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?
good tip. I use the family, sometimes though, i put in friends and enemies as well.
Even more tension when the enemy is a relative.
I love this article. Personally I’m not quite ready to use family in my character, I rather use myself and relationships.. I think it’s something I need to try, you know leave my comfort zone..
This is a great piece with interesting insights. Thank you for sharing!