Monday, January 11, 2010

It's a Family Affair

A father, a mother, a sister, a brother?

Is there a method to the making of the families we write into our books?

I've been merciless in ripping apart Tess's family. She started out with two parents and a brother. On a whim I thought she'd like two more brothers, but when I decided the brothers were taking up space, Paul, Abe, and Will were deleted.

Then that dad of hers. He's wonderful. Really, he's too wonderful to be alive. So I wrote him into a tragic car accident three years ago. Poor, poor Tess.

What are we influenced by most when inventing these family ties? An older sister keeps popping up in my other (unfinished) books. Although she comes in different names, colors, and sizes, I usually write her the same without meaning to, and she has a lot in common with my own older sister.

What about the family structure? I come from a large family, but writing large families gets complicated. Again, I feel like I'm just filling space. I can handle two siblings. More than that and my head begins to spin.

Is there a rhyme and a reason to the creation of your families? How much do they change in the evolution of your novel? Do all the family members have a purpose? What from your personal life has influenced your novel's families?

19 comments:

  1. All my characters are only children. But in my new WIP, one character has a sister and the other MC has four older brothers.

    I think writing large families is hard and even harder to give them all a purpose in the story.

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  2. My main characters are all in foster care, so their family history (and various family members) play a huge role in the backstory, but an almost non-existent role in the current plot. The ones that do have a part in the story, they keep changing. I think that's normal though, because almost everything about my plot has essentially changed.

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  3. I agree! larger families are just hard to write. You really have to relegate them to inconsequential parts that are nothing much more than a name or background. Unless they are all the main characters?

    My first try at a novel only had adults in it (the benefit of writing women's fiction!), but the one that just published started out with only a daughter. Then I realized the family needed more complication, and a balance to the girl's good nature. So along came Logan. He was definitely enough!

    I'd guess each story has it's own requirements. So sad when you have to kill off people though. At least your's was the father and not the mother! – although that might preclude Disney from ever making it into a movie! :)

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  4. Great question. One of my stories involves a kid in state's custody. Another is stranded in the wilderness. A third involves three brothers as the main characters. I try to go with the least number of characters necessary to tell the story in a realistic way.

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  5. Three main characters? I'm impressed. I'm having a hard time weaving just one. And I agree-minimal is better. I'm finding I'm having to cut some accessory characters.

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  6. I tend to write orphans a lot, probably because at an early age I found out that my dad had been orphaned and raised by family friends. It made a big impact, and I remember thinking about it all the time-- what it must have felt like for him. I guess I'm still thinking about it since I'm writing that into my MC's!

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  7. Mine vary. I've written big families and only children, single parent fams and two parent fams. I have never written an orphan though, huh. Interesting.

    I mostly do what comes to mind for that character. And I think you can do big families without people getting ignored—you just have to take care that each person is individual. Maureen Johnson's SUITE SCARLETT rocked the big family.

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  8. I don't have any big families in my stories, but I loved Ron's family in the Harry Potter series.

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  9. Ann-Wow, what an interesting history to be influenced by.

    Natalie-I'll have to check out that book. It's funny, but when I have written bigger families in the past, I seem to favor twins. I guess I felt I was getting a two for one deal.

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  10. Oh boy. I've thought about this a lot because I found myself giving my heroines MIA dads. At least my first book had a good dad, but the mom was tough on the heroine. LOL
    So, short answer, I'm not sure. Hoping my characters are original though.

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  11. My families tend to echo my own in many ways. Lucky for me, my family belongs in a soap opera, so there is more than enough material to keep me going. :-)

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  12. Myrna-That is a very good point. I loved the Ron's family, and knew each one of them.

    Jessica-That's funny because my MC's dad is gone, but her mom is weak.

    Shannon-Ha! That's hilarious. Unfortunately my family is a little boring so inspiration is bound to run dry.

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  13. I don't know if there's any typical pattern I'd follow for coming up with back characters or families, but they definitely need to have some sort of impact on the character, whether it be direct, indirect or even total lack of impact, which in and of itself impacts the character at times. If that makes sense? lol

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  14. Void-I agree. Any accessory character that doesn't affect the storyline in someway, especially a way that influeces the MC, seems superfluous.

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  15. My MC has 2 siblings and my 2ndary MC has 3, and both have both parents. I know it's unusual, but that's just they way they came out. And I like them that way.

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  16. Lois-Sometimes they do just come out in ways we cannot help :) I love that your characters both come from two-parent families.

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  17. I agree that big families are harder to write. Every member has to be very distinct or it's hard to keep everyone straight. I had little families in my last book for that very reason. In my current WIP the MC has a big family, but I'm still struggling to make all the members unique.

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  18. Natalie-And if it's hard to keep the big family's members straight for the writer, it's going to be even harder for the reader.

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  19. I'm like you, the families in my novel are constantly evolving. Sometimes if it seems like they're getting too big, I'll combine two people. I've learned that each character should serve a purpose otherwise they are wasted space.

    BTW, I thought I had been checking your blog religiously to make sure you hadn't written anything, but apparently I've been slacking because all the sudden you had two new posts and I could've sworn I had just checked your blog. Whatever, I'm losing it. :)

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