The Challenges and Rewards of Writing Fantasy without Killing the Parents
Dead parents are a long established literary tradition, especially in fantasy fiction. Harry Potter is currently the most famous fictional orphan. And of course Frodo Baggins lost his parents and was adopted by his Uncle Bilbo. Cinderella was left under the domination of a wicked stepmother. Luke Skywalker thought both his mother and father were dead and then he lost his Aunt and Uncle.
Ditching parents when writing a story tends to be convenient. It frees main characters of normal obligations and forces them to be resourceful. Young adult fiction thrives on high parental mortality because its audience wants to enter an adventure unencumbered by parents. It's real spread your wings and fly stuff that meets some valid psychological needs.
But how do I avoid always laying the elder generation in the grave in chapter one? Two broad approaches for making narrative accommodations for fictional parents present themselves: 1) Find some explanation for ostracizing a parent from the story, or 2) Include the parent and explore the richness this adds to the character development of the offspring.
Suggestions for writing Mom or Dad out of the show:
1. Daddy is just not around. He does not have to be dead, but his relationship with the mother is ancient history and the character grew up without knowing the dad. Mom can be the one to skip town too.
2. Mommy and Daddy are in another geographical location and not present at the scenes of action. For example, Dreibrand Veta, the hero of my fantasy series The Rys Chronicles, is off conquering and exploring the unknown regions of the world while his parents remain in their distant ancestral home.
3. The character and his or her parents are estranged. This technique allows the parents to live in the same area as the hero or heroine, but something has occurred to make one or both sides sever ties. I am currently using this approach in a work in progress. I felt that a certain character needed to have parents in the vicinity, but I did not want these parents to barge into the narrative. Therefore I had them become disapproving of the main character. His bloody takeover of the city and the associated mob violence upset the parents so much they disowned him. The estrangement works well. I did not have to stoop to arranging their tragic deaths, and the main character has to live with the moral disapproval of his parents.
4. Sometimes the parents are actually dead. I do it sometimes. I am only advocating for not doing it constantly. Shan, a rys main character in The Rys Chronicles, does not have living parents. Their identity is a mystery but not a relevant one. No one really cares. He's over four hundred years old and far more concerned with his current ambitions than knowing who bore him.
Suggestions for including the parents in the lives of your main characters:
1. Parent as counselor. A mom or dad can be that special person a main character consults when he or she faces a dilemma. The character does not even necessarily have to do what mom or dad recommends, but scenes of consultation with a parent are a nice way to provide the reader with character insights. Most people run big decisions by mom or dad. It's a normal and believable thing to do.
2. Parent as antagonist. Making mom or dad the outright enemy of a character hits strong emotional chords with readers. Any person can relate to feeling anger toward a parent, and the concept of this animosity becoming bitter and irretrievable is quite compelling. An example from history is how Benjamin Franklin's son sided with the British Empire . Franklin was the traitorous rebel, and the son refused to be part of the revolution. Now that's a conflict!
3. Parent as supporting character. Some situations will benefit from taking the parent along for the adventure. A familiar example is the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indie's father becomes a central character in the story. This allowed the father and son to rehash old grievances, renew bonds, and learn to appreciate each other.
Allowing fictional characters to have relationships with one or both parents can help characters blossom in a reader's mind and make them relatable. Throwing parents into the narrative mix is also a great way to increase tension. The hero has to save the world AND his father is mad at him. The heroine has just met Prince Charming BUT her mother doesn't think he's good enough for her. You get the idea.
I admit it can be liberating to enter a fantasy where the main character is free of parental balls and chains, but I think it is overused. Parents don't have to inject themselves directly into a story, but I prefer to at least mention them, and in my work in progress I've been actively making them part of the story with several characters. The additional relationships are adding pleasing nuances to the story. I've explored how rebellious youth gradually softens into respect and cooperation between son and father. I've engineered the destruction of a father-daughter relationship as a daughter endures the prospect of forced marriage and the brutal indifference of her father.
Another aspect about character development to consider is that a main character can become a parent. My fantasy characters have sex lives, and as years go by Mother Nature tends to get her way in the arena of reproduction. I like to write a warrior hero who has children. It raises the stakes and helps him see the good from the bad when politics and invasions sideswipe morality. The concept of a father or mother fighting for a child is a primal force, and I like to reach into these deep emotional realms when I write.
Unlocking the sharp feelings contained in the parent child dyad is a challenge for me as a writer. It makes things more complicated, but I believe that the results are more engaging and rewarding. There's a lot of raw power within these basic familial relationships, and simply casting aside that resource at the beginning of a story can be a waste.
Anyway, I can always kill the parents later…
Tracy Falbe is the author of Union of Renegades, The Goddess Queen, Judgment Rising, and The Borderlands of Power that comprise The Rys Chronicles fantasy series. She's a Michigan native who spent 14 years living out West in Nevada and Northern California. To pursue a writing career she earned a journalism degree from California State University, Chico. When not pondering fictional realms, she likes to grow food, swim, hike, bike, go boating, and watch documentaries.
About Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I - Have you ever looked at the facts of your life and realized your dreams won't come true? Have you ever looked into the unknown and seen opportunity? For Dreibrand Veta, a young officer in the Horde of the Atrophane Empire, these questions explode from his spirit in a fit of rage and launch him into an epic struggle. After he encounters a rare super race, the rys, he is forced to choose sides between passionate rivals and navigate his way through a foreign culture all while plotting to seize his own wealth and glory.
Fantasy readers can sample the first novel Union of Renegades by downloading a free copy from her website www.braveluck.com. Paperbacks available too.
All her fantasy novels are also widely available at major online retailers.
Barnes & Noble Nook http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Union-of-Renegades/Tracy-Falbe/e/2940000720509/
Google Ebooks http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=ifNnT44l-KIC&dq