I spent hours trying to write a blog post about family for this week. Hours. And in the end, I realized that the question is too important to me to try to fit all of my thoughts into one blog post. I don’t just have words on the topic of family—I have worlds on it. So that’s what I’m going to talk about here.
When you focus on your characters enough—on not just who they are in the events of the story, but who they were before and who they will be afterwards—they come alive in you. You remember family barbecues that never happened, with people who don’t exist having arguments that left you feeling vulnerable, and rivalries between siblings who were born only in your subconscious.
I carry my planner from 2015 with me. In it, I wrote dates to track important milestones and events for my own family and friends—the ones who exist outside of my mind and heart as well as within them. I also penciled in the events of The Summer Park Psychics series, with brackets to remind me, “These people aren’t real,” no matter how much it feels otherwise.
Those little marks helped me remember that I didn’t actually need to get Elsa a birthday present (though I felt terrible when I almost forgot to write her “Happy Birthday” blog post and I breathed easier when I reached May 8, and read, “<Elsa and Dante rescue Rachel>”).
Working out the relationships between all the characters wasn’t enough for this series—or really any series that I write now. I delved into their families, their histories, their dynamics. It fed into how the characters interacted, how they came together in this world of my making. I know what Sunday dinner at the Wolfstrom’s is like—the tension running beneath their love for each other from the gaping wound they all share, but refuse to talk about. I remember Dante playing as a child while his mother watched on lovingly, Jazz teasing and being teased by her little sister, Rachel’s sixteenth birthday party, Finn’s first car. I know more about Elsa’s childhood than I will ever have the courage to relate. And of Michael’s.
I have an idea of who all the main characters’ children will grow up to be (and some of the secondary characters’), and how that will change the larger family that all of these characters have come together to create.
Family is diverse. It is complex and messy and wonderful and hard.
I try—I work—to reflect that in my books. Not all of my characters will get married. They won’t all have kids. Some don’t even want to combine their households. They aren’t all straight or cisgender. They don’t always know what to do or what’s right—for them, and in the bigger picture of things (no matter what he says in Whispering Hearts, Garrett will be haunted by what he does at the end of his book). But they’ll make the best choices they can through their actions and the lives they build for themselves, for their loved ones, for their families—whatever shape they take.
There is diversity in this world. People make all kinds of choices. Creating our families—whether from our DNA or our mutual respect, love, and support for one another—is one of the most important choices anyone can make. Even a fictional character.
Choosing to marry our partner or not, to maintain separate spaces or not, to have children or not, these are incredibly personal choices. These choices must. be. respected.
I’m constantly learning more about the motives behind the choices of the characters I create. The people around me—the real people with their own experiences, awareness, life—are infinitely more complex.
They must be respected.