Dead, missing, or what?

You’ve got a mind-blowing plot, a terrific protagonist, and a concept higher than Mt. Everest.

But then those pesky parents enter the picture. Everyone has parents, so you can’t ignore mom or dad or some kind of guardian, yet our stories are for kids.

Here are some choices I’ve seen in both YA and MG:

  • One parent is dead or better yet, both parents are dead.
  • Child grows up in an orphanage for lost souls and other neglected creatures. Parents might never enter the picture.
  • Parents are kind of loopy and rather neglectful. (But, hey, this is fiction.)
  • Parents disappear suddenly and that mystery is included in the plot.
  • Parents are stable and the parent/child relationship provides conflict.
  • Many of the scenes are set outside of the home as to avoid the parents.
  • Child attends a boarding school.

Of course, there are as many options as there are stories. And one choice isn’t really better than the other. It totally depends on what you want to do with your story. Don’t automatically think the parents have to be dead, sometimes they can add depth to your main character and make the story more believable.

Two great examples of this are author, Kate Messner’s, award-winning THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z and her soon-to-be-released SUGAR AND ICE. I loved both these stories and gave them terrific reviews. My reviews are here and here.

And lucky for us, Kate will be visiting tomorrow and talking about how she deals with parents in her stories. It should be a great post! Hope you’ll come back and visit.

What are your pet peeves with parents in fiction? How do you deal with the parents?


19 Responses to Dead, missing, or what?

  1. Anna November 29, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Laura, we must be psychic! I posted about this exact same topic today. I’m glad I’m not the only one wrestling with those pesky parents!

  2. SP Sipal November 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Great post, Laura. I like it when the parents are dealt with in a way that enriches the story. For my current WIP, the family situation, including the parents and the brother and sister, is what drives the whole plot forward, even though it’s a fantasy adventure.

  3. Stina Lindenblatt November 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    It’s amazing how many dead parents there are in the literary world. 😉

    The parents in my books (especially the moms) play a small role in the story. They’re there, but not all the time (as in the story). But that’s realistic because I write YA and the parents work outside the home. In my current wip, the brother plays a bigger role.

    • Laura November 29, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

      Stina – Sounds like you’ve played it well.

      Susan – Parents really can enrich a story and a character.

      Anna – I’m heading over to your blog now!

  4. Patti Nielson November 29, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    I find most YA books either have the parents die, or be very neglectful. Sometimes it’s a necessary plot device to have the parents gone, it allows for them to get into more trouble.

  5. Kris November 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    Really good question. I always find it annoying when the parents are out of the picture and it doesn’t make sense.

    I can’t wait to read Kate’s post tomorrow! I loved both of her books…and there are more to come, I hear!

  6. Carole Anne Carr November 29, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    Best advice I can give – read Lemony Snicket and see how he deals with this. The children adore his books.

    • Laura November 29, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

      Carole – I agree, kids love the whole orphan thing. A safe place to experience something they’d never want to have happen to them.

      Kris – as long as it’s done well, I don’t mind. I can think of a few books where the parental situation made no sense to me.

      Patti – Yes, and the more involved in the plot the missing or dead parents are, the better, imo.

  7. Jennifer Shirk November 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    Yeah, most YA books I’ve read give parents a bad rap or an invisible rap. I guess that’s what makes more of connection with the YA readers?

  8. Shannon O'Donnell November 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    My characters are so young that I have to deal with the parents. In my current MS, though, they’ve sent the MC away for a while. 🙂

  9. Jen Bee November 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    This isn’t just a YA problem. I was trying to keep my characters’ pasts simple as I’m fed up with everyone having Issues. And then I realised I have Issues with my family, and so do my friends with theirs…and so now do my characters.

    Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. That has parents.

  10. Julie Musil November 29, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    I actually like including parents in mine. They’re sort of in the background, but they aren’t evil or dead.

  11. Kelly Polark November 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    This is a problem as most kids do have one or both parents so if its realistic fiction, you’d think to still have them around somehow. But then again, kids want to read about the kids not the parents. Looking forward to the post!

  12. dirtywhitecandy November 29, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

    Great post, Laura. My pet peeves in MG and YA are not so much parents as freedom. Writers often forget how little freedom we had as children – yet I see stories where kids can wander about at will, don’t have to tell anyone where they’re going and even bunk off lessons in school. It would be understandable if the characters were rebels, but usually they’re not!

  13. Lydia K November 29, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    I’ve done a mix in my stories. Sometimes there are two parents, sometimes none, sometimes one. It depends, but in YA I find many stories can’t take off the way I’d like them too when parents (aka stability) are in the picture.

  14. Marcia November 29, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    This is a much bigger problem than it used to be because responsible parenting today is considered to be so much more hands-on than in baby boomer days. I don’t like killing the parents off just to get them offstage. Then you almost have to deal with the child’s grief process as a subplot, because losing parents is a huge deal. In one sense, it doesn’t matter: kids today expect a certain presence from parents. They’ve never known anything else.

  15. Paul November 29, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Can’t wait to hear Kate’s thoughts tomorrow. As I do an inventory of my own attempts at writing MG/YA, I’ve had a book where the parents die as part of the present story, one book where the one parent is dead at the start. And three stories where both parents are alive. I think it just depends on the story. Thanks, Laura!!

    • Laura November 30, 2010 at 3:14 am #

      Thanks for commenting everyone! I’ve had two parents, but the kids go off on an adventure. And in my others, there was one parent. The missing parent wasn’t dead, just not part of the immediate picture. Kate’s post is great. She does a super job with her parents in her realistic MG.

  16. patti December 2, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    Kids seem to like the Boxcar Children approach. Hmmm. Now that you mention it, my parental figures haven’t been the most positive…

    You’ve given me something to ponder…

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