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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

3 Reasons Family is a Gateway to Character

Over the past weekend I attended the LTUE Conference in Provo, Utah, and even participated in it myself. It was SUCH a great conference. 

Orson Scott Card (Source)
Orson Scott Card was supposed to be the guest of honor but unfortunately, due to the bad weather on the east coast, his plane was grounded and he couldn't attend. But, thanks to all our amazing technology today, he was still able to participate via Skype.

I attended a panel he spoke on about the role of religion in literature and it was fascinating! I may talk about it more in a later post, but today I wanted to talk about something mentioned that particularly intrigued me. 

The other author on the panel was Michael R. Collins. At one point, Collins asked Orson Scott Card about how family-centric his novels are. His point was to ask Card if the fact that he put all his characters in very realistic family situations (not always good ones) was a reflection of his LDS upbringing.

Card jokingly responded (paraphrasing here) "I've never thought of that before, but yes. And I'll just pretend I've always known that." 

I only just read Ender's Game for the first time a few months ago. I hadn't thought of the story in terms of Ender's family, but Collins is 100% right. The role of the family in Ender's life and, more specifically, Ender's perceived role in his own family, was a huge part of the story. They then went on to discuss the role of family in a character's life.

The truth is, in most novels, immediate family doesn't figure much unless the story is specifically about familial relationships. This is often made fun of in teenage TV series--the absence of parents and such--but we don't think about it much in literature. 

Card made several very interesting points about this subject.

1) "Family is a great way to add depth to the character." We often talk about flaws, motivations, back story, and many other things that can help give our characters layers. Family isn't always discussed. But family is such a huge part of our identities as human beings, that it probably should be considered, and usually isn't. The next time you have a character to flesh out, consider their family situation, especially when they were growing up. It's the kind of thing that wouldn't have to be included in the story, but if the author knows about it, can inform the character's attitude, believes and world view.

2) "Writing a realistic family is one of the hardest things a writer can take on." Like with ensemble character casts, the dynamic changes with more than one or two characters in a scene. Plus, in real life, a person can change depending on who they're with, so you can understand the complexity of writing this into a book. If you want to challenge yourself as an author, try to write a true family. And just one child with one parent doesn't count. I'm talking two parents and two or more siblings. It's harder than you might think. 

3) "When there is no family, the character is what he does." As human beings, we are very defined by our family. When this is discounted, the reader only has what the character does to go on. This defines the character. It's a very romanticized way to portray a character (by his deeds) but it's definitely not whole. Most people just don't realize it. (Even most authors!) 

What do you think about using family situation to help define your characters? Do you agree with Card's conclusions?

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