Shaped by Family

93 Million Miles
Jason Mraz
YouTube     Lyrics

I’ve lived in small towns and big cities, in the center of everything and in the middle of nowhere. After moving half a dozen times, I find that I no longer really miss places. I miss family dinners, movies with friends, or the simple enjoyment of a beautiful day. I have found that it is the people you share moments with that impart true meaning.

In writing, as in life, it is the relationships between people that define who they are and who they become. In our young lives, our family by blood establishes our world view by introducing us to faith, culture and by providing a model for how other relationships should function. As we grow older, however, we find blood by choice, those people who help us decide who we want to become. In both cases, it is family helps put our world into context.

I once read a piece of advice from Jim Butcher that uses this human tendency to his advantage as a writer. In his live journal, he states that when he creates an important scenic location, he also creates a character to be the “face” of that place. For example, the St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church is a comforting place for Dresden not only because of the times he has sought sanctuary there, but more importantly because of the kindness, support and healing he had received from Father Forthill. It is our bond with Forthill, through Dresden, that brings a greater depth of meaning to the location.

I have also found that characters are easier to remember when their relationships are clear, with the protagonist and each other. This is especially true when it becomes necessary to introduce a large cast in a short time span. As an example, I have gone through a couple drafts of the first chapters of the book I am currently editing. Though the characters were unique and interesting, and the characterization was strong, my readers consistently had a hard time keeping the whole cast straight in their heads. My readers advised me that I should either cut the cast down into a handful of characters or push some of the character introductions until later in the book. Neither of these solutions worked for me, so instead, I chose to delve deeper into my protagonist’s head. I showed how she related to each character, and what she thought and felt for each of them. This choice has completely changed the feedback I receive.

Our family, both by blood and by choice, plays an integral role in defining who we are and bringing meaning to our lives. They define home, that place where we are loved and where the world’s troubles are less potent. Though different for each of us and our characters, it is our relationships that define who we are and who we can become.


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