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Submitted on
March 13, 2013
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    While I am not a professional by any means, I have been writing for many years and, more recently, beta-reading as well. In all of my experience, I've noticed that a lot of to-be authors follow the easy trends and miss out on some great story telling opportunities. Hopefully this guide will help you improve your story and learn that the easy way out isn't always the best! If you would like more writing guides and tutorials, check out the description below.

    For this "Quick Tips" entry, I'm going to focus on an important part of back story: parents.

    *Please note! I understand that, unfortunately, not everyone reading this has parents. If your parents have passed away or are otherwise absent, please forgive anything written here that might be considered upsetting. These scenarios are for fictional parents only and when I say "dead", I do not mean it to sound nearly as insensitive as it does.

   So let's get started. How are your character's parents doing today? They're probably dead, am I right? Or on a permanent vacation to a different country? Absent without reason? Well if so, this guide is for you.

   Most often when somebody creates a character, there are a few questions they have to answer before they can call their character complete. What do they look like? Where are they from? How do they act? And of course, where are their parents? Many, many, many people like to play that last one easy and write the parents off as dead or gone. Well, I've read one too many stories where the fourteen year old main character is living alone in their own apartment because their 'rents up and left for Jamaica. Hence, this "lesson".

Other Alternatives to Parental Removal

    A lot of our writing is affected by our own lives and, because of this, we often limit ourselves to what we know. If your parents are together and happy, you might make it so for your character. If your parents are always nagging and bothering, you might lift the burden from your character by removing the parents. But please, consider some of these other (common and not so common) parental scenarios. 

         Two working parents. 
         One working parent, one stay-at-home.
         Two stay-at-home parents. (Laid off? Work from home?)
         Two divorced parents. (Equal visitation rights.)
         Two divorced parents. (Live with one, visit other.)
         One divorced parent. (Other completely absent.)
         Three or four parents due to divorce and remarriage.
         One parent due to death.
         One parent due to conception out of wedlock.

    Obviously there are many more scenarios, but each one listen here has endless possibilities. Two working parents? Does the fact that they both work allow them to spend a good amount of time off as well? Does their work keep them so wrapped up that they don't have time for their children? Or if they're divorced, how does that change your character's life? Does going between homes constantly wear on their mind? Do they prefer one or the other? Does either have a new spouse? Does your character like that spouse? What about more kids? If one parent died, has the other gotten over the death or does it drag them down daily? Was your character born to a teenage mom? If so, how does that change their relationship, if at all?

Why Parents are Important

    Parents have the ability to shape our lives more than anyone else out there. We look up to them when we're little and they teach us tons and tons of stuff. Your character is a person too, and there is so much they can learn from their parents. Use this to your advantage!

Think about this: John is a straight A student. Why? Well lets take a look at his parents. 
    Scenario 1: Johns parents are both extremely intelligent and graduated college with the highest of marks. They constantly harp on him about being a great student because they couldn't bear the thought of raising a drop-out.  He's struggling in math but he's scared to tell his parents because they would be livid. They want him to join the honor society club in school and take educational extracurriculars, but what he really wants to do is play in the band. He can't because of his time restraints, though, and he knows that if he brings it up to his parents they'll get mad and tell him that music is a waste of time. End result? John is very smart but very stressed. He doesn't feel satisfied with his life and he feels like he's trapped. 
    Scenario 2: John's parents are divorced. His dad took off with another woman and hasn't called in ten years, and his mom is working two jobs and is under a ton of pressure. John studies hard and gets great marks to bring home to his mother in the hopes that it will make her smile. Because making her proud is so important to him, John doesn't mind the extra work that it takes to keep up his grades. Eventually he decides that he wants to join the school band, but he is afraid his grades will suffer. His mother, who always sees him working hard to make her happy, encourages him to do what he wants. John joins the band and loves it, and though he doesn't have as much time to study, he is able to keep his grades up because of his determination. End result? John is very smart and only a bit stressed. He feels satisfied with life and is able to keep himself and his mother happy.
    Scenario 3: John's parents are divorced and remarried. Both have new children. John works hard to make excellent grades in the hopes that his parents will notice him. The work is stressful and at first his parents seem impressed, but as time goes on they don't seem to notice his efforts. When he tells them he wants to join the band they let him, but neither of them show up to his first big performance. Eventually the disappointment gets to him and he finds himself giving up. His grades drop substantially. When his parents find out, they are extremely upset with him. He decides that the only way to get their attention at all is to do something that makes them mad, so as retaliation he starts seeking out trouble and getting in fights. End result? John is smart but doesn't use it to his advantage. He gets in trouble a lot and becomes an angry person, unhappy with life and looking to take it out on others.

