Friday, April 18, 2008

Conflict -- All in the Family

posted by Aunty Cindy

Do you sometimes feel like your family puts the "fun" in dysfunctional? Mine certainly does, and I don't think I'm unique. I'd even say most every family has its challen... eccentric... er, um, DYNAMICS! And that goes for fictional families as well as the real life varieties. In fact, it seems that everyone everywhere can identify with family conflict, whether it's the interfering mother-in-law as seen on numerous TV sit-coms, the bigot (a la Archie Bunker), or the Smothers Brothers' "Mom always loved you best" refrain!

In fact, I've noticed in a lot of books, including my own, that family members often supply lots of both internal and external conflict for the hero and/or heroine. Think about our own DOUBLE RITA nominee, Anna Campbell. In both Claiming the Courtesan and Untouched, who is causing the hero and heroine so much grief?


In my own book, The Wild Sight, there's an abundance of problem-causing relatives too. There's the step-father who didn't love the heroine as much as his own biological children. The bossy older sister who thinks she would do a much better job than the hero at running his life (I wonder why my brother got a big laugh over that character?). The alcoholic father who winds up being parented by his children rather than parenting them... And the list goes on and on.

Clearly there's a lesson here. For me, next time I find any of my characters in need of a wee bit more conflict (be it external or internal), I'm going to take a peek into their back stories and find some trouble-making relatives!

No, Aunty is not going to ask you to reveal any deep dark secrets about your real life relatives... unless of course you WANT TO (Aunty poises herself to take notes). We can keep this discussion to fictional families.

Tell us about some totally dysfunctional family members you read or wrote about lately. And didn't you
enjoy it? Just a little? You can tell us!


Helen said...

Has he come to visit me

Have Fun

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

WTG Helen! The GR has indeed ventured back to OZ! I'm sure you'll spoil him rotten.

Helen said...

Great post Aunty Cindy and how true families are just the best and worst at times aren't they you love them but you could kill them sometimes.

I love all of my children very much but one of my daughters knows everything and is always willing to let her siblings know that (she is ADHD)although she is a lot better than she was when she was a teenager and now that she is going to be a mother herself I have noticed a chnage in her attitude in the last couple of weeks I am sure her siblings are going to be really impressed.

Have Fun

Helen said...

He is going to have fun tonight we are minding the grandkids Jayden will keep him busy playing games and eating Tim Tams.

Have Fun

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Helen, your family sounds so great! I wish you would adopt me. (and pass those Tim Tams!)

C'mon, you know you need an eccentric old Aunty from California... ;-) And I'm sooo jealous of your grandchildren! I'd love to have some of my own, but for the moment I must make due with my brother's. He has 7 so he can spare a few of them. LOL!

Amy Andrews said...

Woohoo, the bird is back in the land downunder. Bwok!

The book in my head at the moment has the heroine's mother as a hooker, the hero's father as a drunken gambler and the surrogate Selma and Patty aunties as circus freaks - one the tatooed lady and the other a crystal ball peering gypsy. Dysfunctional enough?

Actually the one TV family I'm really loving at the moment is on Brothers and Sisters. Together they drive each other crazy with their idiosyncracies and they fight and moan and whinge about each other and get drunk a lot to avoid having to talk but they love each other just as passionately and would fight to the death if any one of their family was threatened.
Like all good functionally dysfunctional families ;-)

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Helen, about time he came back to our shores! Bravo to you for snagging the chook!

AC, thanks for the plug. Actually, books three and four also have family troubles at the source of most of the conflict! I think it's just so much a part of the human experience - and it's so powerful as a story tool if the people who are supposed to love you betray you. It really hits at the heart of who most of us are. I'm SOOOO looking forward to the Wild Sight. The more I hear about it, the better it sounds!

Helen said...

Aunty Cindy you are most welcome anytime Jayden is running around the house chasing the poor dogs with cars and toy lawn mowers hopefully it will be bedtime soon Hayley is just laughing at everything we say to her.
The GR is watching closely

Have Fun

Christine Wells said...

Hi AC! I thought my family was perfectly sane until I had something to compare them with. My father is also a writer but he writes non-fiction. When he sees mistakes in other people's books he gets out a pen and corrects them, even if they're library books. Ah, you've got to love them all. Wild Sight sounds wonderful. Can't wait to read it!

Congrats on the rooster, Helen! Great to see he's Downunder again.

