Writing Tips: Family Variety

27 Jan

Two points before we start on today’s topic:

The other day I realized I haven’t even hit the one-year mark of the release of Minutes Before Sunset, yet I’ve already had so much encouraging support. Because of this, I’ve added a Reviews page for The Timely Death Trilogy. Check it out, and you’ll see a variety of fellow authors and bloggers who’ve read it. Thank you for taking the time to write a review after reading!

This brings me to my other announcement. The Paris Carter reviewed Minutes Before Sunset, and you can read the entire review here, but here’s a teaser: “Shannon A. Thompson is able to hold your attention to the plot with a refreshing story than the average young adult novel filled with romance and a few over the top scenes. This novel focuses more on action and suspense than actual romance. This novel is great for anyone looking for a quick young adult novel that still has a great plot and characters.”

Today’s topic:

Everyone’s family is different. Some people have siblings, parents, and grandparents – some don’t. Some people are raised by their family, while others find all of their role models elsewhere. There are so many types of family members and how they all link together and work together. In one neighborhood, there are stepparents, adoptions, half-siblings, and uncles raising their nephews as sons. Variety isn’t just prominent in the physical relationships – it’s also in how someone decides to raise children or how family members interact with one another. Every family is different, and novels should show this – it will add believability, and it will also allow more of the readers to relate to the story. Below, I will share my experiences when creating different family types in Minutes Before Sunset and why I chose certain types for specific characters. (All pictures were created by FreeFlashToys – Stick Figure Family)

Instead of focusing on one family at a time, I am going to organize this post by different family types.

Stepfamilies: “It’s been calculated that about one in three of us is involved in a step-family situation.” – Net Doctor

I only have one of these in The Timely Death Trilogy, but it’s one of the protagonist’s families: The Welborns.

Eric’s family is probably the most complicated of all of the families. Before the novel, it was Eric, his father, and his mother. Then, his mother commits suicide, and his family remarries a number of years later. He then gains a stepmother – Mindy – and a stepbrother – Noah.

I wanted to show this for many reasons, one being that stepfamilies are very common nowadays. But there was also an emotional line I wanted to have in the novel. In Minutes Before Sunset, Eric struggles to understand his mother’s death as well as how he’s supposed to be connected to a family unrelated to him. I wanted this relationship to be symbolic to the division of humans and the paranormal creatures (in this case, shades.) This happened when Eric discusses how his stepmother and stepbrother are human, while he isn’t – causing a divide that both sides cannot see or  understand.

Eric Welborn’s family

Eric Welborn’s family

Single-Parent Families: “One out of every two children in the United States will live in a single-parent family at some time before they reach age 18.” – Health of Children

Single-parent families are defined by children being raised by a parent who has been widowed, divorced, not remarried, or never married. I managed to get all of these into the story, although we only see Eric’s father as a single-parent (widowed before he was remarried) in the first few pages. Jonathon – Eric’s best friend – would be the divorced situation. His mother left and never came back. Crystal – Jessica’s best friend – would be the never married situation. Her father is completely absent (and her mother isn’t around that often either.) Through their actions in the first book (and the next two to come) readers will see how their family situations have affected them. For instance, Jonathon is like a second father to his younger brother, Brenthan. But we’ll get into siblings in a minute.

Single-Parents Homes: Dad or Mom?

I know. I know. I just talked about this, but I wanted to add one more diverse part to consider: single-parents can be (and are) mothers AND fathers. Although it has been more common for mother’s to raise children alone, the single-father households are growing (according to this article by The Wall Street Journal.) This was personally something I couldn’t find in novels. I was in a single-parent household, raised by my father, and I remember wondering why I couldn’t find that in many novels when I was younger. Because of that, I was sure to have both situations in Minutes Before Sunset. The Hutchins – where Lola raises her daughter, Crystal – and the Stones – where George raises his two sons, Jonathon and Brenthan.

The Stones

The Stones

Siblings: 

There are so many different kinds of siblings, kids who are close in age and far apart in age, kids who only have sisters, and kids who have both sisters and brothers. There are step-siblings and half-siblings. But all of these types fall under siblings.

