Maybe it’s because I just came back from an amazing family reunion, but I’ve been pondering the role of families in storytelling.
In a lot of the books I’ve read lately the family unit is destructive and even ruthless. Because this isn’t my personal experience with families I have a hard time relating.
In my WIP the MC’s family has been murdered by her betrothed—someone who is supposed to be her new family. This murder influences her choices and drives her desire for close relationships.
I really feel that story families do the same things that real families do.
- Support: Families compensate for our personal weaknesses. When we are at our lowest they make us strong. Literary example—Pride and Prejudice: Jane and Elizabeth Bennet use each other through out P&P. Without the other I’m not sure either sister could get through.
- Growth: We can’t help but be our true selves with our families. And sometimes that is our worst selves. Families can magnify our weaknesses and help us grow as people. Literary example—Summer of the Monkeys: Jay Berry Lee’s family lets him grow and learn until his growth culminates in the climax of the book
- Love: Having people who love us no matter what is a powerful thing. Families also give us an opportunity to love in return. Literary example—To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus Finch's love for his children trickles down to all the other characters in the story. Scout and Jim can’t help but show others the love they receive from their father.
- Dysfunction: Competition, anger, undermining, passive aggressive behavior, neglect, and a million other examples of what can be wrong in families can still be useful to our characters. What better way to know what you don’t want than to experience it firsthand. Literary example—The Hunger Games: Katniss’s neglect at a young age drives her choices and her connection to her sister.
- Needs: Families either meet our needs or they don’t (deep, I know), either way it helps us focus in on what motivates us. Literary example—Harry Potter: Harry’s deep need for family is woven through the book. There would be no story without Harry’s need for family and connection.
Families—good and bad—are such a common human experience we can all relate. And whether families are amazingly supportive or horribly dysfunctional they shape our view of the world—and our characters world.