Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Exploiting Your Characterís Parental Bond

By Shane P. Carr

© 2002, Shane P. Carr

The bond between a parent and child in a fiction story can be exploited in interesting ways. As many know, the bond between a mother and child is nearly unbreakable. Just try to take a newborn puppy away from its mother -- chances are youíll get a low guttural growl warning you away.  This protective nature isnít something reserved for lower animals: do the same thing to a human and youíll find a similar primal response.

This bond can be explored in various ways in writing. Think about the original Star Wars trilogy. In the first movie we saw Lukeís aunt and uncle (surrogate parents) die at the hands of the evil Empire. This led to a driving motivation for Luke to take up arms and battle the empire. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is told that Darth Vader is his real father. This makes for an interesting plot twist. Since the person responsible for the death of Lukeís surrogate parents turns out to be a real parent, Luke now has the inner conflict of fighting his own father.  In Return of the Jedi we see, at the end of the movie, how the parental instinct of Darth Vader takes over when the emperor nearly kills Luke. Evil couldnít overcome the parental instinct to protect a child.

We see the parental bond explored in many fantasy stories. In one such story, a group of adventurers raided a dragonís lair for treasure. In the next chapter, the dragon attacked the town, and the local militia gathered to slay the dragon. When they confront the dragon at the climax of the story, they learned that the group of adventurers had stolen one of the dragonís eggs when they looted the lair. The dragon had traced the egg to the town and was now unleashing its parental rage trying to flush out the adventurers and recover its egg. This makes an interesting conflict as the reader tries to decide who is in the right: the adventurers who unknowingly took the egg, or the dragon, who killed many innocent folks while trying to save it. See how the parental bond can add some interesting conflict to your story?

These are some obvious examples of using the parental bond to add conflict. You can utilize the bond in more subtle ways and still get an added depth to your story. Let's say your story has a main character who wants to practice magic. Perhaps his parents have had a strict religious upbringing and see magic as evil. You now have a conflict between the parents and the main character. You can keep this conflict as part of your characterís background or you can choose to explore it. Perhaps one of the turning points in your plot could have your character demonstrating to his parents how magic isnít evil. The scene could have the character using magic to save the life of a younger sibling.

There are countless ways to use the parental bond to flesh out the lives of your characters, and many of the ways will become apparent as you work through your characters' backgrounds. If you take the time to explore the various possible conflicts that can be created in your particular story, you may find one that will push your story to new heights and better bring your characters to life. 

 

 EXERCISE: Exploiting the Parental Bond 

Take a character from one of your stories. Think about his or her background and parents. Use one of the parents to create a conflict with your character. The conflict should expose the strength of the bond the character shares with the parent.

Themes to use:

     Parent and character have opposing viewpoints (e.g., war, politics, religious beliefs, education, etc.)

      Character or parent make great sacrifice for the other 

     Character finally gets long-sought approval from parent

      A scenario causes the bond between your character and parent to collapse (consider secondary scenario that redeems the bond)

     Put the parental bond in conflict with another character that shares a similar type of bond with your character (e.g., a love interest, mentor, etc.) 

When you are finished, examine what kind of depth the bond scenario has added to your character. Perhaps you will find a situation that will help add to or expand your current story or novel. At the very least, you should end up with a better understanding of your character's motivations.