The YA genre gets ribbed for the fact that so many of their teen protagonists are orphans, so much so that “kill the parents” is considered a trope or cliché. When I started writing, my books had parents in them. After all, family is a big part of most people’s lives—for better or worse. It’s uncommon to fall in love and get married without them being involved.
But the more books I write, the less often I introduce family members as major characters. They just take up too much space. In When It All Falls Down, the MCs are only eighteen and still in high school, so obviously their families play an important role in their lives. Between the two of them, they have four parents, one step-parent, and one sibling—which has got to be on the low side of normal—six characters in total. It didn’t leave much room for the boys to have friends.
I didn’t know this before I started writing, but there’s a maximum number of characters you can have in a book, and that number is determined in part by length and in part by genre. Fantasy and Sci-Fi can have larger casts. Mystery lends itself to quick cameos. But in Romance (and YA), readers expect to get to know the characters who’re introduced to them by name.
If a best friend/boss/sister shows up once, they need to keep showing up, and to have a purpose for being there. A common “purpose” in romance is confidante, but most of us don’t confide a whole lot about our love lives to our families. Another purpose is antagonist, but the evil family trope gets really overdone, especially in gay romance where homophobic families make for pre-packaged tragic backstories. A third purpose is matchmaker. You get the idea. But if they exist, there has to be a reason for their existence, and that means one less spot for a non-family character.
Personally, I try to mix it up. Sometimes I put the families a long way away geographically (which is the case in my own life). Sometimes they’re bad guys, because it does happen. Sometimes they get to be side characters. And sometimes I kill them. Oops.
So the next time you’re wondering where all the parents went, that’s where—they got bumped for one of the other characters. Maybe one who’s getting a spin-off. 😉