Buffie said...

Amy, I am totally in love with Brothers and Sisters. I think it is a wonderfully written show, and it makes me laugh quite a bit!

Amy Andrews said...

I agree Buffie - I'm hooked.
They're kinda like my family actually complete with all the exasperations.
Except they're richer ;-)

terrio said...

This is such a timely blog since I'm going home to visit the family this weekend. First time since Christmas. I should get there around midnight tonight and I'll be ready to leave by 9 tomorrow morning. LOL!

Sounds like you pack a heck of a lot into that book, AC. Can't wait to get my copy.

In my WIP, my heroine's father left her mother and her when she was 4, married another woman and had another daughter. He then pretended my heroine never existed. Can we say "abandonment issues"? LOL!

I hadn't thought about it but looking for conflict in family life is a great idea. I'm going to remember that since creating conflict is where I struggle. Thanks!

Kirsten said...

Hi AC! Cool post! I am all for some family fun!

I love family conflict, family secrets, and half-healed wounds. My only caution is that it's easy to make this trite -- a hero gets a horrible mother, just so the author can explain why he has a hard time falling in love. But then remarkably, this family history only affects his ability to fall in love! He's totally healthy and well-adjusted otherwise! KWIM? It's like the dysfunction is just a plot device.

I think to work well, you've got to really make the family issue well-rounded psychological impact. It's got to resonate throughout the h/h's life. It's got to feel REAL, and fully-realized.

Okay, enough of my ranting (this is one of my pet peeves, I must admit!).

In my current WIP, an adult contemporary, the hero's mom was Mexican, dad was white (and married to another-white-woman). The hero's mom tried to make him more "white" so he would appeal to his dad. Didn't work. Dad stayed with his "old" family. Eventually, mom married a Mexican man and reclaimed her heritage -- but by then, hero wasn't interested in being Mexican.

He was just plain screwed up.

That's my family fun for the morning! Congratulations on reclaiming the GR, Helen! :-)

jo robertson said...

I tell you, Helen, the fellow cannot resist the charms of Down Under. Congrats!

What a cool topic, Cindy! I think most of us have oddities in our families and some of us just plain weirdness LOL.

The family I enjoy reading about is the fictional one of Deanna Raybourne's Lady Julia Gray series (SILENT IN THE GRAVE and SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY). It's a family of lots of grown children and a patriarch, all of whom range from eccentric to very, very strange. Julia is the only normal one!

Esri Rose said...

I always think of a cartoon that showed a convention with the banner, "Children of Functional Families," and one person sitting in the room. My friends said that was me in the chair. I don't know if that's true, but book #6, the sequel to "Bound to Love Her" (May 6!) is my first to feature anything resembling a dysfunctional parent, and I have the feeling she's me.

Kutara showed up in the first book as my annoying, comic-relief character, although she's also heroic. In book 2, I decided to make the elven heroine (Adlia) a sort of foster daughter to Kutara. At first my sympathies were all with Adlia. Kutara was so critical, so demanding. But slowly my sympathies changed, and so did Kutara, until I had what was a difficult but very strong relationship between the two women. Makes me wonder what else is in my head. Oh, and I don't have kids. Perhaps that's a good thing.

Amy: WOW! I would totally buy that book.

Christie Kelley said...

Interesting post, AC. Actually, I thought this was a great topic since I'd planned on the first sentence of my short synopsis for one of my spinsters' book will be something like:

Dysfunctional families aren't just a modern occurance.

This poor hero believed for ten years that his mother was dead because that is what his father told him. Nope. She left his father and started a brothel. And yes, the father knows exactly where she is. The hero finds out by walking to the brothel on this 18th birthday. Now there's a present.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Lovely post, AC. I must confess, I've compiled a few family members into at least one character in one of my books. When family members read the book and realized who made up this character, they were quite amused. :)

As for disfunctional families, one of my favorites was in Susan Elizabeth Phillips "Nobody's Baby But Mine." The hero's family was such a mess that his mom and dad were the second love story in the book!! Loved it!

flchen1 said...

Hi, AC! I do enjoy the interesting twists that family provides in books, to a point. (I couldn't stand one book I read because the heroine's family was so over-the-top annoying/bizarre.) It's just like in real life, where family is the best, and sometimes not! ;)

Congrats on the GR, Helen!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Amy, are you SURE you didn't spy on MY family for your new book???

