– Found family is a very popular trope that I don’t often see explored in technical writing resources, and as a person who is currently in the middle of developing one for my own series, I decided to make a resource for those who were also confused when approaching this character dynamic. If you have anything to add to the topic, feel free to comment down below for the other writers out there. Hopefully this is helpful to those who need a place to start. Happy writing!
Avoiding Romantic Subtext
This is one of the hardest obstacles to sidestep when writing an unusual dynamic, and for certain genres it can be ten times worse. For example, in fiction written specifically for young adults, there’s a baseline expectation for a hefty amount of romantic tension, and readers will often insert it no matter what the text and subtext suggests. In order to prevent this automatic insertion of romance in the reader’s interpretation, it’s wise to establish a clear and reasonable explanation for why the relationships are platonic and will never develop into something more.
It’s not a good idea to go for the “person a nor person b has ever considered this relationship blossoming romantically” because that’s often the basis for romantic stories, and will leave that wiggle room for the reader to run with. Show in the way they interact and perhaps in the narration/first person that each party has thought of that scenario and ultimately come to the conclusion that there’s just no romantic potential.
Showing Familial Relationships
Families rely on each other and in diverse ways. The way these individuals interact and build a familial bond is determined (often) by the way in which they form a dependence on the other, and this is more often than not in found family stories, a healthy dependence. It shows the other person’s reliability, care, and compassion, and the way this develops is different for family than it is for friends.
Certain family members also have specific types of humor when it comes to each other. A father and a daughter will have a different sense of humor or understanding with each other than maybe the daughter and her brother do, and this all adds to form a vivid dynamic in your reader’s head that will alter the way they perceive relationships. Found family will be exactly the same, but they’ll have different backstories and different reasons why that sense of humor or understanding has developed that way.
Friendship vs. Family
Found family is unique in the way that readers can very easily perceive a relationship as close friendship rather than a familial one. However, friendship lacks a certain vulnerability and dependence that found family can use to its advantage, because family sees each other at their highs and lows and conflict usually carries different implications.
Family also implies a different attitude and motivation behind the relationship. Conflicts between family members are less severe in the long-run because there’s a ground-level understanding that no matter what happens, arguments will end in forgiveness and closure, whereas that is not necessarily guaranteed with friendships or romances. The motivation, also, is different in the sense that found family is more often meant to last a lifetime, and therefore is less fragile and opens the door for more open communication and vulnerability.
Converting Tension to Intimacy
When you’re tasked with turning a tense, unfriendly relationship into a close and familial one, it’s daunting to even begin thinking about how to go about it. First, it’s important to understand the function of this stage of their relationship as a starting point for growth in both of the characters rather than merely a device to create drama for the reader to munch on. Intimacy of any kind develops out of mutual growth, vulnerability, and understanding, and in order to convey these things to the reader, you need to take your time letting this stage simmer. If you extinguish the tension too fast, it will read as shallow and futile, and it will throw a wrench in the natural pacing.
Now, the transition from tension to intimacy is a several step process and does not happen in one chapter. Mindsets, perceptions, and attitudes change over time as both the reader and the characters learn more information and experience more genuine interaction. The relationship, as I mentioned earlier, will change as the characters see each other in increasingly vulnerable situations and in periods of growth, and as they witness this their understanding of the other and ultimate acceptance will change the way they treat each other and their mutual perceptions of one another’s place in their lives. This usually happens in the subtextual area of the story, excluding events that are formulated specifically to depict this evolution.
Different Sizes of Families
The size of the invented family very much impacts the way that the group relationship develops. For example, two or three people who develop a family-like connection will be much more intimate and dependent than a created family that includes ten. Larger groups imply more diverse, but also more shallow representations of what relationships between family members can be, but they often leave more room for relatability and comedy. Smaller families work well for more serious struggles, and make more sense with characters that deal with serious issues that a real person wouldn’t be comfortable giving all the details about to ten other people.
There’s definitely a spectrum and it fluctuates wildly for different types of stories, genres, character archetypes, and themes. Deciding how large to make this found family really depends on the fine details and requires some time and thought.
~ Bringing people together when there’s an age gap… Age gaps can serve really well in the area of establishing a familial relationship without suggesting romance because most readers will assume that a close relationship between a younger woman and an older (say, 65 year old) man is more of a father-daughter relationship than a romantic one. The way you an bring together two people with an age gap and establishing a familial relationship is by playing on the aspect of guidance and support that a parent or typically older figure would provide to a younger, more naive person. This can come off trope-y but, like any other aspect of a story, putting an original twist on it can make it more original and interesting to the reader.
~ Starting with tension… This is very common in the case of a sibling-type relationship or a guardianship situation. Usually, there’s some resistance from the party that does not hold the upper hand, and this can create tension in both of them. I suggest that if you’re going to develop a tense relationship into a close one that resembles family, then avoid tropes. There are so many ways that you can twist these ideas and situations based on your world and characters’ traits, so don’t go straight for the “I hate you because you’re trying to control me even though you’re not my real dad” thing.
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