Party of Five

Party of Five

Lately I've realized that there are many, many questions about writing I'm not very good at answering. Most often I have no clue where my characters or plotlines spring from. When a character pops up (from who knows where!) I pretty much just try to follow along with the story they seem to be attached to as best I can.

I'm sure there are writers out there who are much more tuned in to their process, but to me the whole thing feels a little like being Allison Dubois, only the situations and people I happen to pick up on are fictional.

However, there is one writing question that I have a definitive answer for and that's something my editor asked the first time we spoke on the phone: What made you want to write YA?

When I discovered I wanted to write books about teenagers I hadn't, in fact, read any young adult novels in over a decade. It was watching The Salingers, five orphaned young people ranging in age from infancy to early twenties, try to deal with all the crap life had to throw at them in the TV show Party of Five that convinced me that I wanted to write about young people.

Together The Salingers and their friends face Bailey's alcoholism, Charlie's cancer, the domestic violence committed against Julia, unplanned pregnancy, sexual assault, mental health issues and more. These are serious problems—ones their parents would've clearly found difficult to deal with but Charlie, Bailey, Julia and Claudia (Owen's too young during the course of the series to take any responsibility) must struggle with them without the benefit of experience. They're intelligent and sensitive people but without the life skills that years of living add.

Watching Party of Five I realized that's exactly what I wanted to write about—young people going through things that would be a challenge for anyone (whether that's family problems, addiction, career decisions, death, romantic relationship stuff etc.) but even more so for them because of their youth. I don't mean just the obviously heavy issues either. Something like being forced to move across the country away from your old network of friends and then having to take a science class with a bully of a science teacher (when you're not scientifically inclined in the first place!) while the guy/girl you can't stop thinking about steadily ignores you, can be a challenge. As a young person you usually have little control over where you live, your surroundings, the rules imposed upon you (sometimes lack of rules and guidance can be a problem too) and your circumstances in general. While you may be able to avoid science class later in life if you've discovered physics isn't your cup of tea, that's often not an option when you're sixteen. And dealing with your tyrannical teacher or unrequited crush may be a little easier if you've worked through a similar experience in the past.

I wanted to embed Bailey's intervention scene from season three here for people who may not have seen Party of Five. Lacey Chabert gives such a powerful performance as twelve year old Claudia in that scene (one of my favourite Party of Five moments), as she pleads with her brother to get help for his drinking. But it's no longer available on YouTube so I had to settle for a snippet of dialogue instead. The dialogue itself does a great job of showing what a wonderful, emotionally complex show Party of Five is:
Claudia: [sobbing] No, no, no, no! I can't take this, Bailey. I mean, you can't do this anymore.
Bailey: Claudia--
Bailey: No, Bailey, I mean it, that's it. That's it. I mean, if you don't...if you don't go and get help, then I don't want to see you. You can't come over here, and you can't see me, and you can't see Owen, and I'm not gonna come see you, and I'm not gonna call you, and...I'm not even gonna think about you.
Charlie: Claudia--
Claudia: No! [to Bailey, crying] I love you. More than anyone else. I love you the best. You know that. This is the only thing I have that I can take away from you. To make you stop. Either you get help right now, or get out of here.

[long pause, then Bailey exits the room without a word]

Intervention, Party of Five
And here's an earlier scene which shows Bailey's siblings and his girlfriend, Sarah, setting up the intervention:

It's interesting to note that Party of Five's ratings were very low its first season but Fox executives had faith in the show and kept it on the air anyway. The ratings picked up in subsequent seasons and PO5 ran for six seasons in total.

After being inspired by Party of Five I went on to read tons of young adult books and write several of my own. I hope I would've found my way to YA fiction eventually anyway, because it's impossible to imagine loving any other type of fiction in quite the same way, but if there's one thing that turned my attention to writing for and about young people, it's undeniably watching Charlie, Bailey, Julia, Claudia and their friends try to meet life's challenges with only each other to lean on.

The Salingers hang out at their late parents' restaurant in Party of Five
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