Wonder-Baby Syndrome - Or, How To Make Your Audience Hate Your Character's Crotchfruit

I took stock of commonly-disliked canon progeny and tried to work out what they had in common. After reviewing various disliked offspring, I've noticed that they tend to exhibit the following three traits:

  1. The offspring has powers or abilities rivaling or exceeding those of one or both parents.
  2. The offspring uses those powers or abilities to advance the plot without the parents having to raise their offspring through a normal childhood first. (Rapid growth, time-travel shenanigans, or being a super-powered baby are examples of how this can work.)
  3. The offspring becomes the main source of conflict and/or plays a crucial role in solving the conflict in the plot or plot arc.

A few examples:

In Breaking Dawn, Renesmee has amazing vampire powers, she's uncannily smart (adult-level awareness from the moment of birth, in fact), she grows rapidly so she can become an active player in the drama, and the entire conflict of Breaking Dawn is centered on her.

Chibi-Usa from Sailor Moon isn't as reviled as Renesmee, but she's still a controversial character, and she exhibits all of these traits. She travels back in time so her (future) parents get to reap the benefits of Sailor Moon 2.0 without having to raise her to teenhood first, and the conflict of two story arcs are centered on her. Her status as a Wonder-Baby is somewhat mitigated due to the fact that she spent an entire plot arc/season without powers, but she still takes a lot of criticism nonetheless.

Then there's River Song from Doctor Who. The character was revealed through a series of ass-pulls to be the child of the Doctor's companions and to have the regenerative powers of a Gallifreyan. A mysterious group whisks her away from her mother at birth to make her into a weapon to kill the Doctor, thus making her the center of conflict and removing the onus of rearing the little tyke from her parents in one fell swoop.

Of course, there are many more reasons why people dislike these characters, but these traits are common to all of them, and I believe they are somewhat telling about the mentality of the writers in certain cases. Sometimes, it's clear that the child is simply wish-fulfillment for the author, who wants to have an exceptional child without waiting 12-18+ years of hardships and tears to get a return on their genetic investment. Sometimes, it seems like the writers are just getting bored with their old characters and are simply using familial ties to legitimize the presence of their new pet character. Sometimes, it seems to be a mix of the two. Either way, characters who exhibit these three traits commonly end up loathed for one reason or another.

Also, check out:

Writing Children Right
Notes & Musings On Writing Cute Characters
Tips To Create Better OC Relatives of Canon Characters
Things Writers Need To Know About Birth & Babies

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