Author Topic: A Question about Characters and their Families  (Read 4064 times)

Offline Rain

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A Question about Characters and their Families
« on: April 25, 2013, 09:13:32 PM »
When I read a novel that starts out with a main character who has no family I admit, I roll my eyes a little bit. Not that it's always a bad plot point, but when I see it it's usually the result of a lazy author who, instead of giving their protagonist a real reason to go on her life-changing journey, instead gives her no reason not to go. The protagonist has no parents that would miss her if she left home. No husband to love, no children to raise. So she goes on her journey, leaving behind nothing to move on to a different life.
To me, this approach seems very lazy and ultimately bleeds the character and the story of some of their potential. Families, and the drama surrounding them are often strong enough to propel a story forward almost single-handedly. If a character left behind a mother, father, brothers and sisters to go out and save the world, she might start to feel homesick at some point in the story. She might return home only to find that one of her family members had taken ill while she was gone, or died. Or in extreme cases, she might have returned to find that she was no longer welcome by her family, or her home and everyone she knew had been destroyed. Any number of sub-plots could emerge surrounding the family of the main character, and when they do it helps to connect the reader more intimately with the story and the characters therein. So is it ever a good idea to create a main character with no living family?

This is a question I'm wrestling with in regards to one of the main characters in the series that I'm working on right now. In it there are two main characters. The one who's perspective the story is mostly told from, and the one who the story is mostly about. I find myself very tempted to create a main character who has no living family, but not to give her no reason to go on her life-altering journey (She has a pretty good reason to go, instead of no reason not to). I'm tempted to remove the aspect of her family from the story all together because of the other main character, the one who the story is mostly about, who's family has been a driving force in his existence.
As the story evolves, it becomes more and more about this second main character and his relationship with his father, and his father's relationship with his father, and so on. His family's legacy is a large part of the story. So I find myself tempted to give the first main character in the story (the perspective character) no living family to avoid complicating things. Though the aspect of family drama is present in the story, it's not all this story is about. It's only one part of a whole, and in a story that involves curses, ghosts, assassins, arms dealers and a secret society that has its hands in every government and organization in the world, I don't feel that there's room for both characters to angst over family issues.

What do my fellow writers think? Is it okay to take her family away from her and let her experience family drama vicariously through this other character?
« Last Edit: April 28, 2013, 09:04:38 PM by Rain »

Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2013, 09:36:55 PM »
First, may I suggest you visit the welcome board and offer our members a little about yourself as in introduction.  ;)
Welcome Board link:
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Now, about your question:
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What do my fellow writers think? Is it okay to take her family away from her and let her experience family drama vicariously through this other character?

Ultimately, that's a decision you as the author have to make. But I'll tell you what I do, perhaps it will work for you or at least help a bit.

For any character who will have an ongoing showing in a story I write, I write their family history - just for myself. This allows me to get to know them better because I then know a bit about their family, how they spent their early years and things they might have learned from their parents. Things that would likely follow them into adulthood.

A plus to doing this (for me) is I rarely have to stop and think about how the character would react in unexpected situations, because by that time I know them almost as well as my brothers or sisters.

You could still do something along this line for the character whose family life will not be a part of your story. You, the author, will know why this character never talks about his/her family and how hearing others refer to a family member might affect him/her. Does this character try to avoid listening to such talk by changing the subject, stepping away or do they listen, comment and then go on about their business?
« Last Edit: April 25, 2013, 09:39:24 PM by Alice, a Country Gal »
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Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2013, 09:49:17 PM »
First, may I suggest you visit the welcome board and offer our members a little about yourself as in introduction.  ;)
Welcome Board link:
http://mywriterscircle.com/index.php?board=1.0

Oops! I missed that, thank you for the link!

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Ultimately, that's a decision you as the author have to make. But I'll tell you what I do, perhaps it will work for you or at least help a bit.

For any character who will have an ongoing showing in a story I write, I write their family history - just for myself. This allows me to get to know them better because I then know a bit about their family, how they spent their early years and things they might have learned from their parents. Things that would likely follow them into adulthood.

A plus to doing this (for me) is I rarely have to stop and think about how the character would react in unexpected situations, because by that time I know them almost as well as my brothers or sisters.

That is something I have done, and I'm satisfied with the outcome. These characters have been stewing around in my mind for close to a year now. I can tell you how each of them spent every birthday and holiday if you asked, but when it comes down to it I'm not sure if I want to juggle family drama for both of my main characters when there's so much more to the plot than their relationships to their families.

I know that, as the author, I have to decide for myself. But in your personal opinion, would I be entering eye-rolling cliché territory if I took her family away from her?

Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2013, 10:23:38 PM »
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I know that, as the author, I have to decide for myself. But in your personal opinion, would I be entering eye-rolling cliché territory if I took her family away from her?

That would depend (for me) if the shared bit of family talk added to the story and moved it forward or not. If you feel the need to explain why this character makes no reference to her family, perhaps add a sentence or two to explain her 'disconnect' from her family. But actually if she is shown as a complete person, I doubt readers would worry about it all that much.   
MWC Charity Publications.
http://www.lulu.com/spotlight>
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. -Muriel Rukeyser, poet and activist (15 Dec 1913-1980)

R. L. Copple's: http://www.rlcopple.com/

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.
-Mohandas K. Gandhi

Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2013, 10:39:42 PM »
That would depend (for me) if the shared bit of family talk added to the story and moved it forward or not. If you feel the need to explain why this character makes no reference to her family, perhaps add a sentence or two to explain her 'disconnect' from her family. But actually if she is shown as a complete person, I doubt readers would worry about it all that much.   

