Storytelling: orphans vs. families

Especially when it comes to stories aimed at young people, the presence (or absence) of the MC’s family is a powerful factor for their development. In this post, I’ll look at both options and their pros and cons.

Before I get to that, a few general thoughts. Popularity has a major impact on what seems to be prevalent in present-day fiction. Not only by the popularity of a story by itself but also by inspiration: after the success of Harry Potter, several fantasy (in varying subgenres) stories featured an incomplete family.

Now, all the possibilities have a major impact on the MC and often on their personality because the presence (or absence) of parents has an impact on who they grow up to be.

Incomplete family

Stories featuring incomplete family are nothing new. They can take various forms – Cinderella as a classic fairy tale is a typical case of incomplete family and the typical way such a story unfolds: abusive stepparents.

A MC with no natural parent usually suffers through emotional deficit which can test them inside more than outside. It also means a lack of example to follow which parents often tend to be. As a counterbalance, these stories often place a strong emphasis on friendship. The lack of parent(s) also gives more space for developing a surrogate example to follow, often in the role of old, wise teacher. Another plot option is trying to continue a family’s legacy discovered by chance – or similarly discovered dark secret which the now-dead parents can’t explain. Searching for secrets without being able to ask for the truth and thus subjected to opinions of others and an incomplete puzzle can also become a plot thread.

For some writers, it might be easier to delve into this case than to explore the parent-child relationship and some of its specifics.

Dysfunctional family

To be honest, I believe I haven’t read a story of this type much. Yet, it’s something that has potential in today’s world: in cases where the demands of everyday life eat away at the time a child can spend with their parents, this type of stories have a potential to resonate.

However, writing a disfunctional family might be a tough challenge, especially because it’s likely to touch sensitive topics: the reason for why things aren’t working need to come from somewhere. For that reason, it’s possible those stories are likely to be very dark and gloomy.

Specifically in fantasy, one possible scenario is in case of half-breeds, especially if their existence alone is controversial in the setting – and thus sets the parents and their children alike at the odds with the fictional society.

Full family

While the ‘normal’ situation can seem to be the most boring at a first glance, it’s definitely not the case. A family’s legacy – especially if cared for and enforced by the parents – can be a heavy burden. These scenarios were sources of many stories and made famous in several stories (such as Romeon and Juliet).

A young character (often a teen) can struggle with the expectations put on them, more so if there’s a legacy to uphold (such as a noble family), or if a parent is expecting their child to be like them. This is something that can go a positive or negative way, each wich its own challenges and potential to explore.

Likewise, parent-child relationship is something that can shape a character and worth exploring. A good parent will be someone a character in struggle can rely on for a hug or an advice. They can be invaluable help for someone struggling to find themselves.

There can be several moments to turn into a source of funny or emotional moments – sometimes both, depending on the point of view. A parent’s praise on overcoming an obstacle can be a powerful emotional moment and a motivation for the MC.


Writer’s personal challenges

Regardless of which way a writer chooses for their story, the challenges they face will differ case by case, often based on their own experience. Personality matters a lot. Writing can be a way to mend old wounds for some while it will re-open them for someone else. Thinking about this might be a good idea – if you feel like writing some kind of story would hurt you in the long term, then don’t do it.

Imagination is also an important aspect – if a situation is difficult to imagine, it’ll be even harder to write when the characters and their reactions are being explored.


To wrap this up, the background of a major character is always important because it shapes who they are. There are many paths to take.

I’ll welcome your opinion: is there anything on the matter of a character’s family you love seeing in stories – or love to write? Is there something you’d struggle with – either as a reader or writer – or something you’d never even consider reading/writing?

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