Tag Archives: family

Don’t Tell Mom: On Writing Siblings

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Having recently read S.E. Hinton’s classic novel The Outsiders, I decided to dedicate a post to writing about sibling love. The sibling bond is something strange, and I’m not sure there’s any other relationship like it. (Shout-out to my brother for permitting me use the banner images. Just so you know, bro, I probably would have done it anyway. Love you!)

Sometimes We Get Along…

There are many stories that feature siblings as a joint force to be reckoned with. We see it in classics like the Curtis brothers in The Outsiders or the March sisters in Little Women, but also in more recent pop culture such as The Avenger’s: Age of Ultron superhuman duo, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, or the Elric brothers of Full Metal Alchemist. 

The key to these relationships is they aren’t perfect. Even in their most loving moments, siblings may be looking for ways to make their family the butt of a joke. In other words, don’t over-romanticize the closeness of siblings, not even the ones who generally get along. I’d recommend avoiding grandiose speeches of brotherly love sometimes found in emotional or climatic moments of stories unless you’ve built a relationship with your readers so that they expect and respect dramatic effect. If not, keep it short, to the point, and in character. That is where the more powerful impact of sibling love lies–in subtle and sometimes imperfect gestures of support.

…Sometimes We Don’t

Of course, rivalry and personal differences can sometimes break the family bond and leave an emotional fissure. As readers, we often hope or expect these wounds will be mended, but we don’t always get our happy resolution. Siblings know each other’s weaknesses, even if they’re as small as pet peeves. Ill-willed siblings will often use these to their advantage. Hateful siblings definitely will. When reading about a protagonist and antagonist that are siblings, I usually find the villainous activity turned up to eleven. I live for that fictional drama. But again, don’t undersell the importance of the subtler emotional jabs that only someone with the insider knowledge of a brother or sister possesses.

I’d also like to mention that not all siblings fall in the “I love you” or “I hate you” camps. Sometimes siblings simply co-exist in independent neutrality. No two sibling relationships are alike, but I hope these tips will help to get you thinking.

Storytime!

For those of you wondering why my brother and I look like prom dates in the lefthand banner photo, it’s because we kind of were. My junior year of high school we became friends with another brother-sister set, and our moms thought it’d be fun for us to all go to prom together. Thus I came to understand the age old sentiment that no one knows awkward family situations like siblings.

Happy writing!

Question of the week: Who are your favorite fictional siblings?

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What to Read: The Flats

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The Flats by Kate Birdsall


Summary

A dead boy. A cast of deadbeat suspects. A detective determined to root out the killer. Detective Liz Boyle’s hunt for a child murderer sends her reeling when someone she cares about becomes entangled in the web of confusion surrounding a little boy’s death. But just when the case seems synched, a faceless new player slips onto the scene, and Boyle must decide how hard she is willing to push herself and those around her to find justice.

Overall Impressions

Detective Liz Boyle and her partner Goran are the kind of crime-fighting team I’d want on my side. The Flats is full of solid characters, but Boyle and Goran were by far my favorite duo. Birdsall’s tight writing style and classic cop narrative easily ushers readers into Boyle’s world of crime. There are few times when the narrative slows the action, but nine times out of ten Birdsall balances action and dialogue with narrative beautifully. She swings smoothly between Detective Boyle’s personal and professional life as the line between the two become increasingly blurred over the course of the book. The plot itself is self-propelling as Boyle’s investigation leads her down a sinister rabbit hole. I enjoyed the twists and turns that Birdsall sprinkles throughout the book, and the subtle clues that all lead up to a suspenseful climax and satisfactory ending. I recommend The Flats for lovers of mystery, detective dramas, and realistic fiction. And good news — if you like The Flats, it’s only the first book in the Detective Liz Boyle series!

Happy reading!

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What to Read: The Outsiders

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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton


 

Summary

Revisit the classic, or experience it for the first time. The Outsiders is the story of Ponyboy and his gang of Greasers, and the consequences of a social rivalry taken too far. On the run, Ponyboy must face the wider world outside of his familiar streets. Then when further tragedy strikes, he must decide what type of man he wants to be — the kind who takes to the fight, or the kind who would have the heart to stop it.