KIDDING! I only have one sister, and she has such a phobia about needles that she doesn't even have pierced ears. However, as everyone here in the Lair knows, Aunty does do crystal ball gazing on occasion. :-P

And Foanna, dahling, who can resist that GEORGEOUS green cover of yours? And thanx for the excitement on Wild Sight. Only 165 more days til it hits the shelves! Not that I'm counting or anything...

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

You sound a LOT like me when I visit the family. And btw, they NEVER come to visit me! The road between my house and theirs only runs one direction. :-P

True story, my baby brother has been in my house (ANY house I've ever lived in) exactly TWICE in his life.

But with all of 'em, yup, after a couple of hours, I've had ENOUGH and am ready to go back home for another 6 months--2 years. LOL!

Buffy and Amy, I'll have to watch "Brothers & Sisters". I think I watched about half an episode once, coz I always liked Sally Field, but that bug-eyed lil scarecrow Calista F., not so much...

Christine, got a SNORK about your father correcting library books. Bet all the librarians in his area have his name on a wanted poster.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

I hear ya on crossing the line into cliche. It's a danger with many a plot device, I'm afraid. Luckily, I have my eagle-eyed CP (yes, that would be Jo-Mama!) to catch any of my transgressions. :-)

Plus, AMEN to the observation that family dysfunction needs to carry over into ALL areas of the h/h's life. Our dahling Fo does this very well, and I hope I do. Sounds like you and Esri and Christie all have it nailed in your WIPs too!

WOW! Christie, having the 18 yr old hero walk into the brothel OWNED (and operated?) by his MOTHER is a BIG TWIST! Can't wait to read it.

Jo, you know I LURVED "Silent in the Grave" and how all the siblings were named for Shakespearean characters. :-) Anybody read Jenny Cruisie's "Faking It"? Now there is a really FUN dysfunctional family. They make Amy's circus freaks look tame!

jo robertson said...

Yes, Kirsten, so true. We want our heroes to be flawed, but not irredeemable. Gads, we'd never consider marrying someone so disfunctional ourselves, right? It's a tricky line to follow.

Eagle Eye, weighing in with her opinion and watching AC carefully!

Anna Campbell said...

Kirsten, what does KWIM mean? Every time I finally think I've got a handle on internet slang, I get hit with a new one!

Linda Wisdom said...

Family members, no but I love using friends!

One friend's dh is great fodder and she thinks it's great I use him.


flchen1 said...

Anna, I think KWIM is "Know What I Mean"--but I could be completely offbase. I keep learning new things ALL the time! ;)

Anna Campbell said...

Linda, nice to see you here! Fedora, thanks for that. Of course! She said hitting herself with a rolled up newspaper for being so dim!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

(waves to my Sourcebooks sister, Linda!)

LOL Suz and Linda on basing characters on "real" people, or bits and pieces of personalities. I'm guilty of that myself, but it certainly is FUN! And if anyone should "call" me on it, I'll go all wide-eyed innocent and disavow all knowledge. :-P


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Eagle Eye, weighing in with her opinion and watching AC carefully!

Uh oh! Looks like I better borrow some camouflage gear from p226 or Cassondra if I expect to sneak anything (like Tim Tams or Cabana boys) passed Jo-Mama!

Cheryl Brooks said...

Hey, Aunt Cindy,

Speaking from personal experience, I'm convinced that there is no such thing as a non-dysfunctional family! We're all crazy as loons!
I've used friends and family members as characters, and they're always so much more fun than anything I can invent!


Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Ever watch all those wonderfully unflawed families on TV? Mother and father, kids...except for the kids getting into some hair-brained scheme, the families were PERFECTLY normal. Hmmm, so you mean to tell me families aren't like that? LOL!!!

Amy Andrews said...

Oh yes, yes, yes Aunty Cindy.
Jenny Crusie does fabulous dysfunctional.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Cheryl and Terry!
GREAT to "see" you here! This is turning into a Sourcebook Authors blow out! :-)

Ah Terry, you take me back to those childhood days when I actually watched TV... a little bit, when my nose wasn't buried in a book. Yes, I wondered about those perfect families, like The Waltons. They weren't like any family *I* had ever seen!

LOL! Crazy as loons pretty much covers it, Cheryl! It's a survival mechanism. And you know that old saying, "Thank God you can pick your friends, since you can't pick your family!"