Why are the pages of children’s literature filled with dead parents? The traditional answer is that heroes need room to explore and make mistakes on their own without pesky parental units interfering. How is your teen slayer going to kill demons that only come out at night if she has a doting mother and father that expect her home by her curfew of 9 pm?
Parental figures can also be thinly veiled extensions of the author. I have a friend who was advised to kill of her mother character because the mother acted like her. Talk about killing your darlings!
But do you always have to kill off your main characters parents if you want your hero to have the freedom to grow?
There are alternatives.
1. Make your parents neglectful or disinterested.
In SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater, Grace’s parents let Grace do whatever she wants. They are so permissive and uninvolved in Grace’s life, they don’t even notice that her boyfriend is sleeping over. Every night.
2. Make your parents the antagonist.
In THE RISE OF RENEGADE X by Chelsea M. Campbell, supervillain Damien finds out his father is a superhero.
3. Make your parents an integral part of your hero’s journey.
In PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, Ken Dietz helps Vera come to terms with the death of her friend Charlie while she helps him get over the loss of her mother.
4. Kill off your hero.
Parents don’t have to be a problem in the afterlife.
Guess which alternative I picked in writing LEVEL TWO?
It was a little of number 4 mixed with a little of number 2 and 3. My main character has a very close relationship with her father and one of my favorite scenes is a father/daughter trip. My editor agreed and actually wanted me to put in MORE of the father. I was pleasantly surprised - but it fact - it does work for my story.
What are some of your tactics for dealing with parents in your stories? Who are some of your favorite parents in children’s literature?