I suppose you're right. The truth is that I don't want to write her family into the story, because I feel like it would be stealing thunder from the other character, who's issues with his own family are an important part of the plot.  There's no sense in forcing myself to write something I don't want to, right? It won't come out well. Maybe I worry a little too much about clichés and being 'original'. Maybe that's why I never finish anything :D

Thank you so very much for sharing your opinion. Now I'm off to stare at the blank page of Chapter One until I hit another snag that keeps me from typing my opening sentence!

Offline RScatts

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2013, 10:20:22 PM »
If the story isn't about this character, then I wouldn't even worry about it. I wouldn't mention family unless it became necessary within the context of the story.

Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2013, 11:19:37 PM »
If the story isn't about this character, then I wouldn't even worry about it.

It's not that the story isn't about the character, it's just that the focus is slightly more skewed to the secondary main character. In theory it's about both of them equally, but in practice he goes through more dramatic character growth and development than she does simply because he has more ground to cover.

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I wouldn't mention family unless it became necessary within the context of the story.

That's a fair point. Perhaps I'll add a scene that explains what happened if it could realistically come up as a topic of discussion between the two of them. For example; Maybe they wind up in the city she grew up in, and she wants to take a detour to see where her old house used to be before it burned down.
« Last Edit: April 26, 2013, 11:34:21 PM by Rain »

Offline RScatts

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2013, 01:52:16 AM »
That's a fair point. Perhaps I'll add a scene that explains what happened if it could realistically come up as a topic of discussion between the two of them. For example; Maybe they wind up in the city she grew up in, and she wants to take a detour to see where her old house used to be before it burned down.

That would definitely make it more interesting than just stating the fact. When I make up characters for my stories I always want to know every detail of their lives before I start writing. I find it really helps the story to write itself, but I only include those details if it is important to the plot or the character's development. Otherwise, I just leave it out.

Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2013, 03:20:42 AM »
That would definitely make it more interesting than just stating the fact. When I make up characters for my stories I always want to know every detail of their lives before I start writing. I find it really helps the story to write itself, but I only include those details if it is important to the plot or the character's development. Otherwise, I just leave it out.

I like to do this as well, but unfortunately I obsess and obsess over it until I've expended every ounce of energy I have to give on just laying the groundwork for my stories. I dearly hope this time it will be different though.

What sort of writer are you, I wonder? Do you prefer to outline a traditional three act story arc and fill in the blanks between the beginning, middle and end? Or do you turn your characters loose and find that you're just along for the ride?

Offline RScatts

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2013, 11:24:34 PM »
I like to do this as well, but unfortunately I obsess and obsess over it until I've expended every ounce of energy I have to give on just laying the groundwork for my stories. I dearly hope this time it will be different though.

I do the same thing, generally speaking, but I've committed to 'just write' with my current project. I've had friends nag me to stop being so obsessive because I apparently take too long to write a first draft.  ;)

What sort of writer are you, I wonder? Do you prefer to outline a traditional three act story arc and fill in the blanks between the beginning, middle and end? Or do you turn your characters loose and find that you're just along for the ride?

I like to create my characters first and just let the story write itself. It's easier for me to write that way. Something, though, if I feel like it's drifting I will sit down and write an outline to work out the plot. It helps to just start writing at first to at least give me some idea of where the story is going to go. When I try to plan it from the start, it never ends up following the outline. My characters come to life and take it over. LOL

Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2013, 11:30:00 PM »
I do the same thing, generally speaking, but I've committed to 'just write' with my current project. I've had friends nag me to stop being so obsessive because I apparently take too long to write a first draft.

God, I'm trying so hard to force myself to 'just write'. I can't get the first words down, though. I've been staring at this blank page for months. And the saddest part is that the story is essentially already written. I've gone over it so many times in my head that I know what happens, but I just can't make my fingers type when I open my word processor. How did you do it? You must tell me! :'(

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When I try to plan it from the start, it never ends up following the outline. My characters come to life and take it over.

Totally know how that feels. More than once my antagonist has somehow become the protagonist. You try and tell them what to do and they're just like "LOL no, I'm gonna do this instead."

Offline 2par

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2013, 02:54:21 AM »
Rain, do you keep a journal? 

When people say, "just start writing," what they mean is stop thinking.  Let your fingers tell the story.  Don't worry about the first line.  Just start anywhere.  You may find that what you first write will belong in the middle, or the second chapter or at the end.  But see, you're writing.   There's a thing called "Revision," that puts everything in context.   

Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2013, 02:28:50 PM »
Rain, do you keep a journal? 

Oh, a journal. That's something I haven't thought about in years. I used to when I was younger, and writing seemed so much easier back then. That can't be a coincidence.


Offline 2par

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2013, 02:42:53 PM »
Go to it, woman!  You've got the chops!

Offline Rain

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Re: A Question about Characters and their Families
« Reply #14 on: April 30, 2013, 02:45:20 PM »
Go to it, woman!  You've got the chops!

Yes Sir! ...or ma'am?