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Calliea
06-14-2014, 07:35 PM
I've noticed in the vast majority of works in the genre I've encountered the characters never have parents.

- sometimes the characters' origins are never mentioned
- a lot of times parents are dead and the story follows orphans
- in some cases parent live in some hole pushed to irrelevancy and people whose life is about milking cows and standing on the doorstep waving

Then I looked at my own work and I've noticed similar tendencies, with one exception only when a parent has a life of their own and a less conventional role in the story.

What are your experiences? How do you like to deal with it? What do you prefer? :)

pannwright
06-14-2014, 08:37 PM
Depends on the character.

I always come to understand their origin, whether it's a part of the story or not. But sometimes it's more necessary than others. Some characters may be very influenced by their parents, others, not so much.

I prefer reading stories with at least some origin/reflection on childhood. In the books I write (YA) the parents are often absent or otherwise not present (gotta have an adventure somehow) but my MCs always reflect on them/their childhood at least a little.

Brightdreamer
06-14-2014, 08:38 PM
It comes down to what the story needs.

The absent-parent bit is a common way to make a given character, especially a YA character, stand on their own, and/or make their circumstances that much more dire. That way, when they succeed (or fail), it's far more significant. Who really wants to read about a boy wizard who runs home to Mommy and Daddy when the Big Bad starts picking on him? Then Mom calls the headmaster, and Dad goes over to deal with Big Bad's parents, and then the boy wizard gets transferred to another boarding school and the matter's all done and dealt with by the grown-ups. That may be how things would go in the "real" world, but it's not much of a story. Now, if Mommy and Daddy are dead, or if Mommy ran off and Daddy's too busy burying himself in work or booze to care whether the boy wizard even goes to school, let alone when he comes home covered in bruises... or Mommy or Daddy don't even believe in magic, and would pitch a fit if they knew Junior could levitate toads, so that's one more thing he can't talk to them about... now, the kid has to figure out how to deal with his own problem. Readers like a character who has to do things for themselves, especially YA readers who already don't have much control over their lives because Mom and Dad take care of everything. (Besides, what kid didn't fantasize about being a hero/heroine and saving the world? And how many of those fantasies involved Mom turning up with the minivan and an Uzi to take out the villain?)

Once in a while, you see parents or relatives becoming involved in a story, often as background support or a complication subplot. Mostly, though, at least in my stories, the characters don't have the luxury of a lot of family members to back them up.

JMHO...

Aggy B.
06-14-2014, 08:52 PM
A fair portion of my characters have parents who are dead or missing or provide rather bad advice. That doesn't mean the parents aren't involved, but it's not as direct.

And the rest of my characters are old enough not to have their parents in their lives all the time. For the ones that are young enough to still be children/teens they have a caretaker of some sort (mother, grandmother, uncle, etc).

However, almost all of my characters have FAMILY that are important to them. Just maybe not a Mom or Dad who is there guiding them all the time. And, a lot of characters tend to die in my books, so having a family that survives intact is a bit rare for me.

Aggy, still not on a par GRRM

Calliea
06-14-2014, 09:13 PM
I actually meant more in the stories about adults - where parents seem to be a complete non-issue, which, in real life, isn't exactly so. In YA, I suppose that's different, as those stories seem to often have a strong root in the parental absence as a trigger to whatever happens in them, no?

I've got to wondering about it, because of a chat I had with mom actually. I've written a draft for a real-world drama/crime story, and in the background of the main character I naturally mentioned that parents were dead. She pointed it out and I realized it's like an instinct to remove them from the picture, even if the story has nothing to do with those dystopian worlds or whatever the way things are in YA is called (apologies, I don't read the genre, so I know mostly from reading topics around here).

It's almost like parents were some kind of an adventure-block, a controlling and limiting force even for adults, or in other cases something completely irrelevant. It's not like that in real life, that's why it made me wonder why it's the case in so many fantasy/sci-fi works and if people like it, agree with it, or prefer to write some badass/independent parents who live their own lives without being bad parents :)

Come to think of it, there is plethora of mentors, teachers, and guide-figures everywhere, but rarely ever I see them being the actual parent of the hero!

Btw, Aggy, this kitten in your avy makes me cry from overcute D:

Brightdreamer
06-14-2014, 10:05 PM
In adult stories, I think it's because people are usually living more independent lives as grown-ups. Family falls under the "dull bits" that gets cut out of the story's drama. Yeah, if Hero Bill's mom is still alive, he probably calls to check up on her once in a while, but if the story's about vampire rats breeding in the city sewers, taking Mom out to Denny's for brunch really doesn't contribute much in the way of tension or interest.

Now, if Hero Bill's mom helped breed the first vampire rats, or if she's a retired researcher with insight into the problem, or if he developed a fear of rats due to his mother's rat fetish as a child and he still needs to deal with it, then she becomes relevant.

noranne
06-14-2014, 10:19 PM
Yeah, I generally neglect the parents of my adult characters. It just doesn't add much to the story for me. This is also probably a reflection of myself, as I live thousands of miles from my parents and speak to them only every couple months. (I love them very much, they're just not very involved in my life.)

Polenth
06-14-2014, 10:56 PM
In longer work, my adult characters tend to have parents. Obviously, as a character ages the chances of one or both parents being dead is higher. But as a lot of characters are reasonably young, it's more likely they have parents (and grandparents) than not.

I don't see it devalues a character's actions if they have someone to go to for advice. Nor do I see it as boring. The time spent on relationships needs to be balanced with the plot, but we don't tell people to never include a romance or friendship because they might overdo it and it'll get boring. So why the issue with parent-child relationships?

Jo Zebedee
06-14-2014, 11:00 PM
My main character's mother is the antagonist so she's very central. His dad is dead but carries the first 10,000 word narrative. Most of my other mcs have parents who are dead but! When the second generation come along (think North/South in space :D) their parents are the first generation characters and those familial connections are central to the story.

In terms of sci fi there are loads I can think of where parents are alive and important:

Dune
Vorkosigan saga
Ender's Game
Flowers for Algernon
Technically Star Wars (okay, the mask's an issue, and the Dark Side but, still....)

Reziac
06-14-2014, 11:19 PM
I realized it's like an instinct to remove them from the picture

That's an interesting observation. Indeed, look at the numbers of orphans in SF/F, and often enough elsewhere.

So I got to inventorying family members in my Epic, and I probably have about half and half, parents alive and in the picture, or deceased. Or in one case, the presumed orphan's parents are still alive, tho we've only seen enough to notice of one of 'em (so far). And pretty much if the parents are alive, they do interact (maybe not with their offspring, but with someone), and not necessarily to the good (one of my driving factors being a longstanding father-son feud).

Roxxsmom
06-14-2014, 11:33 PM
I've noticed in the vast majority of works in the genre I've encountered the characters never have parents.

- sometimes the characters' origins are never mentioned
- a lot of times parents are dead and the story follows orphans
- in some cases parent live in some hole pushed to irrelevancy and people whose life is about milking cows and standing on the doorstep waving

Then I looked at my own work and I've noticed similar tendencies, with one exception only when a parent has a life of their own and a less conventional role in the story.