    Ta-da! Three different scenarios. You can start out with the same character, but the way they are raised will no doubt change the person they become in the long run. Maybe the changes won't be as drastic as in the scenarios, but the changes will be there. 

    Of course your parents aren't the only people in the world capable of changing your life, but they are the first ones that get the chance. If your character's parents die, this will obviously change their life, but only once. In writing, one big change often doesn't hold the impact of small changes that happen over time. 


    I'm not saying that you absolutely can't have dead parents. As sad as it is, it does happen. Just keep in mind that, unless it's relevant to the story, it's probably not necessary. There are so many other options! If your characters parents are dead, try to keep in mind the effect that can have on them mentally. If the parents died when your character was very young, they probably won't be as upset by it as they would if the death was recent. Also, just because your character's parents have died or are otherwise absent doesn't mean your character has to hate the world and avenge their deaths. Maybe they just live with their grandparents and that's how it's always been. 

    The main thing that I want you to take away from this is just because you don't want to write about parents doesn't mean you have to kill them. You probably don't write about each person that your character walks by in the mall, but they're there. Embrace the parents!
Another writing lesson that I've had in the back of my mind for a while now. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the entire subject, so please comment below! Also, tell me about your character's parents! :D

I have to admit, I feel a little silly writing this when the main character of my most important story (Kitaru) doesn't have parents. However, I made that decision years and years and years ago and it is so ingrained in the importance of the story now that I can't change it. Like I said, though, if dead parents are important to the story, they're not always a bad thing.

If you have any suggestions for writing lessons, please let me know! I'd be happy to consider it.

If you found this helpful, Check out my other writers guides and lessons here! I will be doing more in the future, so feel free to watch me too! <3

Please help support me as a writer! If you enjoy my writers guides, all I ask is that you take a moment to read some of my own work. I'd love to hear what you think!

Demonika Ch. 1                I suppose I should have known from the start that the girl I found sitting in a dark, damp alley that night so long ago was a demon. Perhaps I was too young to put two and two together, or maybe I was too angry at my parents to care. I had only been ten for a few days, if I recall correctly, and I had just gotten into an awful fight with my father. I had looked to my mother for help but, to my dismay, she took my father’s side. They were both strictly against me going into magic.
                Ten was an important age for me; it was an important age for any youngster who desired a future in the magic arts. There was a yearly event attended by every magic loving ten-year-old around. Skilled mages arrived at the event in dramatic manners, appearing out of thin air or emerging from colums of fire, to speak with the children and find an apprentice. I had yearned to be one of th
Bad Luck Ch. 1       Half of the day had passed and Zane still lounged in his bed, staring at the ceiling between long, slow blinks. He was in a terrible mood. The source of his foul mood was the cell phone that blinked innocently beside him or, perhaps more accurately, the voicemail it had recited some hours ago. Another singer and their frail excuses for quitting the band. It was enough to drive anybody mad, really.
       For most problems, Zane simply turned to his guitar for consolation, but this problem couldn’t be solved by music. So instead he continued to lay in his bed and contemplate the unfairness of it.
       Zane had been playing guitar since he was old enough to strum. His lessons had started at age five and ended at ten, when his parents decided they’d had enough of his obsession with music and his time would be better spent on studies. Through the help of his ever supportive godfather, Zane still managed to lea
Arlyn of the Ocean                My childhood summers were filled with the salty air and sea shells of the Gulf, my favorite place to relax and play. I vividly remember the cold ocean water splashing at my ankles and the taste of the popsicles we ate between bouts of play. I collected hundreds of sea shells and made magnificent sand castles, dug holes as deep as I was tall and even caught a few fish. What I remember most of all, though, was Arlyn.
                The first summer I spent with my aunt was an entirely new experience; I had never seen the beach or played in salt water before. She coaxed me gently toward the water, armed with an array of floaties and toys. I followed her cautiously, reassured by her claims that I wasn’t meaty enough to interest any of the ocean’s monsters. I figured she had to be right; I weighed next to nothing as a scrawny, awkward ten-yea
Tyler's Fight       As fast as he was running, he should have expected to trip. When he did it startled him, and he tried to protect his face as he went down on the rough gravel. He hit the ground hard, but managed to roll and dissipate some of the force. It didn’t take long for his pursuers to catch up.
       “We told you running was pointless, slut.” Josh, the group’s leader, kicked Tyler hard in the shin as he struggled to get up. Tyler didn’t see Raine with the group, for which he was glad. He gritted his teeth and stood.
       “Why won’t you just leave me alone? I want nothing to do with you or Raine,” he begged, his heart pounding. He stepped back and winced at the pain in his leg. He really wasn’t made for physical confrontation. 
       “You never should have touched her in the first place.” Josh spat on Tyler’s shoes and turned his b
FamilyMommy chases pills
with whiskey, beer, and wine.

