In my new release Most Ardently, an LGBT+ retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, our story centers on the Benitez family – a working-class, close-knit bunch that often drive each other completely insane. One of my main struggles while writing was keeping them recognizable as a modern-day version of the Bennet family, while still giving them their own identity. There was some overhaul to fit with the modern setting – their country estate is now a terrible apartment complex, the parents are now amicably divorced, the mother isn’t solely interested in marrying her daughters off – but I also made sure to retain to the classic Bennet family chaos. The result is a loving, if utterly exasperated relationship between the Benitez sisters and their parents – and some of the book’s funniest dialogue.
Writing families is hard, and the bigger the family is, the more complex it can get. I think half the reason there are so many only children and single parents in Fictionland is because having fewer people in the main character’s immediate circle makes things much less complicated to write. But a well-written, well-developed family can give your main character more depth, explain where all their various neuroses came from, and give them people to bounce off of. And, as much as we all love reading romance, sometimes the most interesting relationships come from the people your character has been stuck with for life.
When creating a fictional family, here are some questions that you can use to develop them.
How often do the family members talk to each other? Would they talk more often if they could? Less often?
What’s the family’s financial situation like? How long has it been like this? How does it effect their interactions with each other?
What’s one thing your main character does that drives their family crazy? What’s one thing their family does that drives them crazy?
Are there any quirks most or all members of the family share? Do they even realize they do it until someone points it out to them?
If they had to be trapped on a desert island with one member of their family, who’s your main character picking? Why?
Related to the above – if they had to pick, who’s your main character shoving off the boat first if things go south? Why? Do they feel at least a little bad about that?
Does the family do things together for holidays? What do they do? How does everyone feel about it? Do they look forward to it? Tolerate it? Dread it?
If your main character’s family was to pick out a perfect life for them, what would they have them doing? Does this line up with what your main character actually wants at all, or are they way off the mark?
Which family member is your main character most like? How so? Do they realize the similarities? If they don’t – which family member do they think they’re most like?
What would the family do if they suddenly won a million dollars in the lottery?
How would the family cope if their house suddenly burned down with all their possessions inside?
What primary lesson or value has the family been drilling into the main character’s head since they were a kid? Has the main character stuck with it as they got older? Questioned it? Rejected it altogether?
Writing families can be so much fun, especially if they’re central to your main character’s story arc. When writing Most Ardently, I quickly grew to love the dynamics between the Benitez sisters, and especially the relationship my heroine Elisa has with her mother. Both women are funny and intelligent, with a lot of love between them… but they’re also both absurdly stubborn and hotheaded, so when they lock horns, look out.
Speaking of Most Ardently, you can get it now and see the Benitez family in action, in all their absurd glory. There’s also an enemies-to-lover romance, tons of interesting women, and Jane Austen jokes by the boatload. I’m so excited to finally share this book with the world, and I hope you check it out!