Children as stakeholders

I kid you not, even as I type this, a tiny human is sitting on my lap trying to trace her finger along the mousepad as I gently push it away. Kids, amirite? And I have three of them.

I’ve been struggling lately to write consistently. No, scratch that. Not lately. All the time. I even bought dictation software hoping that speaking my book aloud would somehow be easier to do that typing it. The verdict is still out on that. Sure, I can say my book aloud, but I still need children to be outside the 20-foot radius, and preferably not yelling, for the microphone to pick up only my voice. And for me not to dictate, “Paloma, out of there. Benny, what are you doing? Don’t touch that!” into my mystery plot.

Right this minute, my middle child is asking for fruit snacks. Such a simple request but it derails my train of thought and then I’m up getting snacks, and not writing, and oh, look Facebook — what did my mom post today? Why, hello Instagram.

Having kids is a trip, isn’t it? Every since I became a parent, I can’t read mysteries, of any kind, where there is even the slightest hint of violence to children. Or children go missing. Or children witness a horrific event. I certainly can’t write them either. I can’t watch television shows, here’s looking at Law and Order: SVU, and Criminal Minds, where children may be harmed. My husband has to watch them alone.

But, children can be interesting stakeholders in mysteries. In Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (the TV series), Miss Fisher takes on a young ward, Jane, who later becomes an important catalyst for the season finale, bringing Miss Fisher and her antagonist to a fatal conclusion  (I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone). In Bloodline (on Amazon Prime), a show about a dysfunctional family in the Florida Keys, protecting children is a big theme and crimes are committed in order to preserve the family unit. [Watch it, it’s so good.] The protection of children can also provide a great discussion of morality. A reader may think lowly of a woman who kills her husband in cold blood, but that judgement quickly changes when it’s discovered the woman killed her spouse to protect her child. Now, not only is the reader sympathetic, but the quest for justice has also changed. The love a parent has for a child is like no other. Therefore, children present interesting challenges and conflicts for characters in mysteries.

What do you think about the role of children in mysteries? Do your characters have kids? Do you prefer to leave them out? My mysteries are all young adult, therefore I write about kids. It’s presents its own set of challenges, but I’ll leave that for another post.


Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I'm a YA author. And mom of 3. I'm also tired. Very, very tired.

16 thoughts on “Children as stakeholders”

  1. WOW, never thought of a lot of that. I do not have kids, but I too refuse to watch, or read, anything in which a child or an animal is wantonly harmed. As humans, we have a higher duty to the voiceless that we must adhere to or society won’t be worth living in. That said, I can watch Law and Order, etc. without the personalization that a parent would feel.

    I do not have children in my books as characters. They are in the books where appropriate, and the parent/child relationship figures strongly in my latest Death by Sunken Treasure., but the child is an infant. In my current WIP I have two teens and i had to read a lot of Seventeen Magazines and the like to be able to write them effectively. They are not main characters, but they need to be realistic.

    Authors who target the YA market are priceless. It’s an opportunity to get kids to love a great story (which may or may not be cool at any given time in the child’s development) and to have a hand in shaping the child. All good books shape the readers, that’s why reading throughout life is so important. Kudos, Kimberly!

    On Bloodline – because my Hayden Kent series takes place in the Keys and so does Bloodline, I watched the first season all in one glump. It was a lot of fun, great eye candy, but I hope they improve the research. They had a running story line about estate planning and probate. Every single scene was wrong. Made me chew my fingernails up to my elbows. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do this year. I will watch. Why? Two words, Kyle Chandler :).


  2. I looooove Kyle Chandler. Also, I had no idea about the legal stuff in Bloodline. That went right over my head.


  3. The characters in my Laurel Highlands Mysteries do not have children – yet. Someday, maybe. I haven’t written kids in that series (also yet) but I have an idea percolating where the victim has a young son so, let’s see where that goes.

    In the other book/series I wrote, the detective is married with two young children. I used the five-year-old daughter to try and make the detective someone you can root for (he’s kind of unlikable at the beginning of the book because he’s dealing with some trauma rather badly).