What are your experiences? How do you like to deal with it? What do you prefer? :)

I suppose for standard-issue YA adventure stories, having the protagonist be an orphan (or to be separated from parents or the product of very dysfunctional parents, at least) makes a certain amount of sense. Kids who live with their loving and conscientious parents rarely have adventures. There were the little House books, which focused on the life of the entire family from Laura's perspective, but those were (at least initially) aimed at younger kids. Ma and Pa faded into the background more as she got older.

YA and MG novels set in the real world often have relationships with parents (whether functional or not) as an important issue, however.

Novels in historic or speculative settings often feature people who live away from their family, even if that isn't the routine norm in their society. And of course, in pre-industrial societies, it's more likely for people to have lost one or both parent. Both my grandparents on my mom's side were orphaned, for instance. My grandma was raised by her own grandmother and her older siblings, and my grandfather (who died before I was born) was raised by an uncle who beat him, so he ran away in his teens. So those cliches are sometimes true.

Stories set in the contemporary world aimed at adults often have parents fading into the background because that's often what happens in so-called "mainstream, upper middle class life." You move away from home and only see your parents when you go back for a visit. Those visits may or may not be the focus of a story or plot, but if they're not, they probably fade into the stuff that's either summarized briefly or not mentioned at all.

In my own fantasy novel I'm currently writing, I really want there to be a scene where my female protagonist takes my male protagonist home to meet her mom. It's a lovely (and sometimes comical) couple chapters that adds to her characterization and his. It needs to happen near the beginning of the book, before the "real" plot gets rolling and things get darker. I've tried to squeeze something into that trip that will be relevant later in the story, but I may have to cut it, as it slows the beginning of the story and delays the appearance of the "real" plot catalyst.

NRoach
06-15-2014, 12:45 AM
In my last fantasy work, the main character was a 240 year old vampire who'd seen neither hide nor hair of his parents since he was about 20.

They just weren't relevant. Well, they were mentioned in the sequel I half wrote, but barely so.

Reziac
06-15-2014, 12:50 AM
In my last fantasy work, the main character was a 240 year old vampire who'd seen neither hide nor hair of his parents since he was about 20.

They just weren't relevant. Well, they were mentioned in the sequel I half wrote, but barely so.

Besides, he wouldn't be seeing 'em in the past 200 years unless they too are some sort of undead!!

Reziac
06-15-2014, 12:54 AM
In my own fantasy novel I'm currently writing, I really want there to be a scene where my female protagonist takes my male protagonist home to meet her mom. It's a lovely (and sometimes comical) couple chapters that adds to her characterization and his. It needs to happen near the beginning of the book, before the "real" plot gets rolling and things get darker. I've tried to squeeze something into that trip that will be relevant later in the story, but I may have to cut it, as it slows the beginning of the story and delays the appearance of the "real" plot catalyst.

That would indeed be a good place for foreshadowing... so let some little thing go wrong that in retrospect we'll realise was an Uh-Oh moment. Maybe it happens to someone else and they observe it, or observe its initiator or consequences or history... it need not be direct, in fact probably should not be.

Filigree
06-15-2014, 02:00 AM
I'm aware of the trope, but sometimes it works too well to ignore.

One of my characters is estranged from his parents for religious reasons. One lost his parents early in his life, then his whole planet to a brutal corporate takeover. Another character loves her family deeply, but exiles herself in order to protect them from her enemies. My characters tend to create families of choice.

Quentin Nokov
06-15-2014, 02:01 AM
Interesting, the story that I've been working on the MC is adopted by an unmarried colonel, and the MCs mother "comes back from the dead" by Book 2. I find the whole no parent/orphaned children thing cliche. I'd like to see some child-parent bonding, or where the parents are supportive and help the kids in their quest. Kind of like in Star Wars: Phantom Menace where Anakin's mother allows him to go off to become a Jedi.

I've been trying to lean away from orphans or bad child-parent relations. It's okay if they're mentioned in the background, but aren't overly relevant, but I'd like to see at least ONE parent alive and at least ONE of the parents on good terms with their kid.

Williebee
06-15-2014, 02:07 AM
I was reading something a couple days ago about The Monkees television show. Initially they had an adult "parent" figure to help them through their adventures. But it tested very poorly and they did away with it. So, not a recent preference, maybe.

Reziac
06-15-2014, 02:11 AM
I was reading something a couple days ago about The Monkees television show. Initially they had an adult "parent" figure to help them through their adventures. But it tested very poorly and they did away with it. So, not a recent preference, maybe.

Indeed, were not some of the ancient myths and medieval tales based on the orphan trope? (Surely someone with a better-organized brain can cough up examples!)

NRoach
06-15-2014, 02:48 AM
Besides, he wouldn't be seeing 'em in the past 200 years unless they too are some sort of undead!!

Well, they were all elves. Not immortal elves, but 2-3 centuries being well within reason.

That said, they probably wouldn't have had kid(s) until they were cracking on for 100.

Roxxsmom
06-15-2014, 04:33 AM
That would indeed be a good place for foreshadowing... so let some little thing go wrong that in retrospect we'll realise was an Uh-Oh moment. Maybe it happens to someone else and they observe it, or observe its initiator or consequences or history... it need not be direct, in fact probably should not be.

Well, the problem in my story is that the characters will ultimately be going south to two different countries on two separate diplomatic missions, but her mom lives north. So it's hard to kill two birds with one stones, and I feel like it's a stretch to make something that's relevant to the main plot happening up a remote little corner of the kingdom, and it's also a stretch for their employer (who is the monarch) to give them the time off they'd need for a trip right as all the shit is hitting the fan (well, they don't have fans of that sort in my world, so I can't use that metaphor, but you know what I mean). The main thing is to generate some tension re their relationship, and there are other ways to do that.

But it's just an illustration of how and why those scenes involving the protagonist's parents don't always make an appearance in action adventure novels (where we must ruthlessly snip anything that doesn't advance the story at hand). Maybe I can squeeze it into the third one, as I'll need a convenient reason for my healer character to be out of the big city when the plague hits...


Well, they were all elves. Not immortal elves, but 2-3 centuries being well within reason.

That said, they probably wouldn't have had kid(s) until they were cracking on for 100.

Well duh. It's extremely irresponsible for elves to be taking such a big step when they're only in their 70s. They're just adolescents. Even if all that mass media is making them grow up faster and faster these days...

Lord of Chaos
06-15-2014, 06:17 AM
Ultimately, it comes down to how important the partents are to the story. In Wheel of Time, for instance, Rand's father is incredibly important to him throughout the series and therefore Tam plays a much more significant role than other parents because he's continnually bringing back the humanity in his son.

In Lord of the Rings, however, Frodo's parents really would serve no purpose to the story so there's not any point in having them present.

