Have you ever noticed that parents are conspicuously absent from many juvenile and young adult fiction stories? Count your favorite heroes from fantasy or sci-fi, and you’ll find nary a parent among them.
The parents are missing.
You never get an explanation of why they are gone. You just know that Almedra and Darrin practically reared themselves, poor orphaned souls.
The parents might simply be absent.
Daddy’s in jail and Mommy’s a drug addict with an endless string of useless boyfriends.
Or the parents are on a glorious European vacation while their children are living a desperate adventure at home.
Or the children are on their way home to their parents when they fall into some sort of misfortune, from which they must extricate themselves using their own ingenuity.
Occasionally, someone a little more enterprising, like Madeleine L’Engle, might reveal that the parents’ absence is part of some nefarious scheme. Enter the quest to find the missing parent and bring justice to the kidnapper.
The parents might be dead.
Tradition demands at least one dead parent—preferably heroically dead. Slain on the battlefield, dispatched by a shady criminal mastermind, vanquished in a mortal battle with the supervillain, victim of a random accident, or casualty of cancer, the parent’s memories are untarnished, while their offspring’s childhood is traumatized.
The parents might be mysterious.
Mysterious parentage, anyone? Bet you could name five popular speculative fiction heroes whose deceased parents’ unusual skills/powers infused the aforementioned heroes with surprising gifts—which, happily, assert themselves in the nick of time.
The parents might simply be left behind.
When the author can’t kidnap, kill off, or imbue the parents with some secret heritage or ability, he’ll opt to leave them safely at home while their intrepid progeny wander the galaxy and dare great deeds.
So here’s my challenge: If you want to do something daring, something rarely seen in modern literature, something truly convention-defying and original—make the parents integral to your plot. Disney's The Incredibles (one of my favorite movies) is a rare example of just how exciting a story can be, despite parental involvement. The parents are not simply present, but crucial to the storyline, and they do so without suppressing any of the gifts and heroism of the children. Neither parents nor children overshadow each other. In fact, they work together beautifully to create a story in which family relationships become the real star of the story.
Are you ready to take on the PARENT CHALLENGE?