, the kid will see the light immediately and change their ways. It won't. It takes years, decades even.
     

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