In my own books I have a variety of parental figures. Two were orphaned, one was abused and disowned, two have devoted parents (if not slightly scary and badass), one has parents who love her but who she's not overly fond of, and one has good parents who she loves greatly. They run the gammut, and the decision to include them is based on their importance to the story. For the first two, their character is strongly influenced by their lack of parents so killing the parents is better for the story and that's what happened.

harmonyisarine
06-15-2014, 08:11 PM
I enjoy stories where parents exist and have a good relationship with the characters. They don't have to be present (it would be a problem, rather often, if they were), but just a few indicators here and there can tell their story. That said, I also read plenty of fantastic stories with orphaned MCs or ones where the parental relationship is not good at all. I just like seeing alive and happy ones because they're not common in fiction, but they're pretty usual in real life.

In my own stories, I'm about half and half. All of mine start as orphans, and then I realize and edit parents in. In my current WIP, the first draft had both (low 30s) MCs without parents. Then I realized how strange that was, and gave one character her parents again. It was a great decision, even if they don't really do much in the story. It just makes the character work better.

In another WIP (currently trunked, but it's my favorite and will hopefully be brought out again some day), all but one character has no parents, and that one thinks his are dead. Considering it's a war-torn world, and they lived in an attacked and razed city, this makes more sense than the alternative.

The rest are just as back and forth, but I do look for reasons why I don't have them. If I can't find a good one, I write them back in.

Reziac
06-15-2014, 08:36 PM
Well, the problem in my story is that the characters will ultimately be going south to two different countries on two separate diplomatic missions, but her mom lives north. So it's hard to kill two birds with one stones, and I feel like it's a stretch to make something that's relevant to the main plot happening up a remote little corner of the kingdom, and it's also a stretch for their employer (who is the monarch) to give them the time off

So don't make it time off. What can go wrong up there that affects their monarch? what might the kingdom need from up there?


...where we must ruthlessly snip anything that doesn't advance the story at hand...

I use the lazy method, of never writing anything that's not needed in the first place! :D In fact, I sometimes don't write parts that are needed... :tongue

KarmaPolice
06-15-2014, 10:19 PM
I've long suspected that the lack of a family is partly writer laziness: no family, no writing required! Secondly, some might feel that it's 'all too much' for a reader to remember more than say four family members, even if some aren't ever seen.

Roxxsmom
06-16-2014, 08:59 AM
I've long suspected that the lack of a family is partly writer laziness: no family, no writing required! Secondly, some might feel that it's 'all too much' for a reader to remember more than say four family members, even if some aren't ever seen.

It can be, but sometimes the lack of a family (or problems in the character's family of origin) is what makes it possible for the protagonist to be the person they need to be for the story in the first place. And think about a standard fantasy story (or SF sometimes) where the protagonist is an unusually adventurous person who may have settled far from home. If you live on a separate planet (or a different city from your family in a pre-industrial society), you can't simply pick up the phone when you're homesick, and visiting home isn't a matter of getting in the car and driving up state to the farm for the weekend.

I think writers have to make these kinds of choices all the time, not out of laziness, but simply in the interest of expediency and pacing. But just because the reader doesn't get to meet the protagonists' families doesn't mean that they don't resonate in the characters' lives in various ways.

Reziac
06-16-2014, 09:32 AM
It can be, but sometimes the lack of a family (or problems in the character's family of origin) is what makes it possible for the protagonist to be the person they need to be for the story in the first place.

Precisely how it worked for my MC.

1) mother presumed dead, father a matter of speculation
2) grew up kinda resistive of whatever anyone wanted of him
3) became a bum
4) 1+2+3 made MC a handy target for Bad Guy's use (unskilled at defense; no one to avenge him)
5) but the resistiveness (new word) that had MC's life going nowhere also let MC endure and survive #4

and so on, and on, and on... Everything builds from #1, and it's all of a piece.

Conversely another character's rebellion against his father (Bad Guy above) led him to become a pillar of the community rather more than dad would have liked. :D

And a great deal of the story derives from the interaction of these two characters, who without their family foibles would have never met.

Smeasking
06-16-2014, 09:41 AM
I actually meant more in the stories about adults - where parents seem to be a complete non-issue, which, in real life, isn't exactly so. In YA, I suppose that's different, as those stories seem to often have a strong root in the parental absence as a trigger to whatever happens in them, no?

That's interesting. Huh. My current WIP is a coming of age story about a twenty-nine year old female MC who lost her parents at nineteen, and one of my other character's motivations are triggered by losing both his parents at age nine. Now that I think about it, another character was given up for adoption, and another lost his parents at a young age also and grew up at an orphanage. Hmm... another of my character's parents died as well. But, that's how they all kind of ended up together as a pseudo family, so to speak. Bizarre. I never really thought about that before.

The 'absence of parents thing' was just how it played out as I wrote it. I didn't really think too much about it.

KarmaPolice
06-16-2014, 10:08 AM
I can understand your points, but the existence of a family doesn't preclude an 'adventurous life' - just look in the personal lives of some of the great explorers from history. And for the argument about pacing, I say 'pah!' An MC with a large family can be dealt with quickly and cleanly; perhaps showing them writing a stack of letters (of both types) to various members before setting off on their 'quest', using something like Facebook to keep track of their goings-on while out in the field or having to spend a couple of hours giving an update on all the relatives before asking the cousin for a big favour.

And talking from personal experience here, people with little/no 'blood' family often take friends as surrogate members; I have a 'brother' who I first met in a home when we were both small kids. Now twenty-odd years later, we're still in regular contact, help each out of major jams and visit each Christmas - even though our lives have moved off in different directions in adulthood.

Once!
06-16-2014, 11:47 AM
I'm tempted to say "depends on the story", but I think there's a little bit more to it than that. I do think the OP has a point here.

Of course, there are lots of stories which feature parents. If we are writing about teens and young adults then it is highly likely that their parents or guardians are going to be part of their life.

But it does seem that characters in fiction tend to be parentless more often than you might expect them to be. They might not be orphans per se, but their parents don't feature in the story much. I'd like to suggest two possible explanations (by no means the only ones) as food for thought.

The first thought is that modern fiction tends to leave out a lot of information that isn't necessary for the plot. If our characters don't need their parents, then their parents don't feature in the novel. They might be alive, they might not, we just don't get to see them. It's a but like your characters going to the toilet or brushing their teeth. It tends to happen off stage (although not always).

But there's another idea which has been bubbling under my consciousness for some time. Most fiction seems to be about the middle part of our lives. Our heroes face dangers and overcome them. They have romances and either find a life partner or have fun switching between partners. They develop skills and use those skills to achieve things.

It sometimes feels as if the vast majority of literary characters are between the age of 20 and 40. By contrast, we seem to have relatively little fiction dealing with younger people or older people. And, yes yes I know there are exceptions, but we're talking about the generalities here, not the specifics.

And that gets me wondering ... when mankind first started telling each other stories, one of the reasons for doing this was to help teach kids how to survive in a grown-up world without their parents. How to find a partner. How to develop skills. How to survive dangers and defeat enemies.