Overall Impressions

This was my first time reading The Outsiders, and I can’t believe it took me this long to get to it. It’s easy to see why it’s such a long-withstanding title. Easy to read but incredibly thoughtful, I loved the themes of brotherhood and sympathy that permeated the book. It captures the frustrations and hope of every young adult as they begin to realize that not everyone sees the world as they see it. That everybody’s hurting and loving in some way, and all it can take to mend the gap is a small change in perspective. I recommend this for readers middle school and older.

Happy Reading, and stay gold!

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What to Read: The Age of Miracles

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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker


 

Summary

No one predicted the slowing of the Earth’s rotation. For Julia, the weight of the consequences are felt in hindsight as she reflects on her sixth grade year, that first year of “the slowing”. Some people adapted better than others. While the days grow longer, communities crumble like sugar, and relationships shift, life goes on. But for how long?

Overall Impressions

It’s funny how in the midst of catastrophe, some parts of life plod on unimpeded. Like the ups and down of being eleven, or having a crush, or realizing adults don’t have all the answers either. It’s a rough transition, even without environmental disaster. Walker beautifully captures a classic coming-of-age story against a tragic backdrop. Her imagery is sharp, her points subtle, and her protagonist relatable to anyone who remembers (or is currently experiencing) the unstable years of upper adolescence. Definitely not a light-hearted summer read, but one I recommend YA readers add to their lists.

*Shout-out to my cousin, Zachary, who recommended the book.

Happy Reading!

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A Guide to Preserving Literary Parents

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(Photo taken from Flickr)

When it comes to protagonists, we all know the drill–child loses parents at a tender age, discovers the world is not as friendly as it seems, and eventually becomes her own hero, cobbling together a family-of-circumstance along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I love these types of stories. They’re often my favorite. But, my fellow writers, where does it end? Will no one save the parents?

Parents as Motivators 

The most basic role of parent figures in fiction is probably that of the motivator. Often in YA it’s their death that leads to the main character’s emotional struggle. (For example, in classic Disney films parents have what I  would guess to be a 3% chance of surviving past the first twenty minutes.) But it doesn’t have to be this way! Living parents can be just as effective at motivating protagonists. Reuniting with estranged family can serve as a strong motivation or end goal. In my novel, Marley is offered the chance to find her parents as extra incentive to comply with the antagonist’s scheme. On the other hand, parents can also serve the “prove you wrong” purpose, leading the underestimated heroes to take up a cause to prove their worth.

Parents as Protagonists

Sometimes young writers such as myself forget that a parent can function as a stand alone character, or even the hero. In this capacity, they are the ultimate protectors. Case in point, the movie Taken. At the same time, parental characters don’t have to be confined by their guardian role. They can go on their own adventures, fight their own personal battles, and be their own comic relief. Two words. Dad jokes.

Parents as Antagonists

Ah, villains. How we love thee. Although a bit cliché, parental antagonists are fantastic, creating joyous inner conflicts that have given us gems like:

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Sorry, Darth. Not today. Of course, there are times when children fall in line with the evil whims of their parents as well, such as the case of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. The turmoil between the will of a parent and a desperate to please hero is absolute gold. Not only does it increase tension, but it ups the stakes of the protagonist’s success. Basically, fictional parents rock, so let’s think twice before casting them out to sea.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: Who are you favorite fictional parents?

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What to Read: The Crane Wife

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The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness


Summary

Based on a Japanese fairytale, The Crane Wife follows George Duncan, a man resigned to abuse by life and love because of his kind nature. Then, one night, an injured crane appears in his backyard. Soon after saving the crane, a mysterious artist enters his life, inviting him to take part in her latest project. Things finally seem to be falling into place for George, but beneath the surface of the everyday a dark and ancient story is unfurling. One of lore, love, and loss.

Overall Impressions

Through shifting perspectives, Patrick Ness poetically captures the paradox of what it means to love. (I know, bear with me.) The story moves easily between George’s life and the embedded myth, eventually merging into one narrative that spans fantasy and reality. A fantasy lover, I found myself drawn primarily to the myth portions. That said, less fantasy-inclined readers should be prepared to exercise their suspension of disbelief. Though “a little trippy”, as described by the friend who recommended it to me, the book’s strangeness ultimately translates in a relatable way. The best way I can think to describe it is whimsically noir. Take it as you will. I recommend The Crane Wife for adult readers who enjoy romance and magical realism/fantasy genres.

Happy Reading!

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