Family Matters – Are Stories Surrounding Families Boring?

While taking part in the Superversive Livestream on Romance, one of this author’s fellow guests mentioned that “anyone who thinks life after marriage is boring” is misinformed. Reflecting on these words I was reminded of the many, many adventures I have had with my own family, as well as escapades related by friends from time spent with their families. In one such conversation, my father told a friend something to the effect of, “You could make an entire television series out of the events that happened in your life, but Hollywood would never do it and no one would believe it.”

The smiles we wore as we compared adventures – minor ones, in the grand scheme of things – and the laughter that followed descriptions of the absurdities which mark normal, everyday life with loved ones are the items I remember best about that day. Should you look back on your lives, readers, you will doubtless be reminded of all the foolish, ridiculous things that have happened to you or been done by members of your own family. Or the ludicrous accidents that you overheard others nearby discussing.

Too often writers think that a hero retiring (and this author uses that term loosely) from the career of adventurer or superhero or space knight to settle down and raise a family requires that his life become dull and boring. I have a few theories about where this misconception originated, but they are beside the point. That point is that there have been many, many stories centered around heroes and their families – or just families in general. Look no further than Happy Days*, Family Matters*, and Lost in Space* (the original, in this case) to see that compelling stories can be spun around families. Of these television series, the original Lost in Space had a lifespan of three years. Happy Days ran for eleven seasons and spun-off several side stories, while Family Matters was on the air for nine seasons and had a couple of related series as well.

Lost in Space transliterated the story of The Swiss Family Robinson* to the depths of the Final Frontier. Thrown off course due to sabotage, the Robinsons’ ship crashes on the wrong alien planet. Now they must survive hostile situations on an inhospitable world by relying on one another and the enemy who caused their vessel to crash in the first place. It isn’t just their scientific knowledge that permits them to endure and even thrive in this environment; their mutual love and trust in each other is what allows them to conquer the dangerous creatures and eldritch opponents who rise to challenge them during the course of their adventures.

Oh, and they have family fun doing it, too. Most people associate that “fun” aspect with sitcoms like Happy Days and Family Matters which were humorous, affectionate presentations of the trials and tribulations experienced in daily life; but this is the mark of healthy families no matter their situation. Rich or poor, trapped in space or living comfortably in Milwaukee or Chicago, the family that can laugh and love together is the family that stays together.

That applies to families in more serious works as well. The Solo family in Star Wars’ original Expanded Universe (now known as “Legends”) remains strong until the Yuuzhan Vong arc primarily because they make time for each other. Han in particular makes sure to spend his spare hours with his and Leia’s children while their mother is President of the New Republic. Leia does her best but has more difficulty making her presence felt with her three children due to the demands of her job. With some exceptions, she is thus almost entirely absent from the Young Jedi Knights* series. Han and Luke have more interaction with her children than she does for the simple reason that running the New Republic takes most of her free time.

As Anthony Marchetta pointed out in the livestream linked above, Marvel Comics has had strong families as well. Sue and Reed Richards are both devoted to their children, Franklin and Valeria. They maintained their family despite numerous attempts on their lives and their adventures in the couple’s ongoing superhero career. The MC2 universe established Peter Parker and Mary Jane as a happily married couple with two children of their own, one of whom became a heroine in her own right. Various heroes throughout the many adaptations of Marvel’s comics have done the same, seen most clearly in the MCU’s Hawkeye and his family.

This is what many modern writers forget in their efforts to be “realistic”: families are fun. They are made up of people the characters can cry on, with whom the protagonists can come up with wild plans or pranks, and generally weather some very rough seas as a unit. If families were not, as a typical rule, fun and safe places to be, then the surrogate family forged in combat or mutual experiences trope would not have half of the appeal which it possesses. After all, a surrogate family is an imperfect imitation of a biological family, one set up to serve in the place of a biological family broken by human concupiscence or deliberate, malicious actions from one or more members.

I do not use the term “imperfect” disparagingly; there is nothing wrong with surrogate family atmospheres, particularly if they help individuals realign with society and form their own natural families. When I say “imperfect” I use the word to stress that a surrogate family lacks the blood bonds of relationship to make it as durable as a biological family ought to be but may fail to become. We say “blood is thicker than water” for a reason: the scum of the Earth, at least occasionally, will go to great lengths to ensure those related to them are not harmed or are avenged.

A surrogate family can have the same attitude and feel the same. But at the end of the day, it will always be a substitute for the real thing. It will be helpful and good (provided the members are helpful and good, as there are villainous examples of surrogate families in fiction as in life), but it will not be the equal of a biological family. That is why wise stories which have surrogate families used to show members of said groups marrying and raising their own children. Through the help of surrogates, they learned to desire their own biological families and maintain those natural bonds through life’s ups and downs.

When you are writing your own stories, readers, remember this power of the family. It is, typically, a fun, secure, loving and nurturing environment. That is why outcasts such as Fonzie and Steve Urkel are attracted to the Cunninghams and the Wilsons respectively: they want a real family. When their own biological families rejected them, they sought out an adoptive family. If that avenue is closed, as it usually is in series like Marvel’s X-Men, then people will search for a surrogate family. In each case, they will learn how real, biological families are actually supposed to work through the support and help of a surrogate family.

Lost in Space Photo - 15 Revealing Quotes From Morrissey's ...

That knowledge doesn’t end with the individual in these circumstances any more than it ends with the children raised by married parents whose relationship has stood the test of life. Children from normal families bring that experience to their own families when they grow up, seen in Richie Cunningham’s marriage to his longtime girlfriend, wherein he becomes a father as well. Steve Urkel becomes engaged to Laura Wilson after learning what it means to be part of a family, while Dr. Smith in the original Lost in Space softens and becomes less dangerous due to his constant contact with the Robinsons and their children.

The family is the bedrock of society for this reason. Surrogate families are necessary for some but they will wither and die without real families to imitate. The same is true of adoptive families, which rely on biological families as a template. You can’t have adoptive or surrogate families without first having the biological type, because those models rely on the original form to function properly.

If you want your characters to come from broken or nonexistent homes, keep this fact in mind. You can’t just slap a group of individuals with differing, sometimes dysfunctional personalities together in a group and call it a family. Writers have tried it and called it a family, but that is like saying a child’s drawing is the equivalent of a Picasso: one was made by someone lacking experience while the other was created by someone who knew the rules of his art and tried something new. The child has only a dim concept of forms, shapes, and nature itself. The trained artist has immersed himself in these things to understand them as best he can, then found a way to express his unique perspective to catch the eye of viewers.

Don’t forget your characters’ families, readers. And for heaven’s sake, stop painting them all with the same brush. They’re not all strict, demanding killjoys nor do they endure endless days of boring work. Even putting the cleaned clothes in the dryer can lead to a bizarre adventure that will result in conversations around the dinner table years later, sending listeners into gales of laughter before prompting someone to say, “Hey, remember when…”

Families are fun for everyone in them. They are the greatest adventure of human life because they are the vehicle of life – past, present, and future. Why deny your readers stories reflecting the most human journey in the universe?

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna, Uranus, and Sol. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue and Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue. Order them today!

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5 thoughts on “Family Matters – Are Stories Surrounding Families Boring?

  1. Pingback: BW’s Daily Article Link: In Defense Of Families In Stories | BW Media Spotlight

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