I do wonder if we still instinctively have those thoughts in our heads as we are writing. Much writing is a celebration and an exploration of what we do as adults in the prime of our lives ... which leaves not much room for parents.

Is there anything in this? I dunno - but it has been bubbling away for a while. It feels good to put it down on the page.

Reziac
06-16-2014, 04:35 PM
And that gets me wondering ... when mankind first started telling each other stories, one of the reasons for doing this was to help teach kids how to survive in a grown-up world without their parents. How to find a partner. How to develop skills. How to survive dangers and defeat enemies.

I do wonder if we still instinctively have those thoughts in our heads as we are writing. Much writing is a celebration and an exploration of what we do as adults in the prime of our lives ... which leaves not much room for parents.

The fact that "the orphan MC" is a really ancient trope (Romulus and Remus leaps to mind, but doubtless there are others before) and that it's never fallen out of fashion in all of literary history does tend to indicate it comes from somewhere inside the human species, not just from inside random creators' heads... nor just as a shortcut for raising conflict in modern characters' lives.

We have an instinct to grope after the unknown, for sure. Put the two together and what do you have? a character who has to explore, struggle with, and overcome the unknown all by himself.

Marian Perera
06-16-2014, 04:45 PM
It can be, but sometimes the lack of a family (or problems in the character's family of origin) is what makes it possible for the protagonist to be the person they need to be for the story in the first place.

Exactly. In the fantasy romance I'm currently working on, the heroine's parents turned her over to a guild which could give her a better life. Or at least that was their reason for getting rid of a child. The guild raised her and groomed her to become a courtesan of sorts. I couldn't tell this story without the parents abandoning her, because she would never have chosen that way of life if she'd been with her family. And she also knows that her family isn't likely to welcome her back (unless she's rich), so she's not going to keep in touch with them.

bearilou
06-16-2014, 05:46 PM
Come to think of it, there is plethora of mentors, teachers, and guide-figures everywhere, but rarely ever I see them being the actual parent of the hero!

What an interesting discussion. I've noticed the same thing as well, which I guess is one of the turnoffs for a book. The moment I get a whiff of the orphan origins, I start side-eyeing the book. I don't dismiss it out of hand but the chances of me putting it down go up quickly. The writing really has to grab me for me to hold on to it.


Kids who live with their loving and conscientious parents rarely have adventures.

I have to wonder if this isn't an artifact slipping in to writing. It enables the 'One' aspects of the main character. Why this person instead of the one who might be mostly well-adjusted and just having an adventure? Would the well-adjusted, loved and loving character even step out the front door or would they be more comfortable staying in their bed?

But I'm delving into territory here that I'm not equipped to discuss because I'm not an YA/MG writer or reader. I'm sure these are issues quite important in those stories. They just don't figure into the stories I tell.


YA and MG novels set in the real world often have relationships with parents (whether functional or not) as an important issue, however.

True. It may be touching on that awkward and sometimes difficult time in an adolescent's life.

I see it in adult fiction as well. hmmm...


I enjoy stories where parents exist and have a good relationship with the characters. They don't have to be present (it would be a problem, rather often, if they were), but just a few indicators here and there can tell their story.

Me too and in thinking about this topic, I've been looking at my WIP and notice that all my adult characters have loving, warm relationships with their parents. They don't seem hampered by it.

Good topic.

Reziac
06-16-2014, 06:56 PM
Would the well-adjusted, loved and loving character even step out the front door or would they be more comfortable staying in their bed?

Or would they simply be less likely to make the mistakes and bad choices and biting off more than they can chew that lead to Adventures?

Whereas a well-adjusted character isn't going to get into these sorts of trouble on his own; it'll take the actions of some maladjusted character or the whims of Mother Nature to put him in trouble. Frex, the well-adjusted sea captain who is ordered to war by his king (and here either his king or the enemy qualifies as the 'maladjusted' one), or is typhooned on his way home from the battle.


Me too and in thinking about this topic, I've been looking at my WIP and notice that all my adult characters have loving, warm relationships with their parents. They don't seem hampered by it.

Which is fine so long as it's natural to 'em, not just saccharine Bobbsey Twins parenting.

KateJJ
06-16-2014, 07:06 PM
A number of my main characters have dead parents for one very good reason: I keep using inheritance, of power or position or land, as a plot device. Hard to have to fight for your inheritance when your dad's still alive.

Very excited about my new project because the main character is a forty year old happily married father whose family is an important part of the story, not just used as leverage.

Marian Perera
06-16-2014, 07:09 PM
Which is fine so long as it's natural to 'em, not just saccharine Bobbsey Twins parenting.

And as long as there's variety.

For every character I have with parents who sold them into servitude of some sort, or who betrayed them in some way, there's another with parents who love(d) them and protect(ed) them, even if they insisted the child take harpsichord lessons.

Reziac
06-16-2014, 07:27 PM
A number of my main characters have dead parents for one very good reason: I keep using inheritance, of power or position or land, as a plot device. Hard to have to fight for your inheritance when your dad's still alive.

That's what patricide is for ;)

bearilou
06-16-2014, 08:17 PM
Which is fine so long as it's natural to 'em, not just saccharine Bobbsey Twins parenting.


And as long as there's variety.

What is making me giggle is that it's assumed there wouldn't be any tension or conflict, just that the parents in my stories don't beat their children senseless and then sell them into servitude, therefore BORING!

It's either the parents are complete monsters (and therefore an interesting conflict basis) or complete angels (and therefore boring because no conflict EVER!).

I have a very good relationship with my mother. It's a kind, loving, caring, compassionate one. That doesn't mean there's not some real snort-ripping disagreements, sometimes.

Marian Perera
06-16-2014, 08:30 PM
I actually don't have any child-beating in my novels*. I got pretty burned out by that in other books I've read. Besides, emotional abuse can be so much more creative and easily hidden.

But even that doesn't happen all the time. Basically, I like some parents to be present and loving, and some to be absent and/or unloving. It's the mix I find most interesting, rather than all parents being one or another.

*With one exception I just remembered, and even that is mentioned once as backstory and then passed over, rather than being a motivation for anything.

Myrealana
06-16-2014, 08:41 PM
Getting the parents out of the way is a useful device in fiction.

Fiction, by definition, is not reality. Yes, in the real world, people with normal, relatively stable parental relationships grow up and do amazing things sometimes, but often you have to take a few shortcuts in fiction in order to build tension and keep the reader engaged. Besides, it does save time in building up characters that may not have an impact on the plot. Call it lazy if you want. I call it efficient.

What is it Leo Tolstoy said? "All happy families are the same. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Reziac
06-16-2014, 09:04 PM
I actually don't have any child-beating in my novels*. I got pretty burned out by that in other books I've read. Besides, emotional abuse can be so much more creative and easily hidden.
<moved>
*With one exception I just remembered, and even that is mentioned once as backstory and then passed over, rather than being a motivation for anything.

