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  1. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    Families

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Matt E, Dec 16, 2019.

    Statistically speaking, a vast majority of people get married at some point in their life, and the probability increases as they get older, approaching 90%.

    6F18A4E4-44D0-448F-8975-CC7EE478B197.jpeg

    About 40% of households in the United States have at least one child.

    Humans are generally born to two biological parents, even if not present / deceased / etc — in sci-fi we might have exceptions to this.

    This presents an interesting situation when writing fiction. Odds are our characters will have family, friends, parents, spouses, grandparents, uncles, etc, etc, but if these characters are not relevant to the story, then we have no reason to write them in. Should we write characters who don’t have families instead? But is that realistic, particularly if we have a large cast?

    If we look at Star Wars as a popular example, we see that families are often never mentioned, or are killed off for plot reasons:
    • Luke: family conveniently dies as part of his call to heroism
    • Obi-wan: Vow of chastity
    • Leia: family dies while she is held captive on the Death Star, never gets screen time in the original trilogy
    • Han: Family never mentioned in the OT
    • Chewbaca: Has not returned to Kasshykk for mating rituals yet
    • C3PO / R2D2: Love circuits not installed
    • The emperor: rules alone, no plans of hereditary monarchy here
    • Governor Tarkin: apparently there aren’t family quarters on the Death Star, or all off screen
    • Lando: runs cloud city alone, unless you count Lumboc
    In general I think we will find the following methods used in fiction for writing families in or out:
    • Character has a family and they are relevant to the story (Tris in Divergent)
    • Character is an orphan (Rey in Star Wars)
    • Character’s family dies off, initiating the call to adventure (Series of unfortunate events, Luke in Star Wars, Kingkiller Chronicles)
    • Character lives or works alone, and any extended family is largely irrelevant to the story (Bilbo in The Hobbit, Arthur Dent, Jean Luc Piccard)
    • Character only has one parent, either genetic or adopted, who is relevant to the story (Po in Kungfu Panda, Buddy in Elf, Frodo in LOTR, Catnis in Hunger Games, Anakin in Star Wars)
    • The family is still alive but is endangered in some way, motivating the adventure (Jack Bauer in 24)
    • Character has a family, but the hero is separated from them, often teleported to another world, and they remain largely irrelevant to the story
    By writing in tragedies like the hero’s family dying in the story or them being an orphan, it does create additional conflict, but it usually comes off as cliche.

    Do your characters have families? If not, how do you write them out?
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2019
  2. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Amateur Human Contributor

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    My MC falls into the "Character only has one parent, either genetic or adopted, who is relevant to the story "
    in a very "Mother Gothel" fashion, her father keeps her hidden away on an island to protect her from the big bad world. This initiates conflict, as she is now 18 and wants to see the world. So he reluctantly takes her with him and essentially "pandoras box" is opened. bad things happens, she discovers that the world was not how she imagined it and people arent like the people where she is from (they can be cruel and spiteful).
    In order to discover who she is, she runs away. Her father still wanting to protect her, goes after her.

    Another WIP of mine that I put on the back burner for now, falls under the "Character has a family and they are relevant to the story". This MC is 11-12 years old. She lives with her grandmother, her grandfather passed away. her mother had her when she was very young and due to post pardum depression, was hospitalized for nearly all of my MC's life. Her mom does come back home eventually, so her family consists of her grandmother, her mother, and then towards the end, she meets her half brother (her bio-dad's son), and her paternal grandfather, thus completeing her family.
     
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  3. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Amateur Human Contributor

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    Ironically.... the parents in these stories arent married.... the father in the first one is my MC's adopted father. He knew her mother and when her mother died, he raised the MC as his own. This isnt a traumatic event for my MC as she never knew her mother. the traumatic event is finding out that her father is not her bio-dad.
    My young MC in the other story, she was the product of an assault, so she never knew her bio-dad and her mother never mentions him (naturally).
     
  4. The Bishop

    The Bishop Active Member

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    I have three characters. Two have their families specifically mentioned, and one is less open on that front. The two who's families are mentioned, however, do have a tragedy start them off in the story. And I'm starting to wonder, is it cliche to have a character's family die? Even if it is vital to the story and the character's personality? I really hope not. I try to be as unique and original as possible in everything I do, but really, is it?
     
  5. AlbertAnims

    AlbertAnims Member

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    One of my characters is a deaf girl who has an adoptive mother, but eventually moved away when she came of age. Does adoption count?
     
  6. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    To expand more on “is it cliche” — in fiction, something is cliche when it has lost all of its meaning due to overuse. So you would want to give your story its own unique flavor, definitely. If you are writing about how your character reacts to losing their family, I would suggest to make it so that no one could substitute in Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy, etc etc in place of your character, and still have their reaction make sense. The question to ask is “how are things different in my story than they are from every other book that my readers have ever read?”

    Up to you! There are a lot of interesting stories that tackle the issue of how an adopted child might see their new family versus their biological family. I am most interested in how we, as writers, mold our characters’ families to fit the story we want to tell.
     
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  7. AlbertAnims

    AlbertAnims Member

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    @Matt E Thank you very much, kind sir/mam!
     
