More poor mother just passed by my laptop as I began writing this, and saw an empty sheet that just had 'DEAD PARENTS' as the title. The poor thing is, understandably, a bit alarmed right now. Let me stop her from hiding the knives.
Anyways, dead parents!
Apparently, they are common enough in literature that a bunch of y'all have noticed it. And, furthermore, a bunch of y'all have asked me to write about it, too.
I don't even know what there is to write about.
Parents are dead.
Protagonist saves the world from a giant marshmallow.
But, no, y'all want me to rant about it or something.
So here I am! Talking about dead parents! In literature, Mother. Not... real... Mum, please just walk away from me and my laptop. Thank you.
Why are parents usually dead in literature, anyways? There's a few pretty simple reasons.
On one hand, it's simply convenient for the writer and the protagonist, especially if the protagonist is a teenager or child. Think about it -- if you want to slay a dragon, your parent is probably going to notice that you are sneaking out of the house and coming back with a scorched face. Your parents may seem clueless, but they can definitely tell the difference between a pimple and a baby dragon that has attached itself to your face.
Similarly, if the protagonist wants autonomy and freedom, it's so much easier for parents to not exist at all. Whether they are absent and on vacation, or whether they are dead, having them out of the picture makes it easy for the protagonist to explore.
Like, seriously, just think about it. If I was given a quest to jump into a volcano and find some key, my mother would probably try to put me in a hospital for sounding ridiculous. That, or she would ground me. And when you're grounded, there's simply no leaving your room.
Besides, being an author can be tricky, because you have to balance so many characters and relationships. Not only do you have to make your protagonist complex, but you have to establish a unique relationship that they have with their friend, their best friend, their love interest, their second love interest, their third love interest, their fourth love interest if it is a one direction or BTS fanfiction, their ex-best friend, their flute teacher, that random zombie that lives in their basement, and their pet rat. And now you have to consider their parents? Please.
Dead parents not only make it easier to tell a story, but it also can be super exhilarating for younger readers! Young readers crave that independence and freedom, and reading about kids adventuring without being restrained by parents can be so exciting to them -- whether they realise this or not.
Dead parents are also used in literature to further the story. For example, they can be used as a Plot Device. In the Lion King, when Simba's father dies, it makes the whole kingdom fall on his shoulders. Because he is too young, and because he believes he is responsible for the death, he runs away from the kingdom -- and that's a significant moment for his growth in the movies.
Other stories include dead parents, because it means that the protagonist's story is all about vengeance. They are out to find whoever killed their parents, and they're about to give that person a pointy reckoning.
Less common in professional stories, but quite common on Wattpad, some writers also include dead parents solely to evoke immediate sympathy with the reader. They make sure the reader knows about it within the second sentence, and the whole purpose is to make us feel sorry for them. There's even usually a formula to how it's presented. It's this:
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