I have something similar... one incident off-camera where the guy who raised MC caught him at something suicidally stupid and whalloped him but good, which probably kept MC alive all thse years cuz he was cured of doing it forever. Mentioned in passing later on, during a lightbulb moment when why it was suicidal comes to the fore.


But even that doesn't happen all the time. Basically, I like some parents to be present and loving, and some to be absent and/or unloving. It's the mix I find most interesting, rather than all parents being one or another.

Yeah, and as bearilou says, even then it shouldn't be all one way or the other. The most loving parent can lose it with the kid; the most abusive parent can have tender moments. It just has to follow from what you've got, rather than falling from the sky without antecedent.

emax100
06-16-2014, 10:58 PM
I have always found it bothersome when Fantasy, as well as Sci Fi and YA/Teen novels, feature a total absence of two parent homes as a staple and not as an atypical occurrence. I mean, if you want a novel centered around realism then I could see the need to feature homes where kids have one or no parent, since that is tragically becoming all too common nowadays, but I have a major problem with stories that treat it as an alternative lifestyle.

I think there is a major problem with kids growing up in fatherless homes and their tendencies towards violence, emulating the wrong kind of male role models and developing severe frustrations and rage they take out on their communities in the worst kinds of ways. Many, if not most, of these mass shooters we read about were from fatherless homes and/or homes where their dads did not play a central role in their lives, a fact that is often glanced over in the endless attempts to analyze them. I think there should be more stories where kids have positive mother figures and father figures and it should be presented as an explicitly superior situation to that where kids do not have them.

Marian Perera
06-16-2014, 11:21 PM
I think there should be more stories where kids have positive mother figures and father figures and it should be presented as an explicitly superior situation to that where kids do not have them.

What does the last part mean, exactly? That if there's a main character who doesn't have a great mom and dad, and a main character who does have them, Character A should say how he wishes he could have grown up in a loving two-parent home like Character B did?

I'm not comfortable with my stories becoming message-fiction with regard to positive parenting. Or with regard to anything, really.

emax100
06-16-2014, 11:29 PM
What does the last part mean, exactly? That if there's a main character who doesn't have a great mom and dad, and a main character who does have them, Character A should say how he wishes he could have grown up in a loving two-parent home like Character B did?

I'm not comfortable with my stories becoming message-fiction with regard to positive parenting. Or with regard to anything, really.
No, it does not necessarily have to be phrased like that. But I would prefer that stories could show how having positive mother and father figures can be very important in the proper development of kids growing up. Again, it does not have to be explicit with regards to kids saying how they wish they had it. And I get what you are saying about not having stories becoming message fiction. But I think capable writers should be able to explore the inherent positives of having a genuinely good mother and father figure without it being message fiction or having an overly preachy and/over public service announcement type feel, which I definitely agree one should strictly avoid. I guess some realism about growing up in an environment with ideal mother and father figures vs growing up without them would be nice in my personal opinion.

AJMarks
06-16-2014, 11:32 PM
Ultimately, it comes down to how important the partents are to the story. In Wheel of Time, for instance, Rand's father is incredibly important to him throughout the series and therefore Tam plays a much more significant role than other parents because he's continnually bringing back the humanity in his son.

Bingo, how relevant to the story are the parents. I think we'll find many times, they are not relevant.

Marian Perera
06-16-2014, 11:39 PM
No, it does not necessarily have to be phrased like that. But I would prefer that stories could show how having positive mother and father figures can be very important in the proper development of kids growing up.

You can certainly prefer this, and I'm sure many of us have issues that we might like to see addressed in fiction (one of mine is shark finning).

But if a writer wants to make such a point, I believe the story is better if the writer does it subtly and if it arises as a natural part of the story, rather than because the writer feels a need to shoehorn a message in. Which was the impression I got from "it should be presented as an explicitly superior situation". Thanks for clarifying your position on this.


But I think capable writers should be able to explore the inherent positives of having a genuinely good mother and father figure without it being message fiction or having an overly preachy and/over public service announcement type feel, which I definitely agree one should strictly avoid. We can agree on that, then. :)

jaksen
06-16-2014, 11:42 PM
I've long suspected that the lack of a family is partly writer laziness: no family, no writing required! Secondly, some might feel that it's 'all too much' for a reader to remember more than say four family members, even if some aren't ever seen.

It's not laziness; it's a tried and true trope in many types of literature:

Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's parents, where are they? She's being raised by Auntie Em.

Gone with the Wind, Scarlet's mother dies early on

To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout's mother is dead

The Narnia series, the children are sent to live with an uncle

I know Charles Dickens did more than few where the MC is lacking parents, or has surrogate parents of some kind.

The Lemony Snicket books

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

The Orphan Train books

Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Harry Potter series, Heidi

I'm getting tired. But to say any of these writers were lazy? I should be so lazy.

Reziac
06-16-2014, 11:51 PM
I think there should be more stories where kids have positive mother figures and father figures and it should be presented as an explicitly superior situation to that where kids do not have them.

I think it's fine to have such stories. But what about societies that don't do the mom-dad-and-2.4-children thing?

Frex, in my Epic, while my nonhumans have Mom and Dad, the family 'unit' is really muddy. It's likely to include various relations (uncle, aunt, shirttail-cousin, grandparent, bastard half-sib, ...), but it's almost never just 1+1=2.4. Fostering is common. Orphans are likely to be raised by a servant or serf who considers themselves part of the same social unit. They generally consider this broad family thing important, but they'd look at you funny for suggesting 1+1+2.4 was setup was superior.

And I have a rant about how the 1+1=2.4 thing is not only a modern anomaly, but also has done us no good.

Marian Perera
06-16-2014, 11:54 PM
It's not laziness; it's a tried and true trope in many types of literature:

I'm getting tired. But to say any of these writers were lazy? I should be so lazy.

Just for the heck of it, I went through some of the books on my keeper shelves.

Romance : Two Betina Krahns where the heroine is in a convent. No parents. Three Pamela Morsis where the heroine is either an orphan or has only one parent. Mary Balogh novels : ditto. Lorraine Heath : same.

I do have an Anne Stuart novel where the heroine has two loving parents, but of the entire lot, this is a heroine who irritates the hell out of me, so I'm certainly not getting the impression that being raised by two loving parents equals a character I admire.

Fantasy and SF : Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight - yeah, Lessa's an orphan. Vonda N. McIntyre's Dreamsnake - does Snake even know who her parents are? F. M. Busby's Demu Trilogy : no mention of parents for the MCs. Harry Harrison's Deathworld trilogy : ditto. Frodo lives with his uncle. Unholy Magic - um, no. The Golden Compass - hell, no.

Oh, wait. I found one - Ender's Game. Yeah, the MC has two loving parents. Except in the sequel, Novinha is orphaned as a child and her own children have an abusive father. Kushiel's Dart - don't Phedre's parents give her up or something? In Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane, Jenny's children do have two good parents - but Jenny doesn't live with them, out of choice. And don't get me started on the parents in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books.

