Okay, so maybe the fact that waiting is hard isn’t a news flash, but for some reason it’s been particularly difficult for me this time around. So, I’m trying to concentrate on other things. Like my characters.
In one of my books, my character’s relationship with her parents (especially her mother) plays a key role in the development of the story. While this isn’t unheard of in YA and kid-lit books, it’s more likely parents will be absent, stupid, or even neglectful and abusive. This doesn’t happen nearly so often in the real world, so why is it so popular in books about teens and children?
Well, how else would they get permission to do so many dangerously stupid things?
While the absentee parent scenario is more prevalent in fantasy/sf novels, I can think of quite a few contemporary works (at least in the YA category) where one of the major problems the characters have to deal with is how their parents are absent, abusive, or falling apart after some tragedy. Author Shannon Hale (and if you’ve never read anything of hers, RECTIFY THAT IMMEDIATELY,) posted about this on her blog in two posts: Where are all the moms? and Epic fantasy hero wanted (leave your mama home). Even when authors purposefully TRY to have a mother or father actively involved in a fantasy story, it usually doesn’t work (notice, I said usually–there are always exceptions). In her post, Shannon says:
I was determined to have a mother and father who were present, who had the adventures alongside my hero. Again, it didn’t work. Boring. The real growing up a person does is gradual and often subtle. In a story, you speed things up, let a few large events stand in for a hundreds of small events. If a mother especially is there, the young character doesn’t have a chance to grow, to make choices, to be a hero.
I talk about this because–without setting out to do so–I’ve written an involved set of parents who don’t get in the way of their daughter’s “adventures.” Of course, they don’t know about those adventures, but they’re heavily involved in their daughter’s life and care deeply about what happens to her.
While it is difficult to accomplish, good, caring, devoted parents can be as much of an impetus to action as neglectful or absent ones. Guilt over doing something wrong and potentially letting their parents down can drive a child to do outrageous things to try to fix their mistakes. Threats against a parent could also be a call to action. Of course, the character will have to escape from the clutches of their well-meaning parents to go off and complete their quest/adventure/trouble-making, but that’s true of everyone at some point, isn’t it?