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Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 10:15 am

I've got a word that might be new to many of you. The word is bildungsroman, and it’s just a fancy literary term meaning coming of age story. I won’t use it again in this lesson, but I wanted to pass it along, so you can use it to impress your friends.

A coming of age story generally covers a period of time in which a person moves from childhood or adolescence into young adulthood (or simply into a period of being more grown up). During the course of the story, one or more significant events happen to the child, and those events shape the child’s character as he or she moves toward adulthood. The event may be nearly anything: a death, a journey, a traumatic experience, an illness, a move to another place, a new person in the child’s life, or anything else that would be significant to a child. It’s important, though, that the event should change the child for the rest of her life. Sometimes the child’s change is referred to as a “loss of innocence,” and sometimes the change involves the gaining of wisdom—or the change can take some other form, positive or negative.

Obviously, in the Writing Challenge, with only 750 words, you won’t be able to cover a series of events and consequences—you’ll probably have to choose one very specific event to happen to your main character (a child or adolescent), and whatever follows from that event will have to carry that character into the next stage of her life.

Coming of age stories are nearly always written in past tense, and often they are written in the first person, with the child who came of age narrating the story from an adult perspective. They can also be written in 3rd person, with the child who comes of age being the POV character.

There are some very famous novels which are coming of age stories, and you’ve probably read one or more of them:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
The Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

And I have to mention one of my favorite books of all time, even though it’s not nearly as famous as those on the above list: Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. Simply an astounding piece of writing, and I highly recommend it.

It’s worth noting that the primary audience for a coming of age story is adults, despite the fact that the main character may be a child for most or all of the story. It should be written in an adult voice and it should appeal to adults. Yes, I’m aware that some of the books in the above list are considered YA literature or (in the case of the first few Harry Potter books) even middle grade literature. But they are equally enjoyed by adults, and the writing is sophisticated, not simple or childlike.

So—in a nutshell:
1. A child or adolescent
2. …experiences something
3. …that greatly affects her life
4. …and changes her or teaches her a life lesson
5. …as she moves into young adulthood

Within that framework, any number of plot points are available for the creative writer.

A few short stories that have coming of age themes:

The Jacket, by Gary Soto
Thank You, Ma’am, by Langston Hughes (not available in public domain, but if you Google it, you’ll read substantial snippets and some commentary)
Hunger, by Richard Wright (available as a document online—Google it)
Ribbons, by Laurence Yep
The Scarlet Ibis, by James Hurst

If you read some of these, you’ll see that they’re big in middle school and high school curricula—despite what I just said about coming of age stories having an adult audience. These types of stories are naturally of interest to teens, because the main characters are often their age—but the fact that the stories are written without condescension or accommodation is what makes them worthy to be read by readers of all ages. Long story short—don’t write a story FOR a child or young teen; write a story ABOUT a child or young teen.

And if you don’t have time to read those, here are a few Writing Challenge entries with coming of age themes. If you read through these, you’ll see that sometimes the events or the changes in the main character’s life are not necessarily earth-shattering; the 750 word limit means that sometimes a very small story is called for.

In Poot’s Hatchet, a young tomboy learns a valuable lesson about integrity and honesty.

In On the Other Hand… a teenage boy deals with the consequences of a rash action.

In Under the Skin, a biracial girl has to come to terms with her color after the deaths of her parents.

In Something Like Light,, a teenaged bride loses her young husband and has to raise their son alone.

In Natalie Tiptoes,, a little girl learns an important lesson about sacrificial giving.

HOMEWORK:

Ask a question or make a comment about coming of age stories. OR

Link to a coming of age story that you’ve written. If you do this, please tell us something about your writing process. OR

Tell us about a coming of age story or novel that you’ve read.


Have questions about grammar? Stop by this recently reactivated forum administered by Ann Grover, one of FaithWriters very finest writers of all time.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby DustBSH » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:00 am

Thanks Glorybee.
It's a challenge, which is what this is supposed to be. Thank you for taking the time to give us these great lessons. It's much appreciated.
Blessings

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby Anja » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:40 am

Maybe it's just me, but I have found that many Coming of Age stories I've read have an "aura" of tragedy or sorrow or impending doom. And because it's written from a child's POV with adult terminology, the reader will often recognize the direction of the story. The child is stating the obvious, but without understanding the implications of what she sees. Does that make sense?

This is my closest to a Coming of Age story.

There is no spectacular event, but rather my MC experiences an epiphany.
I left clues, like dropping crumbs, for the reader to gather, so if they were paying attention, they would grasp the epiphany. It wasn't just a nostalgic visit into a second hand store, but a little girl's revelation about the mysterious and often sad world of grownups, and particularly the truth about two people she loves.

Second Hand Chance

I don't know if any readers "got it," but it was cathartic for me, as I was the little girl, even though my epiphany came many years later.
Ann Grover Stocking

"What remains of a story after it is finished? Another story..." Eli Wiesel

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 12:30 pm

Great observation about the mood of many coming of age stories, Ann! You're absolutely right, especially for those stories in which the change in the child is a loss of innocence, and that's the thing that will be trickiest to capture--both childlikeness and the wisdom gained in hindsight.

Your story was wonderful--and I just have to ask: Ketchup AND vinegar? Was that a quirk of your young character, or something that they do in Canada?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby Anja » Fri Nov 21, 2014 12:50 pm

Yes, ketchup and vinegar. In Canada and in the UK. Either white vinegar or malt vinegar.