So yeah. It definitely seems like a tried and true trope. :)

Roxxsmom
06-17-2014, 12:53 AM
I think there is a major problem with kids growing up in fatherless homes and their tendencies towards violence, emulating the wrong kind of male role models and developing severe frustrations and rage they take out on their communities in the worst kinds of ways. Many, if not most, of these mass shooters we read about were from fatherless homes and/or homes where their dads did not play a central role in their lives, a fact that is often glanced over in the endless attempts to analyze them. I think there should be more stories where kids have positive mother figures and father figures and it should be presented as an explicitly superior situation to that where kids do not have them.

Are there statistics to support the notion that a higher percentage of mass shooters have absent fathers/father figures than the law-abiding population as a whole? And how do they compare to kids who have both parents but where the relationship with one or both is disordered? How about parents who are present but clueless (weren't the parents of one of the Columbine shooters like this)? What about Kip Kinkle's family? By all accounts they were loving and supportive, yet he started his rampage by murdering his father.

I suspect that kids where one impoverished parent (male or female) is struggling to raise her/his kids with no help or emotional support from anyone else would have more problems, certainly. It's hard to imagine how they couldn't. But I can't think of any fiction off the top of my head that portrays this situation as consequence free.

I'm not sure what you mean by saying that fiction should show the opposite-sex parent situation as idealized. That would come off as a sociopolitical statement on behalf of the traditional values crowd to me. If that's the intended audience of the book, so be it, but presenting one of many possible variants of human behavior as "best" seems irresponsible, especially given the lack of hard data to back that viewpoint up. Plus, the traditional nuclear family might not be practical in the social circumstances that have evolved in a given fantasy or SF context.

Actually, fantasy and SF would seem like a very logical genre to show different approaches to families. I can think of a couple of examples off the top of my head.

Anne McCaffrey's Pern seemed to practice a lot of fostering of children, but it didn't seem to dwell on the effects this might have on kids except to show that many characters were more attached to their foster parents than to their biological ones. But then, it was just the accepted norm in that society, so no one really questioned it or compared it to other possible arrangements.

CJ Cherryh had some interesting family dynamics in her Cyteen books (where in the ruling families nearly every child was carefully planned and produced via birth tanks, and an entire class of people were produced to be genetically engineered laborers). She also had some interesting family dynamics re her Merchanter culture where families lived on ships, so children tended to be raised by their moms and her male relatives. I don't think she portrayed these arrangements as superior to our own norms (and her Union cultures attitude towards their Azi was darned creepy). They were simply natural consequences of humanity's new circumstances.

I also think that the desire to drum up the virtues of two-biological-parent-opposite-sex families could be taken as a stab at same-sex couples, adoptive families, step parents, extended non-nuclear families, people who are not on the gender binary, or at parents who for one reason or another are raising kids on their own through necessity or choice. People are creative, and there are lots of ways of assuring that kids are loved and have access to a variety of positive role models of both genders.

emax100
06-17-2014, 01:08 AM
Are there statistics to support the notion that a higher percentage of mass shooters have absent fathers/father figures than the law-abiding population as a whole. I can certainly think of some of the recent mass killers who had fathers.

I suspect that kids where one impoverished parent (male or female) is struggling to raise her/his kids with no help or emotional support from anyone else would have more problems. But I can't think of any fiction off the top of my head that portrays this situation faced by most single parents as a conscious lifestyle choice embraced by the person in question or that doesn't consider the effects it might have on the child.

Actually, fantasy and SF would seem like a very logical genre to show different approaches to families, but over all, it's a bit light on showing non-traditional family units, even ones that exist in the real world (and which have been shown by researchers to have similar outcomes to traditional two-parent, opposite sex families). Things like communal child raising, same-sex couples, polyamorous families, etc.

Anne McCaffrey's Pern seemed to practice a lot of fostering of children, but it didn't seem to dwell on the effects this might have on kids. But then, it was just the accepted norm in that society, so no one really questioned it or compared it to other possible arrangements.
I am not sure of the statistics on mass shooters that come from single parent vs two parent homes. Many mass shooters though, even if they had a father, had one who did not take anywhere near the active role a father should, and that is on top of those who were in single parent homes. As far as single parent homes and crime goes, however, it is difficult to to analyze the relationship between single parent homes and crime rates but when such analysis is done, the relationship between them is shown to be quite strong. And no, that is NOT an insult towards single mothers who are doing the absolute best they can under circumstances that were frequently forced on them; if anything, it is primarily an issue with fathers who failed to live up the commitment they made in raising and bringing up the children they helped create.

I am glad that fantasy and sci fi by and large does address the issues of homes without mother and father figures. Perhaps the issue is if this genre delves into it deep enough, and if it can delve deep enough without it being a preachy PSA [this is also perhaps more of a pressing issue in other genres though of course that belongs in other AW forums].

Reziac
06-17-2014, 02:28 AM
I am not sure of the statistics on mass shooters that come from single parent vs two parent homes.

Mass killings (not all of which are shootings) are actually loud, messy suicides: "On my way out, I'll show you how much you hurt me, and I'll hurt you back just as much." The only person (far as interviews, news, etc. that I saw) who GOT that, back during Columbine, was a Canadian priest who worked with troubled teens. And possibly Marilyn Manson.

[Side rant: I swear there's a Stupid Gene that turns on when people have children, that makes them forget how much it sucks to be a kid.]

If you consider these events AS suicides (not as "terrorism" or "massacres") in light of that "I'll show you" thought most unhappy kids have at some point, much is explained. Whether the suicide stemmed from family structure is a different kettle of worms; some wholly-present pairs of parents have raised very unhappy children. (Harris and Klebold were both from intact families, tho Harris' father was a transport pilot and often absent. See below.)

There was a study a couple decades ago, specifically of male children of professional baseball players, who are on the road close to half the year -- it was noted that their sons had an unusually high incidence of acting-out behavior, even in otherwise-happy homes. The only common factor, per the study, was the often-absent father. I vaguely recall that they did compare boys of similar age who had an often-absent mother, and found no correlation. -- It boils down to this: human boys, starting around age 9, need a male role-model in the household. Those who lack it become prone to act out. [Very likely any routinely-present male role model would fill the bill, provided they treated the boy like their own son... sometimes an issue with remarriages.][ETA: the study also found that girls were not affected.]

There have been numerous studies of older teens -- what causes them to go wrong? Over and over, no solid correlation could be found with socioeconomic status, family structure, education level, where they lived, culture, ancestry, etc, etc. Then finally about 10 years ago someone thought to study older-teen behavior vs their peers -- and bingo, that correlated very well: If your older teens hang out with thugs, that is THE risk factor for them turning into thugs. Their everyday buddies are the single best predictive factor for how they'll turn out... and this is completely cross-cultural.

At any rate, there's some stuff for y'all to plug into your fictional families, with or without parents.

Nonhumans' mileage may vary. ;)

Roxxsmom
06-17-2014, 02:37 AM
I am not sure of the statistics on mass shooters that come from single parent vs two parent homes. Many mass shooters though, even if they had a father, had one who did not take anywhere near the active role a father should, and that is on top of those who were in single parent homes.

