“Anyone can write in dead parents. It takes guts to make adult children deal with living parents.”
This marvelous quote came from this article over at Fantasy Faction. Somebody tweeted it yesterday and I was immediately like WIN! This is something I have totally changed my opinion about since I first started writing when I was…twelve. It’s been 20 years. I’m allowed. I have distinct memories of my mom reading my first finished book in high school (possibly it was just the first few chapters) and asking, “Where are the parents?” Predictably my response was “You’re so missing the point…” (which wasn’t shocking…she read a satirical and totally comedic essay I wrote in my 9th grade English class and asked if I wanted to go to therapy).
I figure it is a sign of my adulthood that I’ve had that exact question about a lot of what I’ve read (or more likely, watched on TV) in the last couple of years. See previous rants about the CW regarding permissive and largely absentee guardians. It’s become a real pet peeve of mine for both the parents to be killed off just to install the hero or heroine in a situation with a guardian who does not even qualify to be called such, just so that the teen can do whatever the heck s/he wants. While I totally get that (Parents, not shockingly, want to stop bad stuff from happening to their kids. They don’t always manage it, but they try.), I think that there’s definitely a missed opportunity for conflict by eliminating parents.
Your heroine needs to kick ass and save the world…and still make it home by curfew or she’s gonna be grounded. Meaning she has to sneak out to save the world from the next disaster. And it’s not just situational conflict that can arise. There’s the inevitable emotional conflict that comes up as teens are attempting to assert their independence from parents who still think of them as children. Hellooooo? That’s classic teen angst relatability right there.
Someone I think has done a marvelous job with this is Susan Bischoff in her Talent Chronicles series (Hush Money, Heroes Til Curfew). The evolution of her heroine Joss is made that much more powerful by the friction she has to deal with by going against her parental units–most specifically her dad. If she’d had absentee or dead parents, there wouldn’t have been anybody to push against for her to actually attain character growth. It wouldn’t have been as satisfying or believable.
Now I’m not saying the parents have to take center stage. This is still YA I’m talking about, after all (though the article that spawned this post was actually talking about adult characters in fantasy). But parents exist. They are an integral (and often annoying) part of a teen’s life, so instead of axing them because they get in the way, make the most of the conflict that they inevitably generate. Use them to show character growth and complicate your hero/ine’s life. Remember, it’s your JOB to make everything tough. YA authors are the only ones who are supposed to abuse their kids. On paper. You know just the fictional kids. That totally didn’t come out right…