Backstory Flaw

I am in the midst of the query trenches and therefore especially interested in reading the twitter feeds for agents on my list. Yesterday a plea from one of them caught my eye. She asked:

“Does anyone write MG or YA without dead parents? With alive, loving parents? With semi-functional families? Anyone?”

In my case, the answer is not yet. I queried this particular agent with a YA story that had one dead parent and one sub-optimal parent. I mentally apologized and then I got curious. 

Why did I make that particular choice? 

It sounds like I am not alone. Why do others make the same choice for their characters? Is it possible to create compelling young characters with alive, engaged, and loving parents? 

Have others done it? I am guessing there are more loving and functional parents in middle-grade stories than in YA, but the question remains. 

For me the answers are:

  1. Backstory flaw: I needed my character to be missing something in her life at the beginning of the story so that she wants to leave that life. She has do decide to leave her world behind and I needed her to be either running away from something or running toward something else.

  2. Push toward independence: I also needed my character to be independent enough handle the challenges ahead even as she is forced into greater independence in her new world. Also for my character, one of her challenges is to learn to live in community so I needed that to be lacking in her prior life.

  3. Agency: The state of being in action or exerting power. I needed my character to have the ability to make the choices for herself. She is not a rebellious type so if she had alive, loving, engaged parents she would happily stay where she was. I can’t have that. It is an adventure story! I need her to have the ability to choose the adventure so I can make her wish she hadn’t until the moment she realizes that it made her into who she was meant to become.

This time around for this YA story, my main character has to make it without her parents, but I do love a challenge! My next project is middle-grade so at least for the outline stages this character can keep her quirky and distracted (but alive and loving) parents.