This week: The Meddling Kids Are UselessEdited by: Jayne
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Scooby-Doo and the gang can meddle all they want, since it’s kind of their thing. But “The Meddling Kids Are Useless” is a bona fide trope, because outside of the Scoobyverse, The Meddling Kids don't play out well.
Some tropes are so beloved by fans, they become synonymous with a particular writer or sub-genre. This can be a problem for authors. If you aren’t careful, you’ll be called a ‘copycat’ or ‘rip-off’. Worse, you could end up labeled a ‘Scooby-Doo story’ in a derogatory way, indicating your work is predictable, juvenile, and amateurish.
Why is that? What’s with the love/hate relationship with The Meddling Kids?
It’s a good thing newsletters don’t have a dislike button, because I know a bunch of readers would smash that thumbs down button until their keyboard broke. I promise I’m not attacking Scooby-Doo. In fact, for an adult woman, I own more Scooby movies/box sets than is likely considered reasonable.
I picked Scoobs because The Meddling Kids is one of the most recognizable tropes out there. Even if you’re not familiar with it, the concept is basic enough: a bunch of kids (and their dog) solve mysteries, and once caught, the villain says, “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” Except for Zombie Island. That one still freaks me out.
Again, The Meddling Kids works for Scooby-Doo because it’s the audience expectation for this series. It’s part of the fun of the game. Why doesn’t it always work somewhere else?
First, there’s the “technical” age-range for the series. Aside from the cartoon version, there are books for beginner readers to young readers, including chapter books. This trope works great for these reading levels. (There’s also a graphic novel series for older teens and adults, but it strays into different territory.)
More importantly, Scooby’s Meddling Kids solve their mysteries. Well, technically, Velma solves mysteries. But even in within the franchise, the other characters developed stronger roles as time went on (so much so, that in the big-screen movies, they self-referenced the ridiculousness of Velma being the solver-of-all-the-things). There’s a payoff to the formula, and the characters are driving the story.
That’s where it usually goes wrong with Meddling Kids: the characters aren’t in the driver’s seat.
With The Meddling Kids Are Useless, the characters get into many adventures, mishaps, and troubles, but ultimately have no impact on the mystery being solved. It’s not limited to child sleuths (it’s not even limited to the mystery genre). Any main character whose actions have no effect on the outcome may fall into this trope. Often, they run in parallel to the real investigation, and they frequently end up needing to be rescued.
The point is, the resolution would have happened with or without them. Sometimes they’re in the way, occasionally they’re an unintentional hinderance, and at worst, they come across as poorly written.
Handled well, this isn’t a problem, because the point is to watch their antics. Does it really matter who solves the crime if the journey was a ton of fun? No, but it matters if the crime gets solved while a bunch of bumbling fools sit around having things done to them, instead of doing things. The characters must stay active, even if they’re reacting. And if they’re solving a mystery, they’d better be proactive.
So, how to stay on the right side of being “Scooby-Doo’d”?
For one, keep the capers realistic to the age group you’re writing for. This is especially true if you’re trying to write YA. It’s much easier to scale up action to fit an adult world than it is to find the sweet spot for the YA crowd.
Second, ensure you’ve nailed the point of your plot. Figure out if your characters aren’t going to directly impact the outcome. If that’s the case, make sure the journey is worth someone else getting the glory.
If your readers are so immersed in the goings-on they don’t notice your main character(s) had zero effect on the solution, you handled those meddling kids with style.
After all, you don’t want to be the author who would have gotten away with a great novel if it weren’t for those meddling kids!
You didn’t really think I was going to pass up the opportunity to work that in somewhere, did you?
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