Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Family Ties

Recently, I've noticed two things about my writing that, although I was technically aware of them, hadn't really hit me before:
  1. I have a lot of families in my novels. By that I mean: any given POV or otherwise major character probably has at least one sibling or other close relative who's also a POV or otherwise major character. In all my novels, there's only five characters, tops, who don't fit this.
  2. The more important the family is to the plot, the larger the family is. This one is most noticeable with the Alyron family from my Berstru Tales novels. For those of you who aren't on the Underground: the Alyron family is extremely large, and probably contains between a third and half of all the characters in the novels.
 As an example of what I'm saying, here's a rundown of the major characters in Berstru Tales according to families:

Gwen, Dea, Jake, Jared, Emma, Abbie, and Nightshade.

Dustin, Hunter, and Rachelle

Ariana and Alastair

Bianca, Aleta, and Makara.

As you can see, only three of the fifteen major characters have no family ties to any of the others. (And that number may go down to two, depending what I decide about a certain minor plot twist.) Also, in line with what I noted before, the Alyron family makes up about half the major characters.

Having realized all this, I started wondering: why do I have so many families in my novels, particularly large ones? Having so many related main characters is hardly the norm in most fantasy and sci-fi (at least that I've read). Also, though I do know a very large family, my own family is quite small (and I like it that way!). After some thought, I came up with several reasons.
  1. Family conflict makes things very interesting. This comes into play a lot with the Alyron family. Quick overview: Dea resents being forever in the shadow of Gwen and Nightshade and deals with it by creating a family-within-a-family of the Alyron outcasts. Emma considers herself generally inadequate, partially because she was bullied by some of her siblings (particularly Jared) and partially because she constantly compares herself to Gwen and Dea. This leads to a rocky relationship between Emma and Gwen, who is well aware of Emma's awe and isn't sure how to deal with it. And, of course, Nightshade wants Gwen dead, which is part of what sets off the entire series.
  2. Having random family members pop up is ridiculously fun. Like when that nick-of-time rescuer turns out to be the brother your main characters have been searching for. Or when a seemingly random tavern in the middle of nowhere is owned by a characters' aunt. I'm not talking about big "Luke I am your father"-type revelations, just times when a family member shows up unexpectedly. It makes for some very amusing scenes.
  3. Families make the characters feel more real. Almost everyone has some kind of family, and everyone is shaped by their family in some way. When I read, finding out about a character's family and his relationship with them makes the character feel more alive, and the same is true when I write. Actually meeting the family and having them play a role in the story increases the effect.
  4. One word: leverage. If you want my characters to do something and they don't agree, put their family members in danger. It works every time. In all seriousness, though, family does provide a pretty big motivation for my characters, both in my Berstru Tales and my fairy-tale remakes. In the latter, in fact, the plots are largely driven by my characters' desire to protect or help family. 
  5. It's something different. Like I said earlier, large numbers of related characters aren't exactly the norm in fantasy and sci-fi. I feel like my tendency towards having almost all my characters be related helps make my stories unique.
What about you? Do you like including characters' families in your stories? Or do your characters tend to be off on their own? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)


  1. My entire story revolves around my two main characters(sisters) searching for their parents. I definietly think families are important when it comes to stories.

  2. This is so interesting! I decided to family-tree one of my stories, and you're right, families do pop up a lot (although I think you take the cake in terms of number!).

    1. Thank you! And cool. I'd like to see your family trees sometime, if you feel like posting them. :)

  3. Also: Sarah! I've been trying to contact you about a blogging event. Could you e-mail me at aruvidich@gmail.com?


I'd love to hear your thoughts! But remember: it pays to be polite to dragons.