The Curious Case of The Literary Stage Parent

There is a whole sub-genre of reality television dedicated to the stage parent. Often an adjacent celebrity, their claim to fame is often a gifted child. This child, usually a prodigy, shows signs of brilliance in fields that usually require decades of practice to master. So the parent quits their job, moves states and finds the best environment to help that child go from prodigy to master.

Children however gifted, are children. And all children require a firm hand. Often, a child’s ‘giftedness’ becomes a hindrance to their overall development and because the gifted child is the primary source of income or relevance or validation, the stage parent is willing to overlook… a lot.

Like all parents, literary stage parents are emotionally invested in the advancement of their gifted children. Provided there is outward evidence of this advancement, however minute, stage parents are happy, ecstatic even and will ignore personal development provided there is the illusion of success. Stage parents will violently protect the chances of their prodigy excelling, will push them to opportunities that might mean advancement, even when they are clearly not ready.

This suspension of disbelief, this blind confidence in a personal assumption in the face of glaring reality is what makes stage parent centric reality shows so fantastic, often at the expense of the gifted child.

In the literary world we have hundreds, maybe thousands of stage parents.

Every literate person can write. Without exception.

Not every literate person can create.

I personally believe that stories, poems and other forms of the written word are alive. I believe that writers, poets and playwrights are only vessels, or channels or gestation pods (if sci-fi is your thing) for these stories. Stories/poems and plays are living things because they outlive their creators, take on their own personalities and relate with people individually, making vastly different impressions on them. They are beautiful and wild.

And what science tells us, after centuries of capturing wild animals for our amusement, curiosity and concern, is the best way to let a wild thing thrive is to set it free.

Very few of us are confident in our ability to create a good story. We often find out we are able to do this by accident. The default response to this discovery for the writer is self doubt, after all when a story idea is born, it is a tiny, ugly, utterly dependent thing. Inferior language means that it is incoherent and needs to be spoken for, a weak plot means that it cannot carry itself to its destination, poor characterization means it has no personality.

The writer hides this newly born story away and frets over it, quietly grooming it, till it becomes big and sturdy, ready to stand as its best possible self. By the time this baby idea is full grown into a bonafide poem/story, the writer is often already pregnant with the next one. He/She presents this child to the world, equipped to take on its praise and criticisms as a wholly independent, living, wild thing.

The literary stage parent is in no way ready to let go.

Often the lit stage parent has been anointed by a consensus of their peers, or comes from a great lineage of excellent story tellers. Sometimes the literary stage parent, after a bout of bareness is ambushed by a fantastic story. The literary stage parent wants desperately for this child to continue this lineage of greatness, or serve as a trophy, a rebuff for all the people who mocked their bareness. Most of all the literary stage parent believes completely in the potential greatness of their story.

So they coddle the story, indulge it until it is a crippled, disheveled thing, incapable of independence, fragile to external scrutiny.

But even the most disadvantaged of stories have that primal need to find their place in the world, a world that is painfully saturated with brilliant gifted stories, where disadvantage is unwelcome. So literary stage parents put their stories in the cushy wheel chair of a heavily censored platform and prop them up with annotations and disclaimers. They elbow their way into the world, speaking for their stories, challenging anyone who dares to point that their stories are unfinished, disadvantaged or at the worst, glorified sock puppets for their custodian’s personal ambitions.

A story cannot be stage managed, shouldn’t be. Because the best stories make their own destinies. They define their own place in the world. The literary stage parent thinks too small for their story, underestimates its resilience and tenacity. But more commonly, the literary stage parent thinks too big, too soon.

Not every story is a potential pulitzer winner, not every story should be. Some stories will resonate with millions, some will resonate with one person. This is not for you as the writer to decide. What you can do is equip a story as best you can, for as long as you need to, until you are sure there is nothing else you can do to make it better.

Then get it published.

Relinquish control.


is off foraging for new material in the jungles of Victoria Island, wont be home for supper.


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