I’m sure anyone who has exposure to TV shows or movies has noticed the lack of stable families in films, books, and TV series. Some might even wonder if there’s some anti-family conspiracy.
As a writer, I’ve realized there are multiple reasons for the lack of parents, and it’s not because the majority of writers hate stable families in the real world.
One issue is the addition of more characters. Giving the main character one parent is common because it can be hard to flesh out two characters who fit the same role. This often leads to one absent parent.
The biggest reason is because parents tend to get in the way. What kind of parent is going to let the main character, who is normally a teen, fight an evil overlord? (For some unknown reason, mentors seem to be fine with this sort of thing.)
These are the options writers take to get around the issue.
The easiest trick is to kill the parents. This has the added effect of driving the main character into conflict with the villain.
Examples: Divergent, Hunger Games, The Lunar Chronicles, Leviathan, I am Number Four, Hand of Steel (Might as well admit to what I’ve done.)
For the soft-hearted writer, separate the family. This one leaves the parents alive. Maybe the kid wandered into a wardrobe or someone got kidnapped. (Mothers tend to get kidnapped, forcing the kid to hunt them down.)
Examples: Michel Vey, Dreamhouse Kings, Narnia, Ender’s Game, Country in Chaos (See, I do it too.)
Have trouble with social services noticing a bunch of teenagers running around? Then give them a parent who doesn’t notice their kids are running around risking their lives. (CPS probably won’t notice this either.)
Examples: Midnighters, Nobody, Fablehaven, Artemis Fowl
Not enough drama? Try making the parent(s) someone important, such as the Big Bad. The main character might not know this and in that case, will most likely find out at the most shocking moment.
The Inheritance Cycle, Ship Breaker, Animorphs, Warriors Cats series
What I’ve noticed is that most of the cases where TV or movies portray a stable family, the parents are full-fledged characters. They’ve got a bigger role than just being the parent. (I’m not saying being a parent isn’t a big role, it’s just that for most stories, a bigger role gives characters a better survival rate.) I’d like to see this become a trend in books. After all, if kids can relate to parents in TV shows or movies, they should be able to relate to them in books.
Here are some examples of good parents and a few mentor figures writers can learn from.
The mother gets kidnapped. The kids and their father try to find her. It’s actually a stable family that doesn’t have any villainous members, plus, the dad plays an active role in the story.
The mom gets kidnapped. (Told you it’s a common trick.) She still plays some role, tough she’s absent for quite a bit. SPOILERS: I have a feeling the kid’s dad is someone very important.
Dragons in Our Midst
Dad gets turned into a dragon and plays a large role in the story. This story manages to have two parents without the main plot line being “rescue Mom.”
Now for some TV shows and movies.
The Legend of Korra
Other than one annoying thing in the last minute of the last season, this show is very good at portraying traditional families. Korra actually has both parents. Even better, her dad is someone she should look up to.
Tenzin gets the award for best family. The guy actually has four kids, an extremely rare thing in TV. In most shows, three kids seem to be the maximum amount. He’s even got two of his own siblings and a still-living mother.
Another one of the very rare families. This family has three kids, which is normally the upper end in numbers.
Cases that almost count
Halt may not be a biological parent, but he does count as a parent-like figure that the main character can look up to. He also manages to survive, a rare thing for mentors.
Star Wars Rebels
These guys aren’t even the same species, but Kanan and Hera do function somewhat like parents. They’re both good role models, not the idiot adults that are often portrayed in media.
What are some of your favorite families in media?