It can provide strength and comfort. Sometimes it's more hindrance than help! We ask Tara Taylor Quinn and Robyn Rychards how they approach family in their romance writing.
Tara Taylor Quinn - On Familiar Ground
My books almost always include some kind of family element. The most basic reason for this is, not because I choose it, but because people have family and I write about people.
When I read I want to be able to find some element of myself in the story. I need to be able relate to it in some fashion. My books are my friends, just as the human beings with whom I associate are my friends. So when I write, I’m constantly aware that it’s my job to create characters and worlds that would be like any human friend a reader might hold dear. And just as I don’t know a single human being who is such a loner that they had no family, ever, or never had another person in their life in any fashion, or had any human interaction that shaped their life, I can’t create relatable people, perhaps lifelong friends for my readers, without those things.
I write romance, but no couple I know has just their partner in their lives, wanting or needing their time and attention.
My understanding of my purpose here on earth, my job as I see it, is to bring the belief that hope is real to my readers. To keep hope alive within their hearts. Not just for a happily ever romance, but hope that love really is the strongest entity among us. That it is strong enough to conquer anything. I do this by writing characters who face real life issues and challenges. Yes, there is a larger than life element to add the entertainment factor, but overall, these stories are real unto themselves. They are real in what they offer.
Because what they offer is glimpses into lives of people like you and me. People who have great families and broken families. Who have best friends, or are betrayed by friends. Who have kids, want kids, don’t want kids and can’t have kids. Who have troubled kids and wonderful kids. Who’ve suffered through the death of a parent, or dealt with a lawnmower one. Who have parents in prison and parents who rule the world. Who fall in love with, or are friends with, people who are from a different culture, whatever that diversity might be. None of us live in a world that is exclusive to one culture or belief or preference. Which means that I have to put my characters into a world that is not exclusive.
I also firmly believe that family is not just the biology that created us. There are all kinds of families and varying degrees of sense of family. Sometimes a workplace feels like a family. I certainly feel as though I share a kinship with my publisher and with my author peers. I feel a different, but equally compelling sense of family with the readers who relate to my books. Neighborhoods often also take on a sense of bonding and belonging. These same things can bring the opposite effect into a character’s life just by the nature of being capable of being family and failing in that regard.
In a purely practical sense, family elements not only add depth to the hero or heroine I might be writing, but they add content and context to the story, too. They allow me to show the reader my character, through her interactions or lack thereof with the people in her life, rather than just tell about her. They deepen the plot, add more words to the page, and give me a lot more to write about!
Robyn Rychards - Family Is Important
One of the first things I consider when I’m creating a character is their family dynamic, whether that means they are an orphan who grew up with no family, someone who has a huge family, or something in between. Family is always a factor in some way.
Some of my heroes and heroines have several siblings—which is great for potential connected stories down the line—and some are like the hero of my latest book, Dancing With the Best Man, who grew up on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico because his mother died when he was five and his older brother, who was taking care of him, died a few years later. Which makes for the kind of hero I love, scarred and tortured, ready to be redeemed by the love of a good woman! But even with that rough start he ended up with a family of his own choosing. A woman who helped him become a dancing star was his mother figure and a guy he met in college became like a brother to him. Our instinct is to have some kind of family in our lives, whether blood related or not. And that affects who we are and how we relate to others. Which makes it vital when creating our characters.
Now comes the tricky part…
I’m not one who likes a lot of secondary characters in my romance. I read romance for the interaction between the hero and heroine, so everyone else, though necessary, can get in the way of ‘the good stuff’. Even though family is vital to the story, how much of an appearance they make can be hard to determine. Especially since personal preference is such a factor. Since I’m not a fan of extra characters—which is probably part of why I love category romance so much!—I sprinkle them in and make sure they are adding to the reader’s understanding of the hero or heroine in the process. Letting the reader know something about the hero or heroine’s character, or history, so they understand them better, or reveal something about their past that relates to what is happening between the hero and heroine in the now. I also have to keep in mind that with these side characters’ brief appearances, I need to create a person who is memorable as well as makes the impression I want on the reader. A good one if they’re going to appear again, or a bad one if their impact on the hero, or heroine, was a negative one.
Writing is hard!
Here’s where I’m going to freak a bunch of people out…
I don’t like reading stories with children/babies in them. Judging by the number of stories out there with kids in them, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I’m in the minority! To me, in a story, just like in real life, kids are the parent’s responsibility 24/7. So when you’re writing one, or reading one, the child/children have to be taken care of in some way. I’m constantly thinking about where they’re at, whether I’m reading or writing. Do they need a babysitter, are they asleep, are they with other family members, they always need to be somewhere safe. Which means they’re in the way of the main characters. With adult characters you only need to think about them when they’re in the scene. That having been said, how a hero handles a baby can make you fall in love with him more! Especially if he isn’t into kids and comes to appreciate how wonderful they are because of the heroine’s little one. One of my favorite stories is Jessica Hart’s Juggling Briefcase and Baby. She did a marvelous job keeping me in the story without feeling like the baby was in the way. I’ve read a bazillion category romances and that one has stuck with me as one of my faves, even though I don’t generally enjoy a romance with kids.
So, really, family is important in fiction because, as in real life, it has a lasting impact on the character and shapes the kind of person they are when hero and heroine meet!
Whether it's lost-and-found family, interfering aunts, or a cluster of children, family is everywhere in romance novels. Which authors do you go to for family connections? Are you a fan of characters with big families or do you prefer them to be in search of a family of their own? Comment below or chat to us on social media using #FamilyTies