The mere word has the power to create a multitude of feelings—hope, excitement, frustration, love, anger, and a whole barrage of memories and mixed emotions.
And this is exactly the power that writing strong family relationships can have.
The characters that you weave together and craft are influential, sparking emotion in your readers and tying them even closer to your story, and if we forget about families in our writing, we are missing out on a monumental tool that can make our messages and themes hit that much harder.
The characters in your stories have siblings and parents, heritage, ancestors and backstory. They have relatives that are friends… and enemies. Family members that they love… and don’t love.
We cannot forget that families significantly shape our characters.
It’s vitally important to know how to craft strong, authentic relationships that will suck in your reader and make them empathetic to your characters.
Family relationships have the power to motivate, encourage change, bring hope and healing, but we have to craft them intentionally with grace and strength, honing them to be as real and relatable as possible.
The Importance Of Family Relationships
Unfortunately, many movies and books don’t value family and give it the weight and importance that it deserves… but what if they did? What if movies like Five Feet Apart and To All The Boys I Loved Before focused more on family relationships than just the romance? They would have more impact and take a great concept and plot to entirely the next level.
What if shows like Outer Banks and The Summer I Turned Pretty built up the strength and foundation of family from the ground, realizing that they are the building blocks of society and life in general? They would be so much more memorable and impactful.
From siblings to parents, cousins to uncles, family relationships are important. They can drive home the theme, message, and core values of your story. They make your characters sympathetic, as well as interesting. They can add depth to every aspect of your worldbuilding, plot and characters.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Our family is like the branches of a tree. We may grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one,” and it’s so so true. Families are broken, messy, disjointed, growing in all sorts of different directions, but down to their roots, they’re connected.
Maybe they’re connected by love and care for each other, even when it sometimes doesn’t look like that. Maybe they’re drawn together by a mystery or a romance; a deep desire to hunt down the bad guy, or take over the world.
What matters is that your character has people, whether they’re blood relatives or not, that will fight with them and have their back to the end.
Because when they don’t have family, when they don’t have their people, something is missing. Look at the absence of family in The Fantastic Four, a Marvel movie that doesn’t have near as much hype as the others because, since the main characters don’t have strong family ties, they don’t have anyone outside of themself motivating them and making them sympathetic.
The audience didn’t care about the movie because the characters didn’t care about anyone in the movie.
Families are important because, without them, your character would be someone different, and your story would be lacking one of the most fundamental pieces instilled in every person, every country, every story, and every life on this planet.
We as storytellers can not leave our characters without a family.
Katniss has Prim to make her sympathetic and give her someone to fight for. Wanda Maximov has Pietro to push her to fight and step out of her anger. Lara Jean has her sisters to comfort her and push her out of her comfort zone.
We could go on and on talking about movie characters and book characters that have stolen the hearts of millions of people. Oftentimes, they have family holding them up, forcing them to grow, making them sympathetic, and in all, creating them to be characters that we love and root for.
Families urge us to do great things, story-worthy things because they pull us outside of ourselves.
They motivate us to take risks and sacrifice everything to save and protect the people we care about because they are us—they make up who they are, what they believe in, and the motivation for everything they do in life.
3 Tips For Writing Strong Family Relationships
But how do we craft families and family relationships like this well? How do we craft sibling relationships that will create as strong of a legacy as Thor and Loki’s, from the MCU?
How do we hone relationships to be just as strong as Clint Barton’s relationship with Natasha, and her relationship with his kids?
It’s so easy to talk about how important families are, or reminisce on all our favorite ones that have been done so so well, but we need to do that in our own stories. We need to be able to take characters and put them on the next level so that they connect with readers, and our readers connect with them.
We need to be able to give our characters that strong family that, even in their flaws and mistakes and messiness, they still have each other’s back and still fight for each other.
1. Make Them Authentic
The first key to writing strong family relationships is to make them authentic—make them real, raw, messy, and vulnerable. Give them tension and stakes, strife, and maybe even some hate.
But also give them love and care, sacrificial love and respect for each other because while families may be messy at time, they’re family. They will fight for each other and care about each other when it matters most.
In real life, there are no families that are perfect. No parents that never mess up, siblings that never make you angry.
But while siblings will get mad at each other and parents will mess up, nothing can change the fact that they’re blood-related and they’re connected at their very roots.
They might fight, but be there for each other when push comes to shove. They fight for, stand up for, and defend each other to the very end, often willing to sacrifice everything for the people that they call family.
