What’s your family like? Do you ever feel like you live in a cuckoo’s nest, or that you’ve escaped from one? If you’re honest, the answer is yes. We all do. At least some days.
And what about your characters? Do they spring forth into the universe fully formed, like Athena from the brow of Zeus? Of course not. They have families that form them, shape them, and drive them crazy. It’s part of a writer’s job to poke and prod our characters until we understand the complex dynamics of their families, even if we never use that information directly in their stories. Families make our characters who they are.
Before I begin a new story, I write up a sheet for each character; the more important the character, the more detailed the sheet. For the main characters, I always include information about parents and siblings—possibly even grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Whoever is important to that character. I need to feel how my character felt growing up in his or her family. As I write the story, I add whatever details I need to the character sheets and keep them front and center on my desk.
Although I’ve written several historical romances in the past, I am currently writing romantic suspense. Many successful romantic suspense authors choose to focus on the hero, the heroine and the villain to intensify the suspense. Not me. I throw in the whole crazy cuckoo’s nest.
In UNWRITTEN RULES, the hero’s mother takes out one of the villains with a well-thrown fastball borrowed from her son’s childhood bedroom, and his grandmother is engaged in an ongoing battle of wits with the next-door neighbor, who keeps leaving pennies in her freezer. However, despite their eccentricities, these women have been the most important people in the hero’s life, and his deep love for them helps convince the heroine he’s capable of the kind of steadfast, enduring love she’s looking for.
Cuckoo or not, family members can be a rich source of wonderful secondary characters. I love writing them, whether they provide behind-the-scenes conflict or front-and-center comedy. How about you?