Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Importance of Families - Nicole Murphy

One thing that irritates me in a book is what I call the isolated character – that is, someone who’s living by themselves and with seemingly no other relationships. No family, no friends, no neighbours that they interact with. I’ve seen it a lot in romance, and science fiction and fantasy tends to be another place it crops up.
It seems to occur because it’s just easier to have a character take off into a story if they have no other ties and there’s so many things in writing that’s hard, it can be tempting to take the easy route. Less characters, less problems, more focus on the story at hand.

However, I think this robs the author of valuable resources for creating tension. I’m sure if you asked most people who creates the most problems in their lives, they’d come back with one answer – family.

Parents. Siblings. Cousins. Aunts and Uncles. These are special relationships, and with them comes a special happiness and a special pain. Happiness and pain that an enterprising author can use.

One of my favourite series at the moment is the Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan. She uses family very cleverly within the series, making it both the salvation and the destruction of the characters.

This is YA, and so at first you see how the family situation has formed the characters – how they view themselves and the world, their behaviours and relationships. Then you’ve got two strong sibling relationships, and you can see how a brother or sister can be both your greatest support and your worst enemy, because they know you so well.

There are developed families – situations like the magicians’ circles, which become the support network for each other when their blood families reject them.

Families are drawn together and cracked apart. For me it’s one of the most compelling things about these books – watching these relationships get tested and seeing if the years of shared history and love can survive.

In my own Dream of Asarlai trilogy, I’ve found myself having a lot of fun with families. A brother and sister can fight in a way few other relationships manage. Sons and daughters can believe their parents point of view fully and then when they reach adulthood and see the situation for themselves, have everything destroyed. Family can be the only place you can find sanctuary from the rest of the world.

The holiday period tends to be a time we spend with our real-world families. Let’s hope more authors realise the importance of fictional families and let all the laughter and anger come to the fore.

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