Daddy finds his happiness
in a snow white cocaine line.

Sissy slams the door
and goes to find another life.

That leaves me alone,
canvas skin and red pen knife.
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TallDarkHorse Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2014
Great tutorial. The scenarios you used really help explain how the character starts the same way but ends up differently. I definitely think out my characters' family lives to get them to where they are. You're right that there's a variety of family situations out there, and the "MIA parents" are very common, especially for beginning writers. It seems easy, but it would affect the characters. I'm just glad you explained it so concisely, and will be happy to link back to this in my writing group. :)

As for my characters, I do have one parent death, but it helps explain how his family drifted apart over time, and how he is more aware of mortality than most of his peers. He is surrounded by friends who have living and present parents as well, so it adds some contrast.

I'm interested to read more of your tutorials and writing now!
TheEmptyChest Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2014
Very well thought-out and well written tutorial, and I think you make a good point about up-and-coming writers missing out on opportunities -- particularly character development opportunities -- by making their character's parents either dead or unexplainably gone. In my experience, they do this because it gives their characters the freedom they need to go be a superhero or whatever it is they need to be without having pesky things like homework and curfew in the way. But still, it's not like you can't do anything with a superhero kid who has those setbacks. In fact, I would find such a kid more believable and sympathetic.

One must also consider that when a kid's parents die, realistically said kid is either taken in by another family member or becomes a ward of the state, so there's always an authority figure present, whether it's a parent or not. Honestly I think it's easier and makes more sense to write the parents in, even if they're busy or emotionally detached.
WonHitWonder Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Excellent tutorial.  I have one of my own dedicated to deciding whether or not it's a good idea to orphan a character, and I like how you gave lots of possible alternatives to work with instead of just killing off parents.  Glad it's not just me that doesn't like this trope!
Fehnwrites Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Glad you enjoyed it! :D
zwerg8 Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is really an interesting and very reasonable study.. After all, to be plausible persons, characters need some family background as well.

I thought that all my major characters should have at least one parent - so in the prologue to my ongoing project "Mirror Visions" I got rid of the real mother of my protagonists, but had their father introduce their later step-mom. So there's tensions between the kids and their stepmother, loss of trust toward their father, and other conflicts.
And the best friend of one of my protas has only her mother as parent (her father was declared Killed In Action), who works three jobs to get even - and who is pretty lenient towards her only daughter (which has reasons though).

In the nanowrimo project I'm currently working at (introduced as an idea here), two characters, who work at the "House of Maids", were adopted by their au-pair host family: Their real parents abandoned them for being LGBT. :(
Fehnwrites Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Very nice! Good luck on Nanowrimo. I've never been able to finish T^T
zwerg8 Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Tbh I won't be able to finish either - I only have 6 handwritten DIN A4 pages so far, which is way less than the wordcount necessary to "win" the Nanowrimo.
However, I started with the approach "Let's see how far I can get" anyways - and even those 6 pages are more than I thought I would manage to write. :)
TheWhiteJewel Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2013
What an interesting study. This is strangely intriguing and food for thought.
Fehnwrites Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I'm glad you enjoy it =]
Melima22 Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2013  Student General Artist
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