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The video contains captions for anyone who needs them, but I’ve also included a detailed transcript below. Feel free to watch the video, read the post, or both, it’s (almost exactly) the same information either way. Thanks for visiting!
Brother, Sister, Mother, Mister… Today we’re talking about how to write fictional families.
My book deals with several different types of family relationships. My main character is the youngest child in a pretty big family, but she’s also a twin. She struggles a lot with living up to expectations while still carving out her own path.
How can she measure up in the shadows of her siblings?
How can she be her own person if she’s never truly been alone?
Her role in her family informs a lot of her decisions even in ways that aren’t obvious.
Birth order and sibling relationships (or lack there of) can really help or hinder your story.
Families are one of my favorite things to explore when writing, probably because I come from a big-ish family myself.
I have three brothers, one 18 years older than me and two younger ones, 3 and 7 years younger than me respectively.
My mother handled four kids pretty well, but she has six siblings herself, so she’s no stranger to sibling dynamics. She’s very firmly a middle child, baby number five out of seven.
According to birth order, I should be a middle child, too. I’m the second born, but since my older brother had literally just become an adult when I was born our places in our family and our relationship together is very different than most siblings.
I fit the stereotype of an eldest child pretty well. My older brother’s father died when he was two, long before I came around, but my younger brothers and I share the same father and we were spaced pretty evenly apart.
I felt and still feel very responsible for my baby brothers, though they are definitely not babies any more. I feel like it’s my job to set a good example and when I can’t be as successful as I’d like, I feel like I’ve let my family down.
I have a lot of ambition and much of it stems from who I am as a sister and a daughter. I would be a very different person if I had been an only child, just as I would be different if I had all sisters instead of all brothers.
When building a family for a character in your story, especially for your main character, it is very important to think of how these people have shaped or influenced your character.
A family should never just be a sad backstory or something your character half-heartedly thinks about while she’s off on her great adventure. Even if we never meet their family, even if they are long dead before the story starts, we should be able to see how your character would fit with them.
A good way to find your family is to examine your character’s personality and figure out what sort of upbringing would foster that kind of attitude.
Is she very spoiled and entitled? Maybe she’s an only child. Is he scared of commitment? Maybe his parents are divorced. But like with all character building, don’t stop there.
A good family, like a good character, is multi-layered.
Maybe our spoiled only child was spoiled because she was the only child they could have. Maybe they tried for other children and didn’t succeed, so they went a little overkill with the one they had. How would her parents feel about that? How would those emotions feed into their parenting? Build around those what ifs.
If the only explanations you can come up with are stereotypical or cliche, find ways to turn those tropes on their head.
Maybe the boy with commitment issues has perfect parents, maybe they never broke up. Maybe instead it’s his siblings who were unlucky in love. Maybe when he was a boy, his older sibling was driven to suicide over a breakup and he swore to never be that attached to anyone.
A good family is a reflection of your character.
They are what your character could be if they only make better, or worse, choices. They are what your character wants for themselves or what they’ll do anything to avoid. No matter what, they are inseparable from who your character is and what they must be.
Tell me about your favorite fictional families. What are your tips for writing families? What are your own families like? Let me know in the comments.
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