Does Your Family have Character(s)?
When does a family stop being full of characters, and become a character itself?
I recently started a new series, THE CHILDREN OF MERLIN. It follows the Tremaine family over a period of about ten years. They are descended from the wizard of Camelot, and carry the magic gene that comes alive and gives them a magical power when they meet their destined mate, who also has the gene. Each book will follow one of the Tremaine children as they discover true love, sometimes in surprising places, and all the wonderful and frightening magical power that comes with it.
I have to admit I had NO idea what I was getting into when I started writing about the large and boisterous Tremaine family. There are three brothers and three sisters, assorted friends and relatives, as well as Brian and Brina Tremaine, the sometimes wise and sometimes bewildered parents of their brood. During the course of the series we’ll see the kids grow up, pray to achieve their destiny or try desperately to escape it, encounter obstacles, sorrow, and find happiness.
That means I have to introduce all of them, and they have to be true to their character, even in the first book, DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? Each has things they have to learn. I have to keep their stories straight, and so does the reader. And let’s not forget the people they find and marry. Then too, even big, loving families are not all sweetness and light. Parents make judgment errors. There are alliances and rivalries. Yikes!
So why on earth did I commit to a complex, six-book cycle about a family?
First, I realized I wrote dark paranormal books where the hero and/or heroine always seemed to be orphaned, or one of the parents was the villain. I did that so they wouldn’t have unconditional love and support they could rely on. That makes their situation more desperate. Readers probably assume I came from a rotten background when in reality I had a great family.
I like reading about families too, just because they’re so complex. I’m a Regency fan and Georgette Heyer did great families, like the one in COTILLION. Julia Quinn wrote the Bridgerton Series, which I loved. Stephanie Plum’s family is half the fun of Janet Evanovich’s mystery series. The examples could go on and on.
So I took the plunge and put my fascination with Merlin and Camelot in a contemporary setting, then added a big dollop of family to it. Don’t get me wrong, these are first and foremost love stories. And since the Tremaines aren’t the only ones with magic DNA, they have enemies, which brings in elements of suspense. But the one thing each protagonist in these books can count on is that the family supports them in the end.
Now that I’m nearly finished with book two, HE’S A MAGIC MAN, the family has started to be more than just an aggregation of characters. It has become a character in itself.
How did that happen? Families don’t always become a character of their own. Stephanie Plum’s family is a group of fantastic characters, but I don’t feel as if they have become a single character. I did feel that the Bridgerton family was a character of its own, though.
That gave me a hint. In the “ONE FOR THE MONEY” series, Stephanie’s family affects the action as individuals, more like her fellow bail bond workers do. Grandma Mazur’s attendance at important wakes, Cousin Vinny’s “eccentric” management style, Lula’s bounty assists or Connie’s assignment of cases, are all important elements of the plot. But they affect the action separately, not as a unit. In the Bridgerton series, on the other hand, the family confers with each other, takes action to support their members, and each plays their part in the larger family plan. The family acts as a whole to affect the story.
I think that’s what happened in THE CHILDREN OF MERLIN. The family dynamic as a whole became a character.
So, question for all of you--what are your favorite family novels? I’d love to hear about a few. And was the family itself a character, or was it a collection of individual eccentrics? Since I have four more books to write--I’m very interested in your thoughts!