Writing about Family in Fiction

There is no one generic way to write or depict family in fiction. As we well know a family can be two married people with children, a divorced couple with children, a single head of household with children or the extended family of cousins and other relatives. Or it can be a circle of friends who feel like family.

Depicting family in fiction can be complicated in order to avoid cliches and holes in your storytelling. Here are a few tips to add more flesh and blood to your fictional families.

  1. Write what you’ve observed and experienced with detail. For example, if your fictional family is going through grief, depict how individual members are handling the loss and how they are interacting after the loss.
  2. Create rituals for your families beyond a skimming over a holiday or event activity. Maybe your fictional family is casual preferring to eat fried chicken and French fries for Christmas dinner. Maybe they use paper plates because they hate washing dishes. Do they sit on the front porch every evening at dusk to watch the sun go down?
  3. Give them tensions that are palpable. A daughter going through puberty can be on edge and testy. Use that to move a story along. Maybe the mother is going through a health crisis while dealing with that kid. That’s a tension your readers will most definitely feel.
  4. Make them opposites or give them divergent personalities. Families share values, maybe. Maybe yours does not. Perhaps, your fictional family is dysfunctional and one member is tasked with holding everyone together without losing their sanity.
  5. Every family – dysfunctional or not – has something they’re proud of. Give your fictional family sources of pride. A source of pride can also be a source of contention and dramatic tension. For example, if your fictional family prides itself on its academic accomplishments and one person is an academic failure who prefers to be entrepreneurial, then that could be a source of contention.

The point is to focus less on the dynamic of your family and focus more on making them compelling to your readers and assets to your story.


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