Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In the Family Way

Recent events in my own life (read: marriage) have had me thinking about a topic I've never considered in depth before, the importance of family in romance. Attempting to calculate what desserts I'll actually have time to make on Thanksgiving day that will hold up on the hour-long drive from my parents' in PA to my in-laws' in NJ will do that to you (because, yes, we're trying to visit both families on the same day. We'll see how it goes).

Families are so important to our real-life romances. I feel like my husband has married my whole crazy clan. Considering the fact that he's known my youngest sister (now twenty) since she was twelve, he really is a brother to her. And I wouldn't be as excited about our married life together if I didn't know that I love spending time with my husband's family and really do want them in my life for better or for worse.

But how many romances make use of this element of the marriage story? Off the top of my head and entirely unscientifically, I'd say not many. Or not enough. Think about it: the numbers of orphaned governesses out on their own (ripe for the seducin'), or lonely dukes who inherited it all after their cruel father croaked. Or wretched fathers forcing their children to marry where their hearts don't lie. Doesn't it seem that those sorts of stories outnumber the one-big-happy-family kind, at least in the historical genre? In contemporaries there may be more, but there are still rarely supportive, loving parents, even while sibling sagas threaten to take over the world.

We know that happy families can work great in romance, whatever Tolstoy had to say about them. The Bridgertons are a prime example: those books would lack so much without the B's hanging out together as a clan. In fact, the one B book I really didn't care for (Francesca's story) missed the mark for exactly that reason, too little family interaction.

But I'm guilty of not practicing what I preach. My first book: heroine, estranged from family; hero, mourning loss of brother and father (though he did have a mother, sister, and brother-in-law around to torment him). My current WIP: heroine, an orphaned only child; hero, estranged from his rather large family. If we're supposed to write what we know, I'm afraid I've broken that rule.

Is it intimidating to write about family life? Is it too close to our (my?) hearts to delve into right away. Or are the dramatic possibilities inherent in the gal/guy-on-her/his-own plots too tempting to pass up? Whatever the case, I've got to get over those qualms soon. The heroine of my next WIP is the oldest of thirteen children. And they're ALL making an appearance.

While I'm trying to sort that out, why don't you chime in: Is romance (real and fictional) better when it includes family? Why do so many authors cut the family out of the plot? What's your favorite family in romance?

Note added: check out the review of Lisa Kleypas' Mine Till Midnight at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books here to get Sarah's take on the topic.


Kate Diamond said...

Bridgerton Ball. Kate gets the Mallet of Death, and Anthony is stuck with pink.

Best. Scene. Ever.

In terms of contemporaries--Jennifer Crusie. Her heroine always has that important gal pal, and I always love reading about their friendship.

Mel said...

One thing they say is that family takes away from the romance. It's not enough room for the main plot (romance) and subplot (murder, becoming a vampire, killing vampires, what have you).

The truth I suspect is most writers don't have the skill to write those family scenes. Or to have more than a few POVs before they can't tap into the characters or before those few extra characters seem two-dimensinal(sp?) and you can smell their purpose (archtype) a mile away.

I have to agree that Jennifer Crusie does it very well. (check out her whole back list) So does Nora Roberts. (Her trilogies, Three Fates which has many POVs and deals with becoming a family by choice and by birth) Elizabeth Hoyt to name a historical writer. Leopard Prince to be specific.

Ladytink_534 said...

I like family and close knit clans in stories but my real life family has never been very close except with immediate family (my mom and I are very close). It was so odd when I married into my husband's family! They are some of the most close knit people I've ever met. You should have seen the reunion last June!

Melissa said...

Romance and family are two of my favorite topics to read about. I love it when they are added together into one great novel. It shows the appreciation of a bond that is everlasting. My read right now is Coinage of Commitment which is all about a hight commitment, a higher love then any other. It is also written by a male author surprisingly.