On the Importance of Fictional Fathers

Happy Father’s Day!

Last month, I did a post on the importance of fictional mothers, including some questions for writers to ponder about their characters’ own maternal backstory. This month, I want to take a similar approach with the paternal. While father figures in fiction sometimes tend to survive longer than mothers – a fact for which certain mainstream entertainment has been called out, and rightly so – it’s equally common for fathers to be reduced to plot points, too. Either they exist only to spur on the protagonist’s journey by their death, or they’re the personal villain that the MC (usually a young woman in these cases) is rebelling against.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with either of these plot devices as long as, like any other character, the father role is not reduced to caricature. Fathers have an equal impact on their children’s lives as the mother, be it a positive or negative influence. So this week I’m encouraging all of you to consider your characters’ dads!

  1. Is Dad alive or dead? How does his presence or memory impact the current story? If present, is he a positive or negative influence, and if dead, is his memory important or forgotten?
  2. Was/is Dad strict or lenient? Somber or a joker? Was he warm or distant, family-focused or profession-focused, and how did the MC feel about these things?
  3. How did/does Dad treat Mom? How does this influence your character’s outlook on what love, marriage, etc. is?
  4. Was/is Dad in a position of mentorship? If so, what lessons will the MC carry most from that? Or if he is not, where does the MC receive the guidance that a father figure often plays – from Mom, from an outside source, etc.?
  5. Was/iss Dad a source of security or fear for the MC? Why that one, and what are the ramifications on their current story?

Got any “dad-questions” that helped you understand your character’s family life and the effect on his/her story even more clearly? Share in the comments below!

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