Well, now you're qualifying things further and making it even harder for researchers to collect meaningful statistics. And an absent or distant father (or mother) can also be a symptom of problems in family dynamics, rather than the primary cause of them. How do you ferret out issues related to parents who don't really love one another, who didn't really want to become parents at all, or where substance abuse or child/spousal abuse led to the absence of one parent, for instance?

And who sets the bar for the level of involvement a father "should" have? We have heightened expectations for paternal involvement nowadays, as well as more flexible gender roles, thanks to the women's movement (and I'm definitely not saying this is a bad thing). Many more of my male peers (I'm 50) are active, involved dads than when I was a kid in the 70s. I even know some stay-at-home dads. Back in the 1950s, it's my understanding that fathers who were fairly distant and let the moms do most of the day to day child rearing were considered normal.

And of course, even today, the overwhelming majority of people raised by only one parent (there are single dads out there too, you know) don't become criminals, let alone mass shooters.

Also, I'd be curious how many of these killers were raised in families that were non traditional in other ways. Say they had two moms or two dads, or they had a strong male figure, but he wasn't their dad. If we saw a disproportionate amount of criminality/violence on the part of people who were raised by two moms, that would be consistent with the hypothesis that the absence of a dad leads to dysfunctional behavior. I'm not aware of such statistics existing, however.


As far as single parent homes and crime goes, however, it is difficult to to analyze the relationship between single parent homes and crime rates but when such analysis is done, the relationship between them is shown to be quite strong.

Again, I think there are obvious reasons why a single parent would be overwhelmed by parenting if they lack support from the child's father or from other relatives. And a latch-key kid, or one who receives little attention or guidance from reliable adults is obviously more likely to end up with attachment issues or to get into trouble with the law. But your statement implied you weren't just talking about isolated single parents. What about single parents who have relatives or friends who can provide a stable support network for them and their children? What about same-sex couples? What about polyamorous families, or matrilineal families where the children's uncles are a child's stable male role models?

I was arguing that SF and fantasy are uniquely suited to explore other family arrangements that could exist (and indeed have existed) in different cultures or even novel ones that might evolve and become normalized in new circumstances. These arrangements could have plusses and minuses, but that goes for the "traditional" two-parent nuclear family too. The orphan trope (or dysfunctional family of origin tope) is common for all kinds of reasons, but I think it's cool when writers consider other ways family can be portrayed and influence people.

bearilou
06-17-2014, 06:24 AM
So yeah. It definitely seems like a tried and true trope. :)

Perhaps. I'd just like to see something other than the tried and true.

Aggy B.
06-17-2014, 06:45 AM
I'm still thinking that not every story needs parents.

Considering the stories I've written, some just don't need parents. (The magic-powered zombie soldier novel, for instance. He's in the military on the opposite side of the world from where he was born. Parents aren't necessary to his story arc.) Some have missing or absent parents. (Both the Steampunk Novel and "In the Cool of the Day" have parents who are somewhat absent. Though Miriam lives with her grandmother.) At least one has dead parents. (Thingbreaker has a concentration camp theme and both of Aisling's parents were murdered during their detainment.) And one with a dead father but very present and active mother. (Miranda Shade. Her mother is a supporting character in every sense of the word, though they clash over certain things because what 16 girl doesn't fight with her mother sometimes.)

So. Yeah, there's a trope, but just from personal writing experience, I'd say sometimes it's just what is best for the story. And sometimes it's not.

Like every other story element, there's an aspect of how it's told that will make it fresh. And also personal experience to the subject matter. (Ever since my mother died, I find myself considering the things we inherit from our parents. Both good and bad, tangible and intangible.) So, my story with a character with dead parents won't be your story with a character with dead parents.

Albedo
06-17-2014, 07:17 AM
I have always found it bothersome when Fantasy, as well as Sci Fi and YA/Teen novels, feature a total absence of two parent homes as a staple and not as an atypical occurrence. I mean, if you want a novel centered around realism then I could see the need to feature homes where kids have one or no parent, since that is tragically becoming all too common nowadays, but I have a major problem with stories that treat it as an alternative lifestyle.

I think there is a major problem with kids growing up in fatherless homes and their tendencies towards violence, emulating the wrong kind of male role models and developing severe frustrations and rage they take out on their communities in the worst kinds of ways. Many, if not most, of these mass shooters we read about were from fatherless homes and/or homes where their dads did not play a central role in their lives, a fact that is often glanced over in the endless attempts to analyze them. I think there should be more stories where kids have positive mother figures and father figures and it should be presented as an explicitly superior situation to that where kids do not have them.
I always knew I was a problem, thanks, due to me tragic upbringing. Somehow I managed to avoid the Becoming a Mass Shooter stage, when going from child of a single mother to, you know, functional adult, home-owner, qualified professional and all. But there's still time. I wouldn't let me near any guns if I were you.


I am not sure of the statistics on mass shooters that come from single parent vs two parent homes.
Didn't stop you from insinuating we're more likely to become mass shooters. Huh.

As far as single parent homes and crime goes, however, it is difficult to to analyze the relationship between single parent homes and crime rates but when such analysis is done, the relationship between them is shown to be quite strong.Gee, did you consider the generally bad socioeconomic position single parents find themselves in, and the general correlation between poverty and crime?

And no, that is NOT an insult towards single mothers who are doing the absolute best they can under circumstances that were frequently forced on them; if anything, it is primarily an issue with fathers who failed to live up the commitment they made in raising and bringing up the children they helped create.It's also an insult towards those of us who came from single parent homes and didn't become criminals and mass shooters. I'm sure that's not what you meant, but it's unavoidable, IMO, if you want to describe a large part of your fellow humanity as coming from a tragic alternative lifestyle. Maybe you want to reword your posts.


Now I feel obligated to undermine the nuclear family at any turn. Thanks, guys. Not because I think a two parent household is a tragic occurence, but because if the family-values crowd ever latched on to my work as a Positive Affirmation of the Nuclear Family I think I'd go on a mass shooting rampage.

bearilou
06-17-2014, 04:30 PM
I'm still thinking that not every story needs parents.

I'm certainly not saying they do.

I'm saying that not every story needs some tragic backstory that stems from crappy or absent or abusive parents either.


So. Yeah, there's a trope, but just from personal writing experience, I'd say sometimes it's just what is best for the story. And sometimes it's not.

Absolutely. Whatever serves the story.

It's just that recently, that's all I see out there. As if there is no other alternative to pile on the angst.

Just like some people would like to see more romance (or less). Just like some people would like to see more elves/orcs/dragons (or less). Just like some people would like to see more wonderous magic systems that need no explanation on how they work (or less).

I would like to see more loving parental units. Others, less. And yeah, loving parents would include functioning single parent homes, same sex parent partners, step families.

Not every tragic backstory needs a rape in it. Not every tragic backstory needs abusive/absent parents.

I don't believe that it has to be an either/or situation. I don't believe that a story that shows an MC that has loving parents is stripped straight out of Leave It To Beaver. Surely as writers, we can write subtle shades.

