1. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    The Sick Mom Ploy

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JTheGreat, Sep 4, 2010.

    You see her all the time. She's lying in bed, the lights out and the curtains drawn. Her cheeks are gaunt, her eyes either dull or frantic She comes in two flavors: the physically sick and the mentally sick. Either way, expect serious angst about her.

    Yup, I'm talking about the young (probably used to be beautiful) mother of the protagonist or another main character. Usually, she gets cured sometime in the story. In the meantime, she's probably mentally checked out, or doesn't recognize her child. If not, her resolve is still painfully sad to read about.

    Examples of this archetype are Angeline from Artemis Fowl and Tabitha's mother from Zero no Tsukaima.

    Anyway, would you say this archetype is overused? A platitude? Of course, all tropes can be respun, but I'm asking about it played straight.
     
  2. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    So many people have been writing so much, for so long (Dating back to Babylon and ancient Mesopotamia) that I honestly think its extremely hard to come up with any idea that somebody, somewhere has never thought of.

    Even if you come up with an original idea, something totally new that to your knowledge has NEVER been done before, once you write it and slap it up for review, some critic is likely to say "Ah, this looks like a rip off of [insert name of writer you have never heard of] who wrote a very similar story back in 1892 and published it in Bulgaria.

    I honestly wouldn't worry about it. Write your story the way you want to. It will stand or fall on the merit of your writing, not the trope.
     
  3. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think its overused mostly because its a good reason to get the MC out the door and motivated. What might be more motivating than trying to cure a loved one? And there aren't many a person is closer to than their own mother, thus making their motivation that much stronger. It's also makes it easy for the reader pity the MC as most people care deeply for their mothers.

    Done right and, despite how overused it might be, it will still work. I thought I was tired of all a protege MC that has a "destiny" about him/her. Then I read the Twelve Kingdoms and Harry Potter and thoroughly enjoyed them.
     
  4. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Overused, no. But it can be used badly, in many ways. Score simple sympathy points etc, oversimplify, spread misconceptions and prejudice etc.

    In a children's book this can be a very important way to let children either get a perspective on serious physical or mental illness or see their own situation in fiction in a way they can identify with. So I think is an important subject. Many kids grow up with and most of us will at some point have to deal with sic parents.

    From a gender perspective it can be discriminating just considering making a female relative sick, and not let men have a fragile role. We all human beings are fragile and I think its very important that men also are allowed to be seen that way.

    About that the sick loved one get better or even miraculous cured, I would thread carefully. The "miraculous" cure, either as real miraculously or as a fast painless turn around can give a false impression and not deal with how much effort it takes to get healthy. Which I think one important side of fighting a disease. It is hard.

    The other part I'm hesitating about is the cured part. Most serious diseases leave scars of some kind, have an chronic aspect or/and a risk of relapse. Some people with eating disorder consider them self "sober-anoreticts/bullimics/etc" the same way sober alcoholics might come to term with their disease but always have a risk or relapse and and got to carry part od their disease for the whole life. If you have cancer you might have had you breast taken away and have to go to check-ups. If your schizophrenic you will have to take medicine and live carefully to stay healthy. I think this is an important aspect. People might get better, a lot better, return to normal life but its seldom an 100% pure cure. At least not in a book for someone over the age of eight.
     
  5. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Trying to figure out how to pay the medical bills AFTER curing a loved one.

    Contemplating the inheritance you stand to gain after you "assist" a loved one to "find eternal peace".

    Contemplating the inheritance you stand to gain after your loved one passes away and you "deal with" that pesky older sibling who stands to inherit the lion's share of the family fortune.

    Trying to figure out how to cure yourself, once you realize that your loved one has now infected you with the plague.

    Having your dying mother finally tell you of the family curse, that passes from mother to child upon death, that will eventually cause you to waste away as well.

    Oh...the question was rhetorical. Pardon me. :redface:
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am one of those Mum's, I have Fibromyalgia/ME/CFS. This is a generalisation there will be exceptions - however illness of Mum tends to give children the opportunity to grow up differently to their peers, the children I meet who are young carers do tend to be more grown up and capable of taking care of themselves.

    Maybe that is why it happens because of the resources a sick Mum can give her children that a fit and healthy Mum generally doesn't need to.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if your story needs a sick mom, then for pete's sake put her in there and don't agonize over it!

    as lothgar noted, there's nothing new under the sun... virtually everything's been done to death already, so all you need do is use it well, in as new and fresh a way as possible...
     
  8. KittyGoesRawr
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    KittyGoesRawr Member

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    Eh. We like drama. We like unsolved issues. Inner conflict. Something to make the character miserable, because they're strive for happiness makes them INTERESTING, and relatable! Because we all want to be happy, and get crapped on all the time, and we all have obstacles to get over. For some people, the Sick Mommy Ploy is relatable. My mom was diagnosed w/ cancer at stage 3. 3.5 her doctors called it, lol! Moms are just a sensitive spot that most can relate to. I see a lot more people relating to mommy issues than attempted suicide, suicide, or drug use. It's not too far fetched to write about, because we can all relate to it somehow. And you have to relate to something, or at least understand it, to write about it.
     
  9. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heh heh, only time I ever had a sick mommy in a story, I killed her off after about 30 pages. I'm lovely, aren't I? :p

    Fragile parents are a good theme because they're so emotive - you want them to be strong and it's terrifying when they're not. So they're useful as an emotional wedge as well as a motivational one - if you need the character to collapse in on themselves there's nothing more useful. Maybe over used, but since it's rarely done tastelessly, it always feels so integral to the plot that you wouldn't think it until much later analysis.
     

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