A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Family conflict as it applies to your characters

This post by Angela Kulig  made me think about something that actually plays a major role in the lives of most of my characters - family conflict.  Angela's post touches on birth order and how that affects the way a character behaves (someone in the comments brought up the good examples of Katniss/Prim from Hunger Games and the Weasley kids from Harry Potter).  But let's look at the larger picture here - how can family affect/influence/conflict your characters?

In one of my stories, a son who has been declared a bastard by his biological father because he's not "male" enough (he's fairly androgynous due to his mixed race courtesy of his mother's bloodlines) watches as his mother is beaten to death by the father who disowned him.  In another, one of my characters is adopted by someone completely out of her race/nationality and brought up in a manner unlike her own society after wandering away from her home and getting lost.  A third example would be a son born to a mother who is one race and raised to be accepted by a race so alien to his mother's own upbringing that there's conflict between her and the society she's chosen to live in about how he should be raised.

In each of these examples, we can see how a family situation can shape a character's beliefs.  Raghnall hates his biological father for his mother's murder, but he also hates his mother for staying with her abusive killer when she was told she could return home by her family.  He's later rescued by the group of assassins sent to kill his father & his half siblings (Raghnall's mother was his father's 3rd wife) and finds a father figure in one of the masters of the Order.  Anila comes from a primitive race with little true affection from her parents but quickly acclimatizes to living with a far more civilized group and actually comes to love the ways/customs of her foster father's people.  She also develops those attachments to home, family, and community that aren't as strong in her native race.  Reidar must reconcile his racial tendencies (which are rather prominent) with the societal demands of the land his mother lives as a refugee in.  Reidar's mannerisms are heavily influenced by the man his mother brings in to help raise him as well as her holding to certain customs from her homeland.  How each of these characters views the world is heavily influenced by the people who raised them.

What about characters that have no family ties?  The best example of that would be Scat from my Only A Name story.  She's a very young child when her world is turned upside down and she's torn from her parents by a war she knows nothing about and is sold as a slave.  She grows up in that slave environment before escaping a death sentence for her peculiar heritage that she inherited from her birth parents.  She encounters others like her in the sense that they're all running from their own deaths at the hands of those who would kill the fledgling race that she's a part of, but none of them are exactly like her - though they have several escaped slaves among them.  She feels isolated and alone because she doesn't remember/understand the concept of "family" and "community" that binds the group together.

Now, I do have characters that come from "normal" backgrounds.  Jerryth's mother and stepfather (Jerryth thinks he's his biological father until his real bio dad shows up when Jerryth's eighteen) have two children that are younger than Jerryth.  He's the oldest, so he's responsible for them.  A lot of his life revolves around the lives of his two younger sisters.  Meg cherishes the memories of her life with her older sister and her younger brother.  Pha Lin is her younger brother's staunch defender and main protector.  Algethra's bond to her twin brother Jes is what helps her survive some of the worst times of her life.  In each of these situations, it's the bonds of family that provide the anchor and in some cases the main backbone for the characters.

How about your characters?  What is it about their family life (or lack thereof) that motivates them?

Friday, July 6, 2012

A letter to my younger self

Dear 15 year old me,

If only I could tell you.  If I only I could tell you what the next 20 years will bring you.

You will lose someone you love in a terrible car accident, though you don't know you love him yet.  You've only just met him and his sister.  You love being with them because they give you the freedom from the hell that is your current home life and you love their family because they're so open and welcoming.  Keep that love in your heart forever, little one.  These people will love you for your whole life - even after shit hits the fan.

Your mother won't always treat you like shit.  She really does love you, though she can't express it the right way.  Not after what she lived through growing up.  Like you, she's got some undiagnosed mental illness and she hasn't found a way to work through the trauma of her own childhood.  Be grateful she isn't as bad as she was when the older three were kids, though I know she's bad enough to you now.

Don't give up on school.  I know it's hard.  I wish I could tell you how much better things would have been if you'd actually put some effort into your schooling.  Then again, if you were different I suppose we'd never meet Himself and get married.

I know you're depressed a lot, moreso than a normal teenager should be.  Don't worry.  In another year, they'll find a doctor who knows what this is and will get you the help you need.  You're going to rebel, of course, and it's going to come back to haunt you many times over the next 20 years.  But at least you'll have a diagnosis to work with and you will know that there is something wrong with you - and it is treatable.

You will try to take your own life when you lose the boy you're going to grow to love, because at that time you feel he's the only person in the world who loved you - aside from your little sister, who you should stop bullying because of the fact that you're jealous she doesn't get hit by your mom while you do.  You'll resent it at first, but you'll later be grateful to your father for stopping you.  He won't even know that he's saving your life because you'll never tell him or your mom how close you came to ending your own life.

You will love again, only to be betrayed.  But that betrayal will give you the courage to leave everything you know behind and move to Washington.  By doing that, you open yourself up to a new experience - a new life.  You will find yourself both loved and hated by the people around you.  You're different from them, and some will resent you for it.  But you will excel at what you do and you'll make new friends that will remain friends for life.  You will also open yourself up again to love.  You will love a boy who learns to love you back, and eventually you will get married.

You will get the mother you always wanted, only to have her stolen away by cancer.  You will lose everything you love and almost everything you own, and you will once again find yourself in the position of wanting to take your own life.  But again someone who loves you will stop you, even though he is the cause of some of your pain.  You will work through it and become stronger for it.

Over the next 20 years, you will face death, pain, and loss.  You will drop out of college because of illness.  You will spend time in the hospital multiple times due to illness.  You will be on different medications off and on through your life because of illness.  You will gain a new insight into handling your depression and anxiety, and you will learn to smile and laugh again.

There will be negative things in your life, but there will also be joy.  You meet a man you can love and who will love you back.  You will be together for 13 years and married for 10 as of the writing of this letter.  He will be there to back you up.  You will make many new friends and you will start to realize your dream of becoming a published writer.

Throughout everything, there will be one constant: your writing.  You're going to want to quit here soon.  You're going to have that dream punctured for you by your teachers.  Your mother is going to give you one of the rare pieces of good advice and encouragement that she gave us during our teenage years - "No matter what happens, don't stop writing.  Even if your fingers cramp and you're crying tears of blood, don't stop writing."

We will stop writing, but we will never stop dreaming.  And because of your husband, you really take a good, hard look at your dream and realize that maybe, just maybe, it's reachable.  You will meet other writers, people who become good friends, who will encourage you.  You will offer encouragement and praise to them as well, and will learn a lot about the craft from them.

Remember, even as bleak as being a 15 year old in an abusive and dysfunctional family can be, you will have 20 years of life to live and while it won't always be all sunshine and rainbows, it will teach you to be strong.  Keep that in mind and you will be fine.

With much love,
Your 35 year old future self