A reflection on character relationships

I believe writers have quirks that appear across the broad body of their works — little nuggets of ourselves that we can’t help but deposit. Whether it is reoccurring themes or just elements of our life experiences, they appear in the black and white of our prose. And as I continue editing my Scifi novel, I found myself reflecting on one thing that seems to span the majority of my works, one commonality if you would: My characters are greatly impacted by their family units, but they lack in the friendship department.

There are no Frodos and Samwises, no Harrys and Hermiones (Ron gets excluded because there were several times he was just a lousy friend), no Dowager Countesses or Mrs. Crawleys — the list goes on and on — in the vast majority of my works. I can only think of a short story where a friendship, forged from war, is highlighted. My fantasy series also has one or two friendships, but those still have a family tie to them since the characters in question are cousins, distant but cousins all the same. In other cases, what some might consider to be friendships to me are more like mentor-mentee relationships or cases where an older character has practically adopted a younger character. I strain my mind trying to think of other cases. Oh, there is … no, they become sister-in-laws. Then there is … no, they get married and start their own family unit. Hmm…

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This is a friendship I have grown to love: the Dowager Countess and Mrs. Crawley.

This realization was probably brought by a Downton Abbey episode where the Dowager Countess (Violet) is speaking with her granddaughter, Mary, about Mrs. Crawley’s impending engagement; it is the scene where we learn that she is upset about it, but not for the reason Mary thinks.

“If you must know, I’ve got used to having a companion,” Violet says. “A friend, you know, someone to talk things over with … Isobel and I had a lot in common, and I shall miss that.”

That scene resonated with me and not just because Dame Maggie Smith is a fantastic actress. What made that moment so poignant was having watched the characters grow from “Well, we can always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham” to two friends who truly enjoy each other’s company. It is a very touching friendship, the type I would want in my own life and the type that I would love my characters to enjoy.

But then, why don’t my characters have friends? It’s not like they are repulsive within the world I’ve created for them, so surely they would have friends. So why don’t friendship impact them in the story? Well, this is, I’m afraid, where real life impacts fiction. I’ve constantly seen myself, particularly in high school, as the disposable friend, the one left behind for new friends — too introvert to quickly find new cheese or seamlessly cement myself into the new clique. Given all the negative “friendships” I’ve had, it shouldn’t be too surprising that friends don’t feature much in my novels. In fact, I can only think of one line about friendship in my SciFi novel, one where my main character Katya causally describes how a past friendship just drifted apart.

But don’t get my wrong, I do have friends, pretty good ones, but it has always been my family connections that impacted me the most: Family has always been there for me. And that is perhaps the reason why family always plays a major role in my stories … in all of them now that I actual look. Sure in some cases, their family members might not appear physically within the text, but they are still tangible within the story, whether through memory or just random thought. To me, that little touch makes a character feel all the more real. Some of the family impacts are positive, but just like in real life, some of them are negative. However, in particular, I seem to be fond of writing about brothers or brothers and sisters, likely because it is what I know.

I don’t think I’m alone in this issue of character relationships. In many cases, I’ve seen characters without family ties or characters without too many friends, if any at all. And there is nothing wrong about that, but we should at least consider our characters’ relations, because who they hangout with or where they are from family-wise says a lot about them. Relations, whether family members or friends, can also add a very touching aspect to a story as a whole — as seen by the above-mentioned episode of Downton Abbey.

While my character may not have too many friends, I’m glad to have given them other meaningful relationships in the form of family, who in all realty can often be our very best of friends. However, now that I’m overly aware of my tendencies, will my characters’ relationship trends continue? I admit that it’s highly likely; however, I do feel inspired by Violet and Isobel. Perhaps, it’s time for my characters to have more friendships; heck, the opportunities are there, I just have to seize them. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see how those opportunities and characters blossom.

Dowager Countess don't you ever change!

Dowager Countess don’t you ever change!

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