BACKSTORIES: FAMILY OR NOT?

A big part of backstory planning for me is laying out family details prior to starting the story.  Even before I’ve settled details such as hair and eye color I need to know where the characters come from.

Many times I figure this out before cementing a name for the character(s).

  • Are they orphans ?
  • Are the parents married or divorced?
  • What is the relationship with one or both parents – and why?
  • Does the character have any siblings?
  • What is the relationship between the character and siblings and/or extended family members?

Family dynamics in the respective series I’ve authored have varied based on a number of factors but perhaps the biggest one is age.  Is the character old enough to be on their own and if not, what do I need to do to ensure believability within whatever is going on in the story that lands them – like Mica Gilotti or Christine Baker – as the lead while they are minors?

As adversity is something I grew up with, I have never run short of ideas as to how a character can be wise beyond their years, or at the very least mature enough to lead an adult novel.

Being blind, paralyzed, and comatose at ten leaves an impression.

I also knew my share of people – often fellow students – who had plenty of adversity in their lives.

The family dynamics in the Okracoke series was drawn from a real-life situation – someone I met once upon a time who shared their very interesting family tale.

For me, the Dragon Core series was an opportunity to explore family relationships beyond the typical approach.

Though it didn’t start out that way.

The intent at the outstart was to have Clare come from a small family situation and through adversity, I did accomplish what I set out to do keeping it small.  And then came Mica.

Maybe it was sitting in a cafe one summer and looking up to see a doppleganger for Mica Gilotti that spurred me to give her a bigger role but I really fell in love with this teen character.

So much so that I gave her a starring role in Shadow of the Gods, which was not part of the original series yet which ended up becoming one of my very favorites – likely for all the humor in it.

I will never forget looking across the restaurant as this young woman was walking into the kitchen and thinking, “Oh my god, that’s Mica – if she had tatoos on her arms!”  

The young woman who looked to be about 20 was harder around the edges than my character but her face, her hair, her body type fit – exactly – my vision for the 17-year old in my story!

I found a way to bring Mica fully into the story but I needed her to have skills and thinking processes not necessarily typical of a 17-year-old which meant I had to explain why.

I will share a fun story.  When I was in high school I would occasionally join some friends for a game of D & D, where you roll for skills and attributes for your character.  I remember a particular session – perhaps a bit more competitve than usual – where one of the guys got upset because my decision for my character was – in his opinion – above the intelligence I’d rolled.  I explained that I couldn’t pretend to be stupid.

I used family dynamics for Mica.

  • She’s the oldest

Free babysitting among other things.

  • Her uncle is a cop

He taught her some self-defense strategies

  • She has special skills

Obtained through work and family both

  • She has attitude and perspective

Gained from multiple generations of family

I really enjoyed focusing on Mica’s relationship with her siblings.

From Cauldron of the Gods:

Clare stared at Lage’s back as he looked out on the parking lot.  She’d been more than happy to accept his invitation to come stay with him at the hotel, for any number of reasons including to get away from kids who, understandably, had had enough and were sniping at each other.  At the top of the list of topics to argue about was her niece’s decision to change her name from Mary Angelica to Mica.  At least as the way she wanted to be addressed from now on.

“I took the M from Mary and the last letters of the second name.  Mica.”

Her younger sister had not been impressed.

“Mica is a type of ceramic, not a name.”

Thirteen-year-old Joseph had also weighed in.

“I think it’s stupid.”

Denny junior was too young to have an opinion, apparently.  And thankfully.  

In setting the stage in Cauldron I needed to consider how things may or may not have changed in Shadow.  I chose to focus on the sibling relationsips individually.

From Shadow of the Gods:

Francesca:

“Francesca you’d better get a hobby.  When I’m away at school?  I’m not going to be around for you to pester.”

Joe:

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to fill in the rest.  Obviously, the woman had plans for her younger brother.  She shook her head.  “He won’t play kiss and tell if that’s what you’re getting at, but he isn’t me.”  She thought about his reaction to the idea she was kissing a bird. 

“That’s the second time I’ve seen it, Mica.  The first time I thought maybe I didn’t see it but twice?  Does Cayden know you do that?”

“Do you think he cares?”

“Why can’t you be normal?”

“Because it’s boring?”

Denny:

Denny Jr was too young to have complex expectations of the newest member of the tribe.  So long as Cayden played Legos with him when he visited?  He was good as gold.

In defining family ties that evolve through the series I set myself up for continuity beyond the shape shifters which allows for me to branch out within the series.  It also put me in a bit of a bind.

Redemption.

Francesca.

As I talk about in the video, Francesca had a prickly personality that made her difficult to warm up to as a heroine.

Which was the plan for Redemption.

Fortunately, as I developed the plot and the characters I found a way to make it all work.

Thanks to supporting characters like the Messenger of the Gods, Jake McLachlan who will be getting his own story in the near future.

Not every family member gets a starring role though they can have strong supporting roles.

As Mike and Joe Gilotti do in Sadow of the Gods and Redemption.

Dragon Core is not the only series in which unique family dynamics plays into the story.  The siblings in the Port Gallatan tales – with their unique gifts – also have perspective gained by family dynamics.

As does non-sibling  rocker Clint Malek.

Perhaps more than any other series, this is the one that shows family of choice is a powerful thing.

And it’s a concept that is highlighted in a number of follow-on stories in the works.

Stay tuned!

Cross posted on elizabethmaxim.com.

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