Not too long ago, I gave the female lead (heroine's such a romancey word, yes?) in the first book of my paranormal romance series a makeover. She has to be undamaged enough to move into a relationship quickly without being coerced, but she also has to be enough of a loner that, should she (ahem) go missing for a few weeks, nobody will miss her.
So I began looking at other urban fantasies and paranormal romances with strong urban fantasy elements to see what type of backgrounds produced the lead characters. Note that I don't think this holds true for other romance categories, although it often does.
There are a LOT of dysfunctional families out there in the UF/PNR world. Here are a couple of theories why, based on nothing more than why I need my own characters to be family-challenged.
* Nothing brings out a neurosis like family. And for characters to be engaging, they need hot-button personal issues that factor into whatever hardass neurotic they turn out to be.
* Normal family issues get in the way of plots. Unless you're Rachel Morgan and your family becomes part of the plot, family members get in the way and can sidetrack your character from her plot arc.
Does the literature support these theories? I'll look at just the most widely known ones because
--Anita Blake. Anita's mom died in an accident when she was very young, and she was raised by her strict Catholic grandmother who didn't think much of her skills at raising the dead. Estranged from granny, and always dealing with dead-mommy issues.
--Mercy Thompson. Mercy's dad, a Native American from whom she gets her skinwalker abilities, died when she was young (or did he just disappear into the rodeo world?). Her mom then married a whitebread kinda guy and had some whitebread kids, so Mercy always felt like the ugly duckling with her dark hair and skin. She's still on speaking terms with her mom, but doesn't see her often.
--Harry Dresden. Harry's mom died young and he was raised by his magician father, who then also died young. He was taken in by a wizard mentor for training, things went sour, he ended up having to kill said mentor, and barely escaped the White Council death penalty. This backstory plays out over the early books, but the trauma of his mother and the secrets surrounding her death (mommy issues), and especially his rocky history with the council, are major issues for Harry.
--Sookie Stackhouse. Well, Sookie's parents died when their car was swept off a bridge, so she and Jason were raised by their grandmother (who conveniently gets knocked off in book one--I'm not worried about spoilers because, really, has anyone NOT read at least the first book of the series?). So Sookie has parent issues, which factor into the later books as she learns more about the source her psychic skills. She was also molested at an early age by her only other relative, a great-uncle. Vampire Bill took care of that pesky loose thread.
--Rachel Morgan. Kim Harrison's female lead is sort of a lone ranger in the genre. She's on good terms with her mother and her brother, for the most part. Mom lives nearby. Daddy issues come up during the series, though, and mom's got some problems that Rachel is always having to fix.
--Harry Potter. Harry's parents died protecting him from the evil Lord V--oops--He Who Must Not Be Named. It drives the whole series.
--Bella Swann. Bella's a child of divorce. She simpers her way to live with awkward dad so ditzy mom can enjoy her new hubby. Bella's struggling to find a personality and instead finds glittery vampires she can totally make herself subservient to, while whining. Yes, that's my patented summary of Twilight.
--Wrath. Each of JR Ward's Black Dagger boys has issues out the wazoo, but Wrath is the classic. He's the last purebred vampire in the world, and has all kinds of guilt hangups because his father shut him up in an air duct when the killers came. He watched his parents die, then blamed himself because he was too weak and small to save them, which made him become the Boy Who Lived. *Oops, having a Harry Potter flashback.* (Okay, and then there's everyone's fave Vishous, partially castrated by his evil father, and Zhadist, made a sex slave by an evil vampire queen. These guys are seriously damaged, true?)
Who else? Who are some of your favorite heroes or heroines, and did they come from happy, stable homes? Have you written a hero or heroine who has dysfunctional family issues?