Like them or not, we all have them.
And so do our characters. After all, they don’t exist in a vacuum. They had a life before the story (and hopefully they’ll have a life afterward too.) They have families of some sort, just like we do. And friends and rivals and…
And let’s just stick to families, okay? They can have enough drama for multiple books.
Like it or not, our families helped form us into who we are. We might break from them and their beliefs, but they are still there in the background. Why should our characters be any different?
Answer: They shouldn’t.
Even if your characters’ families are never shown or mentioned or named in your book they’ve still had an impact on who your character is and why s/he is the way s/he is.
Some people are great at writing families and family relationships. I’m… not one of them. Most of my characters seem to come from families that are dysfunctional at best and downright toxic at worst.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
In Onyx Sun (which I will finish the revision of sooner or later), Taliya’s mother tried to cheat her out of her rightful place as head of household, and sold Taliya’s lover to a slaver. Growing up, Taliya always felt closer to her grandmother than to her mother – and to the father that she barely knew.
Sanguine is something of an exception, in that Gregor has a large, warm, loving, and closely knit, extended family (with one exception).
In Song and Sword:
Marlia’s family is dead but the manner of their deaths did a lot to shape who she was at the start of the story.
Dakkas’ father and half-brother want to kill him, so he grew up not really expecting to grow up. It made him cautious and hesitant to trust.
Pashevel and his father don’t see eye to eye, but at least he’s not plotting his son’s death. Pashevel’s mother is dead, and it was her banishment from the kingdom – along with his father’s somewhat cold attitude – that had the greatest effect on who he turned out to be.
Kashrya never knew her birth parents, but was raised by a shaman, who, while respected by the tribe, was never really a part of it, so she was also always an outsider.
And lastly, in The Academy of the Accord series:
Marsden is the oldest of a large family, and when their mother died after the birth of the youngest he pretty much took charge of raising the others. He loves his family, but we only meet two of them. He still fills a “father” role much of the time.
Vinadi is the only child of wealthy parents, both of whom were wizards, and was never really close with his family. (We only meet an aunt and a couple uncles.) He grew up isolated and lonely. His early wanderlust came from an unconscious desire to find “home” – which is also what led to his dream for the school.
Kordelm’s mother was a whore who kicked him out to fend for himself when he was just a child. He is resilient, street-smart, and independent. Something of a loner growing up, now that he has friends he will give his life to protect them.
Wellhym’s father threw him out when he was ten years old and it was discovered that he didn’t like girls. Wel’s mother never said a word, but his older brothers did. One of them later comes around and accepts him. The other… not so much. His friends become his surrogate family, but he never really stops wishing things could have been different with his birth family.
Torlew’s father was more interested in money than in his children. As the youngest son, Tor grows up seeing how unhappy his older siblings are, and resolves to not fall into that same trap. We meet his family and it’s about as awkward as you’d expect. He has one free-spirited aunt, who we never meet, and a little sister that is following in her footsteps.
Caristen’s family is loud and boisterous, and except for one temper tantrum from his father, they are totally accepting and supportive of him and his friends. (Cair’s mother is a force to be reckoned with and his father should be glad she wasn’t holding a cast iron skillet when he was throwing his tantrum.)
Yhonshel never knew his birth parents. He saw his first foster family killed for no reason other than that the man wanted to. It was eight years after that before he could form attachments to other people. (And then it was mostly because they didn’t give him a choice.) It was because of his helplessness as a child that Yhonshel became very good at protecting people.
(No, I’m not going to go through the families of the other characters from later books. If I do this post will turn into a novel and there are enough of those in this series.)
Maybe on Friday I’ll talk more about families – the kind you find or create vs the kind you’re born into.