It’s almost Father’s Day and it got us thinking about fathers in fiction. In this post, we look at finding a role for fictional fathers in the stories we write.
Finding A Role For Fictional Fathers
Fathers are hard to write in fiction. Just having them around is inconvenient. Look at how Disney eliminates parents in all their movies at the earliest convenience.
These are used to motivate characters using revenge.
- For example, Mufasa in The Lion King and King T’Challa from Black Panther, are killed off quickly. In both cases, they are relegated to spiritual advisers and exposition pieces.
- In William Goldman‘s The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya’s father serves as nothing more than a joke. The movie uses the set quote “Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” as the entire explanation for this character’s existence. We don’t get a deeper dive into his past and we never question why he is in a scene. It is a form of blunt trauma plot progression, but it is incredibly effective.
But, you can use fathers in other ways to motivate a character.
- Luke from Star Wars finds out his father is Darth Vader and so must ‘confront’ him in order not to become evil like him.
- King Arthur is defined by his relation to King Uther and so is destined to be king.
- Superman is haunted by a living, technological ghost of his biological father who wants him to be the saviour of mankind. His human father is portrayed as the living embodiment of a perfect American dad. Pa Kent is full of virtue and morals. He is kind and loving and is always there to listen to his boy’s problems. Jor’Al is a cold-a literally dead-robot thrusting the responsibility of both a dead alien race and the salvation of humanity onto superman’s shoulders.
Main Character Fathers
Authors use the children of main characters to give them purpose and to round them out.
- As a main character, Fitz Farseer from Robin Hobb’s fantasy Farseer series is flawed and perfect. He loves his children, but was not there for some for them due to being exiled and in hiding. But, he makes it up to them later in every way he can. He dotes on his last child, Bee, whom he has later in life. Slowly, he learns how to be a more gentle and caring father after a life of brutal war and political intrigue. When Bee is kidnapped, he reverts to his Die Hard persona and brings down hellfire and death that reshapes the landscape of a nation to destroy a thousand year-old illuminati-like cult.
- While Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has never let his duty as Duke and Commander of the City Watch prevent him from reading to his son every night. We get to see some fun shenanigans as he commandeers vehicles, redirects traffic, and solves crimes around this schedule. He is determined not to be an absentee dad to young Sam. Read: 5 Great Characters From Terry Pratchett
Lastly, Fathers in TV almost always serve as a counterpoint to their children. They help with characterisation and character development.
- Sheldon from Young Sheldon shows this clearly. They are almost perfect opposites. One is dumb and one is smart; one is laid back and one is up-tight…etc. Nevertheless, they are quite charming together and don’t conflict.
- Abed from Community has an overbearing father who wants his son to be more normal. Abed is unable to do this due to his various mental issues. Their arc, although brief, is to learn that they can’t change who the other is.
- In Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson must learn that being a father means giving up on some of his libertarian ideas, such as living completely off the grid and not caring about his own health.
In general, it is unfortunate how little fathers are used in fiction. Most are relegated to the Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, type roles of being kind in the background of the story. It is not easy finding a role for fictional fathers.
Say what you want about Darth Vader, but he was determined to be in Luke’s life, no matter how many asteroid fields he had to fly through.
Who are your favourite fictional fathers? What were their roles in the stories. Please share in the comments.
If you’re looking for more posts on fathers, read:
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Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean
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