Thanksgiving: Family in Fiction

Hello everyone, happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you all are doing well, I know this time of year can be a bit of mixed bag for some folks. I personally know all too well how much family can affect this time of year. It has a way of making life both sweeter and more bitter, depending on the context. For that reason, I thought I might spend some time today waxing and waning about how family gets played out in fiction. Of course, this is a broad topic, so I’ll try to keep it straightened out in my head by focusing on two aspects, blood family and found family.

I believe these two types are rather self-explanatory, but to give a brief definition for how I will be using them, blood family are all members directly related to a character, and found family is all family brought together by circumstances and do not share blood relation.

Blood family exists in every form of fiction by necessity, we all come from somewhere and therefore we all have some connection to the past. Writers often use it as a tragedy or a burden upon a character. Such as a loss in a character’s past, or a terrible member of their past that plagues them to this day. In this way, blood family can often add melodrama to a story, as it is a tie the character never fully breaks from regardless of their efforts. This lends itself well to a narrative of running from your past, and how you never truly escape it until you’ve confronted and accepted it. It also can be used to show the character’s ability to respond to pain or conflict and establish a deeper understanding of a character.

This is why, in many cases, blood family find themselves in the background of a story. Rarely are they a part of the main plot, but they can act as powerful driving forces for a character or narrative. Other times, they are used to provide unique insight into a character, such as how they were growing up or how they came to diverge.

This is not always the case, of course, if the story is about a particular family drama, which leads to it becoming part of the setting. For example, the old house they all lived in or a town where the family played a major role in its history. In this case, we are often dealing with the broader, almost meta, concept of family, and how it connects us together and it might tie us to a physical place.

Lastly, blood is used as a shorthand excuse why two fundamentally divergent characters work or interact together. Siblings in particular work in this vein, as the relationship often has a strain of conflict mixed in from a shared history.

Found family, on the other hand, can often be found as a central point in a story. Writer often have to go to greater lengths to show the bond due to the fact the nature of the relationship is often more implied than directly stated. It’s similar to a romance, in that both require the author to get the reader invested moreso than blood. For that reason as well, it is easier for authors to fall into the same formulaic methods of found family, which should always be avoided as it usually leads to staler or two dimensional relationships. If the found family is a central plot point, it needs to focus on the character personalities and how they mesh or create conflict.

Found family is also often different depending on if its with a particular group or an individual. For example, if a person joins an already functioning found family as an organization or neighborhood. The focus then is on how they mesh or create conflict with the group itself rather than any one individual, although individual relationships may be explored as part of this development.

Honestly, due to the nature of found family, it is so much harder to gauge when it is not a central part of the narrative, as it either shares some of the subtleties of blood family or has to be established similar to an established romantic relationship. Regardless, the emphasis is always on the choice. The characters have either by necessity or desire, bonded together to form familial connection, relating often to a specific type of relationship such as filial or parental.

Regardless of type, all families do share a number of similarities. In particular, the bond shared gives meaning to the character and expands who they are. It also cements them somewhat, as we have greater understanding of where they come from and who they are by their interactions with this family. No person is an island, and we are all defined by our relations and circumstances, both past and present.

For that reason, I am thankful for my own family, both found and in blood, for making me who I am today. For guiding me down this path and leading me to follow my dreams through my stories and this site.

Now then, however you might find or know your family, I pray you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Share your thoughts!