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Missing Parents
Hans Ness, Apr 7, 2024
It’s an ongoing joke how Disney hates parents. Ariel, Belle, and Jasmin have no mom. The dad dies in The Princess and the Frog and Onward. Cinderella, Lilo, Elsa & Anna lose both parents. But this is common in all of kid lit, not just Disney, and there’s a very practical reason for it.

All stories need conflict, risk, and danger. But when you have parents around, they usually protect their kids from conflict, risk, and danger.

Imagine this: Belle’s father gets locked up in the Beast’s castle. Belle finds out, so ... she tells her mother, who takes care of it and sends the authorities. The End. No story. That’s why the mom is missing, so that Belle can rush into danger, creating an exciting story.

If a kid needs to sneak past one parent, that’s a good obstacle. If they need to sneak past two parents, it may become implausible, or bog down the story with redundant obstacles. Even just having to describe and flesh out a second parent as a character can bog down a story. It’s simpler to have just one.

Plus a dead parent can be an important part of the character’s pain, driving the story — Onward, The Good Dinosaur — especially orphans — Lilo, Anna & Elsa, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Harry Potter, Orphan Annie, Sofie from The BFG, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, practically every superhero. So many orphans! Plus orphans may evoke more pity, making a stronger connection with readers.

For similar reasons, many books take place in boarding schools, where there are no parents. Harry Potter, The School for Good and Evil, Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls, Finding Alaska, A Separate Peace. This is so kids can be unsupervised and make lots of stupid mistakes and put themselves in danger. You know — conflict and stakes for a good story.

Alternatively, instead of killing off one parent, the two parents might be in lockstep, effectively acting as one character. Both of Matilda’s parents antagonize her, and similarly in The Willoughbys.


If the two parents in your story are not each adding something distinct, consider getting rid of one of them.