Photo Cred to Suhyeon Choi
I don’t know about you, but I think parents are incredibly important.
They raise us and, bad or good, they nurture us into the human beings we are today (this is including any form of parenting whether you have a cookie cutter, all-American family or you have a single parent). I’ll be honest and say that I’ve had some great parenting. My mother taught my sister and I the importance of hard work, self sufficiency, and when to hold your own. My father taught us about the love of a father and the discipline that comes with it. My parents have had an enormous role in who I am today along with the other stuff life throws at me.
So why are they so absent in YA?
I can’t count how many times parents have been dead, missing, or just completely absent in the lives of our most beloved YA characters. If they’re not absent, they’re merely mentioned. There aren’t enough family interactions in YA.
Okay, okay, I’ll admit I’ve only read mostly fantasy, dystopian, or sci-fi. I haven’t really dabbled in contemporary too much, but I’ve heard it’s kind of an issue (if not a running joke) in the genre.
But I digress.
Like I said, parents are so incredibly important in playing a role in how a character changes and grows. We look to our parents and parental figures for words of wise advice or some consolation when our friends just don’t understand. The phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” rings true in these kinds of situations. Whether our characters decide to become completely unlike their parents out of spite or our characters strive to become more like them–we all hold a part of our parents within ourselves.
If anything, parents are a great resource of dynamic character building that I don’t think are utilized enough. I’ve read a few novels where characters have great interactions with their parental figures and it helps them make their own path in the world whether it be good or bad. For us the reader, it makes for a more enjoyable (and sometimes heartbreaking) reading experience.
By utilizing parents in your writing, you can create so many more layers to your characters.
Why does this character act this way? Does their anxiety and stress derive from the immense pressure put on by their parents? Or do they act incredibly kind, even to those people might consider their enemies, because there was an overwhelming amount of kindness in their family dynamic or because there was a lack of it and the character wanted something better?
This gives some kind of foundation to your character. Many of our major, major issues stem from our family dynamic. Even being absent of a family can have a huge impact on you. So it makes every character different. It makes them more organic and alive. It helps us sympathize when we can see how the family acts. This isn’t to say that every character needs a tragic backstory, of course not, but I’ve definitely felt more sympathy for villains who have their issues rooted in family dynamics than anything. Then again, I’ve also loved seeing good family dynamics. Some examples I can pull up off the top of my head is the family dynamic in Emmy and Oliver and the mother-daughter dynamic in The Raven Boys. These are two great examples of how well the family and parent dynamic work with the story.
It’s also kind of fun to read child-parent interactions and seeing a bit of your favorite protagonist in each part of their parents.
I wish there would be more parent relationships and interactions in YA. It does call for a bigger cast of characters, but everything is in the details right? I don’t think it should stop at mentioning how the parents act. Writers need to show us how the parents act. When we experience it, we understand it more. It creates for more complex (and maybe even morally ambiguous) characters.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Do you think there’s a shortage of parent relationships?
Do you think that they’re important as much as I do?