In Minutes Before Sunset, I have characters who have full-blooded siblings (Jonathon and Brenthan), half-siblings (Zac and Linda), step-siblings (Eric and Noah), and characters who don’t have siblings at all (Jessica, Crystal, and Robb.) But, like the other topics, having a variety is key to shaping a character’s personality and background, but their relationships can always change throughout the story.

Adopted: In 2008, 135,813 children were adopted in the US in all types of adoption – CreatingAFamily.Org

Like I said above, not everyone has parents or grandparents to take care of them. In this case, I wanted to show two different kinds: raised by adoption and raised by the community. After her parents died in a car wreck, Jessica was adopted when she was a baby. In another situation, Camille – Eric’s guard – was ditched by her parents. She was raised by the Dark as a community. She doesn’t have a traditional system at all.

Pets: Pet ownership in the U.S. has more than tripled from the 1970s – The Humane Society

I REALLY wanted to have them in the trilogy, but it just didn’t work out. However, there are pets in my other works. November Snow has a “pet.” Serena is constantly around a squirrel.

Pets was not the only thing I couldn’t include. There are so many types of families I didn’t have room for (military, grandparents, uncles/aunts, twins, etc.) But I am excited that readers will learn even more about the diverse range of backgrounds my characters have in Seconds Before Sunrise (book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy.)

After writing this, I want to add one more thing. 

BgoartReaders have different kinds of families, and it can often be difficult for readers when they can never find families similar to theirs in any novels. Personally, I had this problem growing up, so maybe this is why I try to add as much variety as possible. When I was younger, my family included my dad, my mom, and my older brother. At one point, we lived with my grandfather, but then, my mom died. A few years later, my father remarried. I had two stepsisters and a stepbrother. They divorced later, and it’s been my dad, my brother, and I ever since. (Although my brother is getting married soon – yay for sister-in-laws!)

I shared my personal story for one reason: different kinds of families aren’t uncommon. Changing family types isn’t uncommon. But I think variety can sometimes go unnoticed in novels (either by the reader or the writer.)  This is my attempt to share why I try to include variety – I think it’s important for both readers and writers – and I hope you’ll consider adding more variety and/or sharing how you’ve already added variety in your novels.

~SAT

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9 Responses to “Writing Tips: Family Variety”

  1. heatherbcosta January 27, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Thank you for posting this, Shannon.

    I agree that it is important to have a variety of family situations when creating a story universe as no two reader’s concept of the ‘average’ family will be the same. All readers bring their own view on family when they read something and I think pick up on different nuances of the family dynamic, yet this is often something most writers forget.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    Heather xxxx

    • Shannon A Thompson January 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      Heather,

      I’m glad you liked it! I honestly struggled figuring out how to write this post since there are so many types of families. I didn’t want to leave any out, but my post would’ve gone on forever, so I decided to only stick with one of my stories and see what it takes me. I hope more people consider variety in their family structures for their readers.

      ~SAT

  2. turnagealfonsojermaine January 27, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    Reblogged this on Alfonso Jermaine Turnage's Creative Writing Journal and commented:
    I love writing tips.

  3. L. Marie January 28, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    This is such a timely reminder of the changing face of the family. I’m glad you included a single dad raising his children. That’s a neglected subset.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      Thank you for reading and commenting, L. Marie!
      Yes, single-dad families are important to me for many reasons, one being how neglected they are, another being how many people don’t believe dads can raise children by themselves successfully, the biggest reason being my father raised me on his own – and I’m good :D
      ~SAT

  4. bizarrejc February 1, 2014 at 5:14 am #

    This is great insight as I am reading Minutes Before Sunset. It explains your thinking. As a writer, I’m always diverse in the family dynamics. I never thought about making sure there was a mixture it’s just how it worked out. In my novel Crossing Over I have grandmother raising grandson, widowed father raising children, child raised by aunt, foster care, two parent home, missionary parents. This situation helped form who my characters are as adults and reflect back on their younger years. Good blog topic.

    • Shannon A Thompson February 1, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      Thank you for commenting and reading Minutes Before Sunset! I hope you enjoy it. I really enjoyed reading about your variety in the families of your novel. I think it’s a very important topic for writers to discuss. I recently talked to a novelist who hadn’t thought about adding variety but did so subconsciously. When reflecting, they learned a lot about how the family formed the character. It was really neat to talk about. Thank you for adding your personal experience to the conversation!
      ~SAT

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