Storytelling: parent-child relationships

One of my favorite topics in stories is the exploration of parent-child relationships. In this post, I’ll look at some common aspects, the reasons why I like those topics, and theirs +/-.

First, I should mention that there are advantages and disadvantages to whether such a relationship is present in a story, especially if it touches a main or major character. It allows a specific exploration of their character that can’t be done in any other way, but that is true for the absence of family as well. I’ve delved into the topic of orphans and families in stories already in some form, though not in such a focus on family relationships.

Note: due to my reading preferences, this post will be focused on fantasy stories.

Father-son relationships

Varian and Anduin Wrynn (World of Warcraft)

Father-son relationships tend to play a major role in coming-of-age stories. Especially if the father is someone of a higher position (nobility, high-ranked soldier or mage), the topic of succession and different approaches to problem-solving will be present. Different personalities will react differently to the “apple far from the tree” scenario and reactions of both father and son will allow the reader to learn more about both. These relationships may evolve (or devolve) over time, depending on how the story unfolds, and a good progression is quite satisfying to read.

Another aspect to explore may be the difference between the first-born and second-born sons – it’s realistic and likely that one of them will feel like receiving less attention from their father. This may be the test of their relationship and character. A well-done reconciliation of a relationship is also a satisfying conclusion (as long as the differences were relatable and not drama for the sake of drama).

I am your father (or not?)

A famous, but incorrect, movie line…

The uncertain identity of a character’s father is a plot element in many types of stories, though the execution tends to be different. I’d divide these into three types, based on the father’s role: positive, negative, and temporarily uncertain.

Negative example would be the (in)famous “Luke, I’m your father” scenario from Star Wars, where the father is revealed as the villain, or a villain’s major servant. The point here may be the test of a character – will the protagonist stand by their values, even against their family? Or jump at the chance of reuniting with someone who may be their last living relative?

Positive scenario is often seen in dragonrider stories – the father is often revealed to have been a part of the original attempts to thwart the villain’s rise to power. Often, this revelation comes post-mortem but sometimes the father was merely in hiding (both as person and his identity) – often for the MC’s whole life, so reuniting isn’t as easy.

Temporary scenario seems to be more prevalent in female-oriented stories (such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments). The father’s identity seems to often be uncertain (at least to the MC) and combine both aspects (so one “candidate” is on the good side and one, usually the first to appear, on the bad side).

In all cases, the main challenge is coming to terms not only with new reality (father’s identity and role, as well as the realization that a lot of the MC’s childhood was shrouded in mystery, often caused by a villain’s rise to power).

Father and daughter

This was toughed above to some degree – at least for the case where the father’s identity is uncertain. Truth is, I haven’t read many stories that would focus on father-daughter relationship with the father being there for the daughter, which is a pity. So, if you know a good fantasy book with a well-done father-daughter relationship, please let me know in the comments.

What I can mention is J.C. Kang’s Dragon Songs series, where the MC is emperor’s daughter with her own expectations, and her aging father being troubled more with the issues of heritage than her daughter, but there are still expectations and a plot that sends the princess against them. I would guess that many books where a father-daughter relationship is developed a lot will be the stories where the mother has passed away too early (otherwise the daughter would probably bond better with her).

Mother and son

Since male-oriented books tend to be focused on father-son relationships and fantasy combat, I have yet to find an example of a mother-son relationship that’d take a major role. I’ve seen the topic books where this relationship was present (such as J.D. Hallowell’s Dragon Fate and Dragon Blade books) but not in the forefront.

Mother and daughter

Similar to father-son relationships being common in male-oriented novels, mother-daughter relationships will be prominent in female-oriented novels. Again, because I’m not the target audience there, I have minimal to none experience. I’ll welcome your insights and tips for books with this topic. Making my best guess, I’d say a positive mother-daughter relationship will be about support, with a lot of developed emotions, probably to more detail than in father-son relationships.

Full family

Of course, there are cases where a fictional character can enjoy the presence of both parents. This can sometimes be picked apart to a combination of the above, but there will be differences: with both parents present, they’ll split their roles. Of course, each parent may have a different idea what they’d like their child to be like, which may lead the child to choose a side (and the choice may involve neither parents’ preference). Usually, fathers tend to be more direct while mothers tend to be more emotional and supporting, but it’s always interesting to mix things up.

That’s it for today – almost. I’ll return to this topic soon-ish, with a look at the parent-child relationships I’ve delved into in my own writing.

As mentioned, I’ll welcome examples and tips for fantasy books where these relationships are well-developed, as well as any other comments on the topic.

See you next time.

3 thoughts on “Storytelling: parent-child relationships

  1. I’m wondering how many women write fantasy…it would be interesting to research. Like I guess JK Rowling writers fantasy (not sure how else to categorize it) but I’m guessing it’s a pretty male dominated genre. So I wonder if there’s much opportunities for daughters to be included, since the stories are usually about boys/young adults. I might look it up to see.


    • Well, Urban fantasy and paranormal (thoug this is treading more into romance) are pretty much female-dominated while epic, dragons, and sword-and-sorcery are male-dominated. So it’s a lot about the sub-genre. And I guess there aren’t that many readers overlapping into both.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Forging characters: parent-child relationships pt.1 | Tomas - the wandering dreamer

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