My new idea this year is to write a family cookbook with stories. Each person who contributes a recipe should also write a short story about food to go with it. For example, my mom’s mom had a tradition of serving fried oysters for Christmas dinner. If I included the fried oyster recipe in a cookbook, I would write up the story of how my dad had to buy them each year. To get the freshest oysters possible, my dad would go to the fish market in Wheeling, West Virginia, on Christmas Eve. Wheeling has a large Italian community, and seafood is the traditional way to celebrate Christmas in Italian families. My dad said he did not want to get in the way of an Italian grandmother and her seafood order.
Stories like that will make a family cookbook even more precious.
Have you given someone the gift of your writing for Christmas? What did you give?
I could write a whole book on how to use family relationships as inspiration for stories. So many writers have explored child/parent relationships, sibling relationships, inter-generational relationships, and more. So I took a different approach and listed 4 ways adding family enhances your writing, even if theses relationships aren’t fully explored.
Give depth to minor characters
f you want minor characters to be more than props for your major characters to work with, give them some kind of relative. For example, a detective may have to interview witnesses to a crime. A convenience store was held up, and two people who work in the book store across the street might have seen the thief. Make the two witnesses husband and wife, or brothers, or sisters, and then have them argue while the detective questions them. You’ll get the information you need to convey to the readers in a more entertaining manner by exploiting the family relationship.
Make major characters human
In action or thriller genres, it’s difficult to work in much backstory for your main characters without bogging down the pace of your writing. But without a backstory, the heroic main characters can come across as little more than devices to propel the plot. Giving them some sort of family member makes the hero more human and relatable to the reader.
Alfred Hitchcock usually exploited family relations to provide some depth to his main characters without slowing the headlong rush of his movies. In Stage Fright, the heroine seeks her father to help her when the police are pursuing a close friend. When Janet Leigh goes missing in Psycho, it’s her boyfriend and sister who come looking for her. In North By Northwest, Cary Grant has a mother who doesn’t believe enemy agents are stalking her son.
Need tension? Add a relative!
Any time characters clash, tensions results. But the tension is often greater when the clash is between relatives. If you write romance, have a relative, rather then a friend, object to the heroine’s boyfriend. If you write epic fantasy, have your hero battle an evil relative for the throne. Also, a main character who stumbles upon a family secret adds tremendous tension, especially if other relatives don’t want the secret revealed.
Need higher stakes? Add a relative!
When the fate of the whole world is at stake if the hero doesn’t stop the alien invasion/ mad genius/ bio-terrorists, the stakes are high. But giving the hero a family to worry about while she is trying to save the world raises the stakes for the reader. Knowing how failure will personally affect the hero ties the reader more closely to the hero’s efforts.
How can family relationships enhance your writing?
Did you have a memorable Thanksgiving? Even if you didn’t, give yourself the first gift of the Christmas season and write down what happened. Keeping a journal of what happens on holidays is a wonderful gift for yourself or anyone among your family or friends with whom you regularly celebrate.
This is year will go down in my family’s history as unique. Forty-five minutes before the food was ready to set out, my teenage niece called and said her family — my oldest sister, her husband and son — would be late. My niece gave no explanation. Puzzled, I hurried about, getting my church ready for our family Thanksgiving.
I ran home, got a load of food from my husband, and drove back to the church. After I carried the food into the church, Middle Sis told me Oldest Sis called her. They were running late because they discovered, as they walked out of the house to drive to the church, that their van had been stolen, and they were waiting for the police to arrive.
My jaw dropped, but fortunately, my hands were empty, or a bowl of potatoes might have joined it.
Also, fortunately, my husband was a little behind schedule, so when Oldest Sis and her family finally arrived in another vehicle, they were only ten minutes late.
Even better, this story has a happy ending. A cop stopped by Oldest Sis’s house on Friday and drove her to where they had recovered her van. The thief was driving it just a block away from her home. When he saw the police were after him, he leaped out of the car, and it ran into another vehicle parked in a drive. Still, Oldest Sis has her van back, along with her prescription sunglasses, and the insurance will pay for the damage to the front of the van.
The press that published From the Lake to the River, the anthology my short story “Debt to Pay” appeared in is officially launching and will hold a Facebook party November 26. I will be a featured author, when you can ask me anything, from 7:10-7:25 EST. I’d love to chat with all of you who have been so kind to follow my blog. For more details, click here.