In our stories, we have to replicate that with graceful, but truthful, honesty. We have to show the deep, deep love that is unique to families because it’s tied to their very beginnings, from the time they were born, and we have to show the sinfulness of human nature and how we all make mistakes.
There’s a balance that we as writers must find between creating a fake illusion of perfection and happiness, glossing over the real struggles, and also embracing the joy and vibrance of families and the life and love that can be found in them.
Taking an example from the MCU, Thor and Loki’s family is very authentic because there’s a lot of brokenness, but also a lot of love that is shown so beautifully, especially from their mother.
From the beginning, there’s strife between Thor and Loki because Thor is ascending the throne of Asgard… and he is far from humble. Loki is more prepared to be king, and really wants to be king, whereas Thor takes everything for granted, including his brother’s support.
When Thor’s father sends his arrogant son to earth to learn some humility and general life skills, Loki sees his opportunity and doesn’t hesitate. From there, their relationship only falls.
They are continuously fighting each other, with Loki vying for the throne and general universal dominion, and Thor, after learning a lot about life, trying to keep everyone safe from his brother and bring justice for his actions.
Through all of that though, Thor never hates Loki. One of the best lines is when the Avengers are accusing Loki of killing a bunch of people, and Thor stands up for him, saying, “He’s my brother.” Because… they are brothers. Even though Loki is adopted, and most of the time trying to kill Thor, they’re brothers.
At times, families won’t like each other. Sometimes they hate each other, fight, hurt, and betray one another because we are broken, sinful people. We aren’t perfect and never will be. But in that, there is still love connection, and hope.
So as you’re crafting your families, don’t be afraid of the brokenness of this world. Don’t run from the hard issues, or glaze over the problems that families sometimes have. But also embrace love, hope, and sacrifice.
Don’t make them perfect, but don’t make them devoid of love. Make them real. Dig deep into the pain letting it create a stronger story and stronger characters, and embrace the love because that is what makes a family family, that is what sets them apart from other relationships, and that is what will endear them to readers.
2. Give Everyone A Story
Secondly, to make your relationships between siblings and parents, cousins and distant uncles, strong and powerful, you have to give everyone a story. Yes, even those distant uncles.
You can’t have a character that has no reason to be in the story. Of course, their story should never outshine the main characters—the main character is the main character because this is their story.
But each of your other characters should have enough of a story around them that you could write a whole book on their story.
Don’t put that all into the story about your main character, but hint at it, allude to it, and let it creep in subtly, not stealing away from the main character, but enhancing the overall story.
Looking at Thor and Loki again, Thor is the main character, but his brother Loki’s story—his adoption and goals and desires—enhance it, just like their sister Hela’s story and her ambitions changes Thor and makes him grow.
We know that Loki wants the throne—that he sees it as his right and wants as much power as he possibly can have. He wants to rule anyone and everyone and he wants power because he knows what it’s like to not have power.
Hela also wants to rule and have the utmost power and the kingdom that she believes is her right, and she is willing to fight anyone and destroy everyone who gets in her way.
Thor, on the other hand, wants justice and he’s fighting for good. His history with Jane Foster and earth make him especially want to fight for them and their safety.
All of these conflicting backgrounds and pasts and backstories create conflicting desires and goals that create tension throughout the story and add depth to the plot and the characters.
Because of Loki and Hela’s own unique stories, their desires make sense; their motivations have a reason and a why behind them.
Without knowing about Loki’s adoption and always being in Thor’s shadow and wanting to best him, we wouldn’t understand what made him so desperate for power and we wouldn’t care about him.
Without knowing Hela’s backstory of fighting alongside her father as the future queen of Asgard, and then getting her future stripped away from her, we wouldn’t understand what motivates her to so ruthlessly fight to win Asgard back.
Their stories and motivations are so strong that they each could have their own individual series, and Loki eventually does.
And the characters in our families need to have this same kind of depth—the backstories and histories that make them unique and fully-founded as individuals, so much so that they could have their own story.
The dreams and desires of the siblings, the past and history of the parents, the time that one uncle spent in the war, or the child that one aunt lost—they are all stories that those people have.
Don’t let the minor characters outshine the main character’s spotlight, but don’t forget about them. Let them shine through at times, let them enhance the plot, but don’t forget to give everyone in the family—every character—a reason to be there and a story.
3. Craft Them Uniquely
One of the main keys to crafting authentic families is to make them different—make them unique. No two families are the same, and no two people in one family are the same, so when you’re creating your families, make sure you’re not making them cookie-cutter.