    I think kids can be a powerful motivator for a plot. I don’t particularly relish stories that harm kids or animals without purpose, but if it serves the plot I can put up with it – as long as we don’t have to wallow in the details. Hit the facts and move on, please.


  4. There are no children in my book 1 or 2 but if I pursue the current series, there will be later. In the other series banging around in my head, there are children. But they don’t get hurt. They’re part of the community. I can’t stand kids getting hurt.


  5. I am so with you! I also have 3 children, and they were easier to train than hubby when it came to “No interruptions; Mommy is writing.” I do write about a teenage daughter who serves as a sidekick and foil for her mom, the sleuth.


  6. Great post, Kimberly! I don’t have kids, not do my characters, but think you’re right that kids can definitely add complexity to stories. Your post made me of The Martian and how interesting it was that Mark Watney didn’t have a wife or kids to get home to. If he had, the story would’ve been completely different.


  7. Kids up the stakes, there’s no doubt about it. There are kids in all three of my published books and definitely in the one I’m writing now. Children and animals are victorius and long-lived in my stories; not so much adults.


  8. As a reader, I just HATE it when characters have children, but they don’t really HAVE children. By that I mean that children are mentioned in passing, but they always seem to be at school or visiting friends or with the baby sitter. It is just not realistic to think that neighbors are available to “babysit” children at all hours of the day or night whenever the detective/reporter/curious person gets a phone call or a hunch. When the parent misses the birthday party/performance/recital/parent-teacher meeting AGAIN because s/he is following a clue, the child does not just say “OK” and let is pass. This is just not the way it is in “real” life.

    I know that having children, and pets for that matter, make characters more believable because lots of people have children and pets. However, it undermines all that authenticity if the kids and pets are just pawned off on neighbors or left to fend for themselves. Not everyone has a friend who will feed the cat, walk the dog, or empty the cat box. I have read lots of books where this happens, and I wondered why the writer bothered to put children and/or pets in the story at all.

    Do you want trauma in a story ? How about a five-year old in the check-out line of the grocery story screaming because he/she can’t have _____ (fill in the blank with anything in the universe). How about school calling you at work (while you are interviewing the murder suspect who is just about to confess) to say your kid threw up and you must come immediately?

    If you want a real story with compelling conflict, put in real kids.


  9. This reminds me of Reconstructing Amelia — that’s a great mystery where the kid is the central character/victim. Hard to get through the first bit, but so worth it.


  10. @3 o 7 – You have such great ideas! YES – that is so going in a story (I write for the confession magazines, and those stories DO have kids).

    @ Peg – just don’t use anything about the probate part or the Will. YIKES — eye candy is great.


  11. Love! Mine is old enough that interruptions are fairly minimal now, but yes–the things I can watch and/or read definitely changed once she arrived. There are only two books I’ve ever not finished–two. Ever. No matter how awful, I have to finish them. One was Dostoevsky ( I was about 15 and it just wasn’t going to happen) and one by Iris Johansen, because the kids were victims in a horrible way. My main character can’t have children, thanks to a brutal event in her past, but there are. . .twists coming in book two. I agree with 3 no 7, it’s tough to have kids in a story in a meaningful way. There are a couple of series that I just couldn’t stick with because the writer was trying so hard to have a parent have this cool hidden life, but it just didn’t quite work. I will say I love Ellery Adams Book Retreat Series. She has great kid characters in that one!

    Did someone say eye candy?!?


  12. 3 no 7, I have to think about my main character’s dog all the time. “What is Rizzo doing now?” I constantly ask myself that because I don’t want the dog to become unrealistic – although because he’s a cop, he does have a very understanding neighbor who can step in when the job gets wacky. 🙂


  13. When I became a parent (less than 2 years ago), I too could no longer read or watch anything with violence toward children.

    I’m currently listening to M.K. Graff’s Nora Tierney mysteries. Nora, her amateur sleuth is pregnant in the first 2 books (I’m am about 1/2 way through the second.) I love the way Nora’s pregnancy impacts her investigation! And I too write YA. Getting inside the mind of a child to solve a mystery IS a whole different ball game!

    And as I type this, I am watching my toddler NOT nap on the monitor! I guess I won’t be getting much writing done today 😉


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