Sunday, November 08, 2009

It's all Relative, Darn it !

I have two brothers. They're really great guys and very supportive of my writing aspirations. I wish they were as supportive of my need for repairs to my plumbing and having my roof cool-sealed, but that's another story. They're hard-working, terrified of our Mom (who isn't)and are good to their spouses, kids and animals. So, I think I'll keep them. Besides, they give great Christmas gifts.

We all have relatives we'd rather not talk about or at least rather not have at the family reunion. I've noticed that in many romance stories the hero and heroine either have no family at all or have a family that makes the Addams family look normal. It got me thinking.

Some secondary characters are a necessary part of the story, to keep it moving. We can write them in and out of the story at will. When it comes to relatives it's a little bit harder. Have you ever made a hero or heroine an orphan only child because you just don't want to fool with the relatives? Have you ever added and eccentric relative only to have them take over the story and run with it? Do you ever think your writing about relatives is born of your own familial experience or do you try to keep your family out of it? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Those of us who were born and raised in the South or at least by a Southern Mama (that would be me) know that in the South you don't ask if there is insanity in the family. You just ask which side it's on. I love Jeff Foxworthy's take on it when he says you get into the car after the family reunion, look at each other and say "What is wrong with those people?" In my family we invite "those people" to the reunion just for the entertainment factor. (Don't tell my Mom. She thinks we're being nice.) And don't even get me started on my Yankee cousins.

So, how about it. Would your relatives recognize themselves if they read your novel? Do you use relatives to spice up your story or as comic relief or are they just too much trouble? What's the best use of relatives in a story you've ever read? or written?


M.V.Freeman said...

Hmm, off hand I cannot think of a story that has a great use of family, but I have read some where the family is wonderful. See Louisa, you are now going to make me peruse all my books to find it. *sigh*

But, I do use my family (extended and otherwise) to help with relationships, but I really fictionalize it.

Whats that old addage---truth is stranger than fiction, especially in families.

As for secondary caharacters running amok in a book..I have to watch that. Lets face it, secondary family characters are notorious for it.

This was a GREAT post! :)

Christine said...

First of all, so good to MEET YOU in person. You are awesome!!

Second, I have a really crappy mom. I tried to write a fictional story with a nice mom in it and my CPs said she was awfully mean!! I can't write a nice mom. Won't try.

As for family, my poor heroine has little or no family. Hero usually has a great family but we don't see them much.

I once wrote a story, my first, with the hero's family really being strong, but her family NOPE.

Nora Roberts writes totally cool families. I love her books...but her moms are like non-existent or mean. Almost like the fairy tale moms.

Okay, enough blathering... but again, so happy to meet you!

Louisa Cornell said...

Happy to finally you too, Christine! The luncheon was so much fun and I was thrilled to finally put a voice and face with the person.

I didn't get a long with my Mom for a long time, but in the last ten years or so as we are both widows and living alone we have become much closer. She is my biggest fan and cheerleader when it comes to my writing.

I have a number of writer friends who actually put characters based on their relatives (mostly parents) to work things out. Very therapeutic from what they say.

I think the parents we write in our stories are directly affected by the parents we know best - our own.

Then again I have a character who has popped up in all three of my books so far who is based on my Great Aunt Icie. She lived to be 94 and drove until she was 90. The police called me when she had her last car accident at age 90. Apparently she rear-ended a car. Nobody was hurt and she swore the car pulled out in front of her. Only problem - it was a parked unoccupied car !! Trust me this was one tough, opinionated old lady. She demanded things be done HER way. So much so that when she was planning her funeral she told me she wanted me to check and make sure they put underwear on her, including a slip and that she had her shoes and glasses on. I went to the funeral home the night before the funeral and made sure. Didn't want that old lady coming back to haunt me!

Christine said...

Your great aunt sounds like tough and fun person. I had Grandma Glover, DH's grandma. She was a super lady and inspired me with her zest for life. We were sad to part with her.

Cari Hislop said...

I think main characters' families are really important because family shapes character and for me character shapes the story. Even though I had awful parents, I have some lovely parental figures in my stories and just because characters are good and kind doesn't mean they can't be the conflict! In one of my stories the hero (a love starved misogynist) refuses to admit he's in love or that love even exists though he eventually admits he wants to marry the heroine. The heroine's parents concoct a scheme to force the hero into admiting he loves their daughter. They're quite ruthless and their scheme creates the best scenes in the story.

In one story I'm working on the hero is a widowed father of five mostly grown sons. The young men (who love their father) insist on helping him find a wife, but they're anything but helpful!!! I adore them all, but then I only have to live with them in my head.
The story wouldn't happen without the sons' interferance. They set the story in motion and keep offering new conflict along the way. I think that's fairly typical with my main characters' families.

Jeanie said...

In my latest book, the heroine has a managing mama, a 'perfect' older brother and a crazy great aunt, but the hero has NO family. Are the characters based on MY family? Nope. To tell you the truth, most of my characters, even the crazy ones, are based a little on me . . . okay, a LOT on me.

As for books where family members are important or memorable, I have to say Grandma Mazur in the Stephanie Plum series stands out for me. I mean, who could forget a crazy granny that shoots the Sunday roast chicken in the gumpy?And I love all the Bridgertons and the entire family in Mary Balogh's "Slightly" series.

Georgette Heyer had a way of creating memorable secondary characters. Sometimes you hated them, but you sure didn't forget them. The old maid cousin in Heyer's "Lady of Quality" and the father in "The Masqueraders" come to mind.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Great post! Some of us were discussing this very topic over the weekend. I realized that I tend to relegate the extended family to the fringes because they are inconvenient.

I also tend to orphan my protagonists a lot (I'm as bad as Disney!). I lost my own mom two years ago, and that's probably been an influence as well.

So far, I haven't used any of my family members in my work, but I won't rule it out. Relatives beware! ;-)