Don’t make them stereotypical, like the oldest child, middle child, or youngest child stereotypes, or the strict mom and joker dad, sweet mom and tough dad stereotypes.
And don’t make them “normal,” such as always making the parents distant and uncaring, the older siblings bossy, the younger siblings annoying, and that random uncle always being the comic relief character and never having any depth.
Give them oddities, quirks, little things to make them endearing and relatable to readers, and different and unique from each other. Maybe the older sibling is only bossy because she wants the best for their family, maybe the little sibling isn’t annoying but is always trying to be the peacemaker.
Maybe the parents are too involved in the kids’ lives because they really truly care, or maybe they remove themselves because they’re afraid of making mistakes.
However it works for your story, the important thing is taking the time to craft deep, nuanced relationships that don’t just fall into the stereotypical family cliches.
Natasha Romanov’s family in Black Widow is unique in so many ways, but most significantly in the fact that they aren’t a blood family, and they all knew it except for Natasha’s little sister. They were covert Russian spies acting as a family in the US and even they started to believe the lie that they were just a normal family.
But there was so much more underneath. Their “mother” was high up in the Russian spy department as a scientist, and their “father” was infamous, and Natasha and her sister were child spies,
Years later when they come together again, there’s a lot of pain. The mom still works for the organization that turned her two girls into assassins—the organization that mind-controlled them and hurt them. The dad is a criminal that’s usually drunk and doesn’t know when to be serious half the time, and the girls have to break him out of jail.
Dysfunctional and messy hardly cover it—a family that isn’t really a family, and all their memories together were a lie. And a lie that one of them didn’t even realize she was in.
But even in the painful uniqueness of their family, they still care about each other. They are by no means a normal family, but the one thing that makes all families families still holds them together—they still love each other.
They’re memorable and powerful because they aren’t like other families—they’re spies, assassins, bad people whose lives are full of lies and their very relationship fake—and yet still, they fight for each other. Still, they care about each other.
Or, take a non-superhero movie and book, Pride and Prejudice, for example. It’s a very memorable story and plot because all the sisters, and their parents, along with the rest of the cast of characters, are very unique and stereotype-breaking.
You have Jane, the sweet, kind older sister, who isn’t afraid of falling in love and wants it just as much as her younger, naive sisters Kitty and Lydia. Then there’s Elizabeth, determined to hate Mr. Darcy, unlike the girls who are usually fawning over him and falling at his every whim.
You also have the uniqueness of a mother who cares more about her daughters love-lives than they do, and is determined to do whatever it takes, at whatever costs, to secure futures for them. Then you have her daughter, Mary, who will have nothing to do with romance and love.
They’re a combination of oddities and contrasts, a family that fights with each other, and fights for love, a family that cares about each other, and shows it in the craziest of ways. They’re unique. Memorable. Relatable.
Elizabeth reads and has a temper like none other. Jane is soft and sweet hearted, but will fight and love passionately if given the chance. Their mom is wild and chaotic, their father, truthful and brash.
And Jane Austen crafted them so uniquely, but so wonderfully humanly that when someone says “the Bennet sisters” most people will know who they’re talking about.
When we’re crafting our characters’ families, we have to make sure we’re not making them average, run-of-the-mill families. Give them little quirks, awkward or sad dynamics, unique perspectives on life, oddities and ways that they aren’t uniform, and maybe even make them not a blood family at all.
Our families should represent real-life families so that our readers can relate with them, not stereotypical, cookie-cutter cardboard families that no one will remember. So take the time to tweak your families, maybe just a little, to make them relatable and different.
Families Are The Building Blocks
The building blocks of societies, cultures, worldviews, religions, empires… and your books.
They’re vital to your characters, your readers, and the message you’re trying to convey to your audience, as well as to the impact and strength of your overall story.
And it is so, so easy to just naturally not spend as much time and energy on crafting our families to be the strongest possible asset to our stories. It’s easy to forget about them, push them to the background, and sometimes, leave them out entirely.
But they are hugely valuable. That’s why we’ve created a resource to help you give your characters the motivation they need—their families being one of the strongest driving factors in those motivations.
We can craft families that have powerful motivations, stories that change lives, and characters that make our readers feel seen and loved. Our words have power, and we are the only ones who can make the choice to put in the work, take the time, and use the energy to take our stories to that next step.
As writers, we have words and stories in our hearts, just waiting to be put on the page to bless and encourage people all over the world.
Let’s do the hard things to make them the very strongest stories—the strongest characters and themes and messages and motivations—that we can.