Saturday, June 24, 2006

Characters and Families

One of the things both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has done is remind me how important it is, as we create our characters, to ask what their relationships are with their families. Good or bad, those relationships will have profoundly shaped how our characters see themselves and how they interact with others, though always in ways that are unique to who they are.

So....when you create a character, ask yourself how they got along—or didn’t!—with their mothers and fathers. Ask yourself about their siblings. Do they have any? Did they get along?

Everything we encounter in our own lives becomes fodder for the writing. At the same time, we can recognize that someone else might react differently than we have to a given situation or relationship. That’s part of the fun of writing, isn’t it—to imagine how else it might have been or what else we could have done?

And if someone isn’t a writer, it’s still a useful exercise to ask oneself how else one could look at those primary relationships in our lives. How might we have interpreted things differently? What might have motivated those other people in our lives? What would it have been like if things had been different?

It is the relationships and assumptions and expectations we never stop to question that trip us up and hold us back. But we don’t have to let ourselves be limited. Writers or not, we can use our imaginations to wonder and perhaps discover new possibilities and new ways to look at the world and the people around us.

Happy writing and imagining!



Sharona N said...

Hi April,

I've been catching up on your blog, now that I turned in the long short story that was giving me fits (and yes, the editor bought it). Yay!

Family is one of the first things I think of when I'm creating characters. I've noticed that I create lots of adult characters who are only children, estranged children, or outright orphans. And I think that reflects my gut feeling about family, which is that my family does not have individuals to whom I am especially close. I certainly don't relate to them much. For me, family is often mostly a pain in the butt. My chosen family of friends, now that's different.

At any rate, my characters often have a void behind them, and they react to that void in a number of ways.


April said...


Family impacts all of us. Sometimes we recreate situations in our writing that mirror what we knew and sometimes we go for the opposite--wanting to imagine what that might have been like. Either way, taking into account the impact of family can add tremendous power and depth to our writing.