I'm wanting a little more variety, that's all.

TWErvin2
06-17-2014, 04:44 PM
Not having parents or a support system often 'simplifies' things, limits back story and forces the character to move forward.

In my fantasy series, the main character does interact with his family, but early in the series, the POV character is separated from them. It 'forces' growth.

In my SF novel, family is mentioned, and did have an influence, but with humanity spreading slowly across the Orion arm of the Milky Way, and communication being slow and not always reliable (and expensive for the individual), communication and connections with family are tenuous at best.

That does in some ways limit plot lines and characterization, but can also set the stage for character growth and freedom from tethering ties and responsibilities.

Introversion
06-17-2014, 05:19 PM
I actually meant more in the stories about adults - where parents seem to be a complete non-issue, which, in real life, isn't exactly so.

Depends on the setting, I guess. I see no reason to discuss my parents when I'm at the day-job. I'm sure my co-workers assume that I have parents. (Though in my case, some may think that sporulation or spontaneous emission are equally likely. :D)

Similarly, depends on what you're writing. One of my current WIPs is a space opera. If parents of characters are mentioned, it's only because showing a slice of a character's past helps understand who they are, or why they're behaving as they are. Beyond that, this novel's not about following the daily normal life of its characters, so unless the parents are themselves significant characters, why would those parents figure into it?

Reziac
06-17-2014, 07:39 PM
...the "traditional" two-parent nuclear family...

Which has only really been "traditional" since the Industrial Revolution made it possible for average newlyweds to make enough money to set up their own households. Until then, it was far more common for a household to include one or more of a parent, grandparent, maiden aunt, unmarried uncle, younger sibling, etc, etc. (If you read the U.S. census rolls, up through about 1890 most households had members beyond just the happy couple.) The young couple might have a room upstairs or a tipi to themselves, but they still functioned in a broader family household. Societies relatively free of modern "civilized" trappings often spread the family even wider, with units like the "men's house" and the "women's house".

[I could continue with my canned rant about how this shift to "newlyweds in their own household without an older generation present" led to the increasingly juvenile society and politics we have today, but that's a different topic.]

Lissibith
06-17-2014, 08:36 PM
I'm another fan of "whatever serves the story."

Looking over my three WIPs, the two with singular MCs both also feature parents who are both alive (as far as the MC knows). In fact, in one of them the story is possible explicitly *because* she was brought up in a loving but strict household with not only parents, but aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all being very close and generally helping the MC keep her head on straight.

The other only mentions his parents in flashback. But missing them and wanting to be reunited with them is one of his motivating forces.

It never occurred to me that I might be doing it wrong. Different characters have different backstory needs. :D

jjdebenedictis
06-17-2014, 11:38 PM
There have been numerous studies of older teens -- what causes them to go wrong? Over and over, no solid correlation could be found with socioeconomic status, family structure, education level, where they lived, culture, ancestry, etc, etc. Then finally about 10 years ago someone thought to study older-teen behavior vs their peers -- and bingo, that correlated very well: If your older teens hang out with thugs, that is THE risk factor for them turning into thugs. Their everyday buddies are the single best predictive factor for how they'll turn out... and this is completely cross-cultural.Hee! Reminds me of something I heard a fellow say once. "I don't want my kids to be popular. I'm going to raise nerds. Nerds don't get into trouble."

As for the topic of the thread, there may be a bit of a cultural component to this trend to not have parents play a role. Reziac also touched on this: It used to be common for young couples to live with their extended family.

In a lot of places in the world, it still is. And in a lot of places, there is a higher priority on staying emotionally connected with your family. A guy I knew once pointed out that in Farsi, there are separate words for aunt and uncle depending on whether you're talking about your mom or your dad's sibling. He said this is a reflection of the fact that in Persian culture, the bonds between family--including extended family--are prioritized much more than they are in a lot of western cultures. It matters whether you're talking about your mom's sister or your dad's sister.

If you have a typical American character, it might be completely believable for them to have living parents whom they love but don't talk to regularly (especially about their troubles.) If you have a typical Egyptian character, however, that might not be believable at all.

I tend to agree with those who have said that if the character's parents are (believably) extraneous to the plot, there is no reason to mention they exist. It's a little like not mentioning your character sometimes has to pee. :)

Roxxsmom
06-18-2014, 02:29 AM
Which has only really been "traditional" since the Industrial Revolution made it possible for average newlyweds to make enough money to set up their own households. Until then, it was far more common for a household to include one or more of a parent, grandparent, maiden aunt, unmarried uncle, younger sibling, etc, etc. (If you read the U.S. census rolls, up through about 1890 most households had members beyond just the happy couple.) The young couple might have a room upstairs or a tipi to themselves, but they still functioned in a broader family household. Societies relatively free of modern "civilized" trappings often spread the family even wider, with units like the "men's house" and the "women's house".

[I could continue with my canned rant about how this shift to "newlyweds in their own household without an older generation present" led to the increasingly juvenile society and politics we have today, but that's a different topic.]

Which is why I put "traditional" in quotes. And with the dismantling of pensions and the way people are (not) saving for their retirements, we will likely be returning to this norm very soon. Hopefully the economy will improve enough for kids to get jobs and move out of their parents' basements by the time their parents can't work anymore and have to move into theirs.

And even if the day to day interactions with family don't influence the plot directly, the expectations and norms of the culture or family that a character arose from will affect her outlook and values to some extent at least. It may also be a factor in some of the choices she makes that do drive the plot more directly.

Reziac
06-18-2014, 03:18 AM
And even if the day to day interactions with family don't influence the plot directly, the expectations and norms of the culture or family that a character arose from will affect her outlook and values to some extent at least. It may also be a factor in some of the choices she makes that do drive the plot more directly.

Yep. And depending on your species, how all that is driven by biology, in particular if the family situation defies biological imperatives.**



[** Cue the never-ending pon farr debate.]

Latina Bunny
06-20-2014, 10:57 AM
I agree with the people who said that if the parents are relevant to the plot, then include them.

Coming from a background in which family is very important, I enjoy reading stories that have family members in them. Family and friends can provide some conflict and sub-plots, too. I notice this more often in contemporary stories than SFF stories.

I sometimes get a tiny bit annoyed when parents, especially mothers, get killed off. What, if I pop out a kid, then my time's up, lol? :P

I understand why there are lots of orphans, though: So the main character can go on adventures or has a goal to reach (ex: getting back home to family; getting revenge for family's death; finding family members; etc).

I was looking up the Agent and Editor's Wishlist #MSWL, and I think I saw a few agents asking for stories with the family intact or a family-positive story. Or, to at least include some funny family members. :)

EffinGoose
06-20-2014, 02:01 PM
Honestly, I've never really thought about the fact that a vast majority of parents in fantasy novels are nonentities. But now I can't think of a single one I've ever read with an intact parental unit!

I honestly might have subconsciously subverted that trope with my Urban Fantasy cast, who all have at least consistent contact with their families.