For decades the easiest way to get across to the audience the protagonist was a poor-unfortunate soul was to make them an orphan; someone with no northern star to guide them through this perilous hell-scape we call existence. It was a method to make the main character sympathetic from the get-go, but it was also used as a tool for the MC to get into plot-related shenanigans without having to contend with obvious objections from parental units.
In more recent years, however, the more popular method of generating sympathy for the main character has been to bequeath them an abusive, alcoholic father figure.
I will set the scene: Little Jimmy/Jamie has a headful of dreams about using dolphins to stop climate change. His/her mother is as sweet as strawberry jam and supports their ambitions, but their father––the evil, abusive alcoholic––spits on their altruistic goals and calls the MC’s dreams stupid.
The first couple of times this was used, I didn’t have many objections to it.
That being said, this particular trope has overstayed its welcome as it is now being used for just about every single antagonist/protagonist. Is the character a dick? Alcoholic dad. Is the character not a dick? They still get an alcoholic dad. Does this character need a reason to have inner demons? Guess what!
I know writer’s love exploiting the hot-button issue of “toxic-masculinity”, but, for the love of God, can you at least show a bit of variety every so often?
Surely we should try giving alcoholic mothers a chance. It is 2021, after all. Hell, throw in an abusive grandpa every so often. It will shake things up a bit.
Why stop there?
Why settle for an AAD when you could make your MC suffer in other horrible and creative ways?
Maybe their parents weren’t their parents at all and they were kidnapped at a young age and don’t really know who they are. Maybe they were raised by their aunt or uncle because their parents are dead or are out saving the rainforest or something. Maybe their parents were killed by wallabies when they were small and they are now being raised by a colony of huntsmen spiders in the Australian Outback.
What I’m tryin to say is, be creative with how you torture your young protagonist. The more you use the same trope over and over again, the less enjoyable the reading experience is.
There are so many ways that a person’s life can be messed up, I’m just tired of getting the backstory of an otherwise interesting character, only to roll my eyes to find it’s your usual paint-by-numbers explanation for their behavior.
Just….stop. Please, stop.