Now I have a craving.

I'm wondering, Jan, did you "get" the epiphany.
To me, it's blatantly obvious, but I'm the writer and the MC.

And that is something else I wanted to say about Coming of Age stories. Sometimes, the "event" isn't explicitly described or revealed. The reader must identify the "elephant in the room," for lack of a better term, by subtle or not-so-subtle hints, and often their gut instinct, as hideous as it is, is the truth.
Ann Grover Stocking

"What remains of a story after it is finished? Another story..." Eli Wiesel

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:06 pm

Ann, I'll have to admit that I'm not sure that I did. I definitely think I found the key sentences that are pieces of the puzzle, and I have a few theories, but it's not crystal clear to me. Can you help me out?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby Anja » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:50 pm

Assuming you found "a narrow cot" and "not all princes travel to foreign soil to wage war" as hints...

My grandmother had a very difficult and not always pleasant life.
My grandfather was an alcoholic and a very "hard" man, but as children, we thought he was the greatest.
My grandma's little store was her "life," where she was loved and respected.

(Won't hijack this thread anymore.)


Suggesting a few more coming of age books.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Feed my Dear Dogs by Emma Richler
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Last edited by Anja on Fri Nov 21, 2014 7:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:53 pm

Ahh, good. That was exactly what I thought--but I was worried that there was something more that I was missing. Whew!

Lovely, lovely story.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby GeraldShuler » Fri Nov 21, 2014 4:29 pm

Jan, I have a question. I wrote a story about bullies that would qualify for the age part of your lesson. The last part of the story, though, takes place 20 years later. Would that disqualify the story for this topic? The story is Not What I Had Intended. http://www.faithwriters.com/article-det ... p?id=77084 (By the way, I'm NOT thinking of using this story for the Challenge but I have some ideas that would be disqualified if this one doesn't qualify.)

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 4:39 pm

JayDavidKing wrote:Jan, I have a question. I wrote a story about bullies that would qualify for the age part of your lesson. The last part of the story, though, takes place 20 years later. Would that disqualify the story for this topic? The story is Not What I Had Intended. http://www.faithwriters.com/article-det ... p?id=77084 (By the way, I'm NOT thinking of using this story for the Challenge but I have some ideas that would be disqualified if this one doesn't qualify.)


Gerald, your story is very close. Definitely the first half of it works as a coming of age story:

1. A child or adolescent (the young boy who is narrating)
2. …experiences something (a bullying incident)
3. …that greatly affects his life (not clear)
4. …and changes her or teaches her a life lesson (not clear--he was already a Christian, so does God's intervention on that day change the course of his life?)
5. …as he moves into young adulthood (again, not clear)

To move this more fully into the realm of coming of age fiction, it needs to be clearer that the bullying incident and God's intervention somehow changed the course of the narrator's life.

Alternatively, if this story were written from the POV of the bully who then found God, it would be a far better fit for this week's topic.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby alanrkane » Fri Nov 21, 2014 6:17 pm

How about adulthood where MC has to go back and revisit and learn from her mistakes. Stuff that they need to do to become a fully rounded person. Thus coming of age as if stuff not dealt with they will remain in a childlike state

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 6:36 pm

Alan, I'm not clear on exactly what you're asking, but that doesn't really seem like it would fit. It sounds like you're suggesting that it's the adult who's learning the lesson, but that isn't really a true coming of age story. If I've misunderstood, please help me out.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby swfdoc1 » Fri Nov 21, 2014 10:47 pm

So, I looked up "Bildungsroman" on m-w.com and was reminded of your lesson "Rhyming Beyond the Basics." Under "Rhymes with Bildungsroman" I found this:

abutilon, Agamemnon, anticodon, antiproton, archenteron, arrière-ban, asyndeton, automaton, Azerbaijan, Bellerophon, carrying-on, diazinon, dodecagon, emoticon, encephalon, get a move on, himation, interferon, kakiemon, keep an eye on, Laocoön, mesenteron, Michoacán, millimicron, oxymoron, phenomenon, protozoon, pteranodon, put the arm on, put the make on, rear echelon, Rostov-on-Don, Saskatchewan, septentrion, set one's heart on, set one's sights on, sine qua non, steal a march on, take it out on, Taklimakan, turn one's back on, Vientiane, wipe one's boots on, zero coupon, zooplankton

:D
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby glorybee » Fri Nov 21, 2014 10:55 pm

Write a poem with those words now.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- COMING OF AGE STORY

Postby Allison » Sat Nov 22, 2014 12:08 am

So since you say it changes the child for the rest of their life, as they move into adulthood, does it really need to a teen? Or can it be a child reflecting on how it WILL affect the rest of their lives? What if that event is something where the child isn't sure if they will reach adulthood? Can it be a reflection on their (possibly) short life? Say... something like Anne Frank, but slightly younger, or a younger child with a serious illness? So a child who is old enough to contemplate serious issues, but isn't yet transitioning to adulthood? Does that make sense? Or can it be a mental transition to adulthood, as opposed to a physical transition?

Also, for a coming of age story, I just happen to be re-reading "To Kill a Mocking Bird" right now. I'm really enjoying reading it at a leisurely pace.
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)

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