  8. keysersoze

    keysersoze New Member

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    The mc in the story I am writing is going to break off from his family under tragic situation and in response to the 'call to adventure' commits murder. Families are important in family dramas, I am thinking August Osage County. I think family becomes less relevant in fantasy/science fiction. I am writing crime. Family is only feebly relevant here. Family is also like a subject matter and it is the author's choice whether he/she wants to deal with it or not. Like any other subject. It boils down to a personal choice and that does not have much to do with what statistics say, does it?
     
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  9. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    For Stars Extinguished:
    • Julee (protagonist) — She is a young adult and is separated from her biological family because they were overly religious, and wanted her to peruse a vastly different life. She now has an employer / father figure named Cantor. This kind of falls in the Frodo “single parent” camp, where we condense the main character’s family relations down to a 1-on-1 relationship for simplicity. Her biological family is around but not really relevant, they will probably die in the coming apocalypse while Julee is off doing other things.
    • Cantor (secondary protagonist) — His family is on a different planet, and right now he is basically just slowly dying alone from war wounds. He has a father-daughter relationship with Julee.
    • Derici (tertiary protagonist) — she is a space marshal who lives alone as the sole law enforcement official for a small town. She was banished from the city due to losing in office politics. Her family isn’t mentioned much, is probably off planet or in the city. I haven’t decided yet. This falls into the James Kirk “it’s written down somewhere but doesn’t really matter” category.
    • Prestor — a farmer side-character who has a family and takes actions to protect them, though they have not yet appeared on screen.
    • Most antagonist characters — haven’t really defined their families yet. Like Grand Moff Tarkin, they presumedly have them, but they do not appear on screen
    So, there isn’t much family dynamic in my WIP, but we have some interesting dynamics around the protagonist with her biological family that she hates, and also tension with her father figure too, who like one might expect from a father, rebukes her when she acts immaturely. And as one might expect from a child, she doesn’t really appreciate it, but it is actually for her long-term good.
     
  10. marshipan

    marshipan Senior Member

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    Nah, I like writing family. My character's are misfits and have no friends. Their family is their supporting cast. Second, my characters' personalities are always obviously effected by their parents. I have written absent parents (negligent, travel a lot). However, their lack of presence is something that is felt by the main character and something that will be continually touched upon. Now, I would write dead/absent families if the story called for it. Like a zombie apocalypse or boarding school/college book. I guess a quest book doesn't really have much space for family either (or does it o_O). Other than that I like them there.
     
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  11. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    I only write families in if it matters to the story, but I don't do broken families, just to do broken families. Most of the time, my characters, if families are mentioned, have standard nuclear families. The last trilogy I wrote, the main character's mother had died, but that was essential to the story because a huge part of the impetus to move forward in the first book was him trying to live up to his mother's legacy. Otherwise, everyone else who had families mentioned had a living mother and father and siblings.
     
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  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Thinking... Supporter Contributor

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    IDK, I might give the 'normal' family thing with this new WIP.
    Gotta have some stability since my last novel was a mess
    of dead families, and adopted peoples.

    Though would it be too out of line if their families are alive,
    but divorced instead of dead?
    That would be a more modern interpretation of family life,
    and be less cliche and cruel, than killing off people for the sake
    of standard conventions in story telling. Just an idea I have been
    mulling around. :)
     
  13. GirlWriter101

    GirlWriter101 Senior Member

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    It really depends, in Thorne of Glass family plays a big role, both the living and the dead, most of the characters are orphans or have parents that are not relevant, but a few have parents who play a big role, for better or for worse. The FMC is an orphan, but she has a large chosen family and her cousin is still alive and they are very close.

    In my experience, it just depends, in my own high fantasy novel the mother of two of the three MCs plays a big role for the better, without her help and counsel things would go a lot worse. Most I think the reason behind so few characters with parents that are important is because writers don't want to have to write the parents in.

    Note: I did not include names in Throne of Glass to avoid giving out to many spoilers.
     
  14. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Contributor

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    The problem as I see it is that the story demands that only story-related stuff gets written.

    So, what if a character has a family that is kind of supportive, kind of not? When the hero calls them and the mother whines about having not seen him for ages and the hero tells her that he's got stuff to do (like saving the world) and then they fight but reconcile in the end, either because he can't tell her what he does or because he does and she understands? In what way is that relevant to the hero who's off saving the world?

    So is it better to include a family that has no bearing on the story, or is it better to use the family as a vehicle to move the story forward? I know what I'd choose. Scores of authors have been trapped in the same situation, and the miracle is not that there are tropes, but that some authors still find ways to present them so that they still are interesting ;)
     
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  15. Arsel

    Arsel Member

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    my main-main character has a father in the army and a mother at home, who he leaves to train at an academy, so I don't have to deal with them. In another case, a royal family, the dynamic is complex and actually essential to the plot. In yet another case, the issue of family is the crucial one that Illeas, my "antagonist" faces. As a highly educated aristocrat with political influence, he is trying to overthrow his king, who in Illeas's view is preparing a suicide invasion into a rival state. At the same time, he has a daughter who he loves very much and who has a bright future ahead of her. He is torn between doing what he thinks is best for his country and what is best for his daughter, eventually deciding for the former.
     

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