How to Write Fictional Families
When writing fictional families and siblings, there’s a certain dynamic to the relationships. It’s teasing, mean, loving, protective… it’s about a million things all wrapped up at once. Those of you with siblings will know what I mean. Keep in mind that the tips below might not fit quite all the families that populate your stories, so use your judgement, but they’ll fit the vast majority.
Yes, family members fight. All the time. Some of them fight more often than others, which tends to be proportionate to how much they’re around each other. How well personalities mesh or don’t has as much affect in families as it does in other relationships.
I fight with my mom more than my dad (waaaay more), and I fight with my closest younger sister more than any of my other siblings. With my mom it’s because we don’t get each other. We have serious issues seeing from the other person’s point of view or even just listening to each other in an argument. My dad is something of a translator when we get into spats. Think about who fights more in your fictional families, why, and who steps in to help.
Another thing to keep in mind is that arguments often repeat themselves. By this I mean both that the argument itself is often repeated on numerous occasions, and also that people arguing tend to repeat themselves, sometimes in subtly different ways, either to twist the meaning of their words or to try to be more clearly understood by the opposite party. But it’ll likely be more pertinent to your story to think about what the recurring arguments are among family members and why they haven’t been resolved yet.
They Work It Out
There’s always some resolution to an argument. They may end up storming out to cool down first, but then they come back, it’s put to rest (at least for a bit; it may be one of those recurring arguments), and all is good again. Particularly if an argument is merely a misunderstanding, it’s easy to forgive once the kinks have been sorted out.
Now, there are some arguments (particularly if they’re recurring) that may be harder to resolve than others. One person may not want to budge on their argument, and may have to be pushed to forgive or apologize. Think about which fights would be easier or harder to resolve and who would be more or less stubborn in the situations. Also think about how they might resolve it. Would they simply stop talking and let that be the end of it? Would they hug the other person to sort of prove that they’re forgiven?
If a Non-Family Member Tries to Pick on a Sibling, They’re There in a Heartbeat
Siblings. We pick on each other, we tease, sometimes we’re even kind of mean. But if another person picks on our sibling? We’re there in an instant ready to defend them to our last breath. We are the only ones allowed to pick on our siblings. Aside from maybe really close friends who are like siblings, because they’re just special.
We had a friend a while back who would constantly pick on my little sister (she comments as Siberia on here). Now, Siberia and I rarely get along (unless it’s the middle of the night and we’re supposed to be asleep but instead we’re chatting up a storm), but when said friend would pick on her and was mean to her, I would fight for her and sometimes even make sure she or both of us left so it didn’t happen any more.
Siblings are weird.
Families are Often Dysfunctional
No matter how perfect a family may seem from the outside, if you go and live with them for a week I guarantee you’ll see issues. No family is perfect. Some of us are downright dysfunctional and feel like we’re always a mess and aren’t doing anything right. But a dysfunctional family is not necessarily a broken family or a bad family. We love each other, even when it doesn’t seem like it. We all have our faults and flaws, and we all know exactly how to push each other’s buttons, but we get through all the fights, all the disagreements, all the mess. Because we’re a family. Don’t forget to give your fictional families flaws and errors. Unless they’ve been doing this for a really long time, they haven’t figured everything out. Maybe they haven’t figured out anywhere close to everything. But don’t let that alone make them worthless.
Family Doesn’t Have to Be Blood
I’ve been talking about and using examples from my blood family up to this point, but a family doesn’t have to be blood, and sometimes blood isn’t family. Using Catessa from The Last Assassin as a prime example, her family for the majority of her life was a ragtag bunch of assassins. She was orphaned as a baby, and finally at age six the leader of the Cron Hatal assassins’ guild took her in and added her to his family there. Now, some of the members really were related – there were brothers who were the leader’s nephews, and the other girl had a son – but they weren’t family for their blood relations, they were family for the way they took care of each other and were always there for each other and saw all the faults and flaws and still loved each other. Catessa’s birth family never became family to her, even after she found them. She finally became friends with her half-brother, but she was never as close to him as to the assassins. Her birth family may have been related to her by blood, but they never became her family. Her family was always that hobbled-together group of assassins.
Recommended Reading: Five Overused Clichés About Family in Writing (and How to Avoid Them) – Kingdom Pen
“Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind.” I feel like that’s a pretty good motto for this post. What do you think? Is there anything I missed? Who are your favorite fictional families? Let me know down in the comments.
5 thoughts on “How to Write Fictional Families”
This is a great post! I love what you mentioned about family arguments often repeating themselves. That’s not something we always think about, but as a family we have ongoing arguments- and sometimes even if we are arguing about something else the underlying motivation might be an older ongoing argument. The longer people have known each other, and the closer they are, the more complex the relationship is, which makes it all the more interesting to explore. Families are a wonderful example of people who are (typically) close and have known each other for a long time.
One of my favorite family relationships is between Liesel and her foster parents in The Book Thief. A favorite that includes siblings relationships is Moccasin Trail, with the Keath siblings.
Definitely! The underlying arguments playing into others is a really good point. I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s definitely true. :)