It’s a strange topic that doesn’t get brought a lot in Fantasy discussions. Sure, you talk about the family of characters in a book that deals with political intrigue and revenge killings. Yet, you still talk about them as a character and not the actual dynamic of that family. Sibling rivalry gets brought up as a plot device, but you rarely see the rest of the family and the rivalry tends to be in full swing by the time the reader arrives. So, what do you do if you want to include family without it being a rivalry or all politics?
For some authors, you go with incest. I’ll get that out of the way and leave it here where it won’t be touched on again.
You can make two characters related and have them act like family members. Siblings will squabble, but back each other up. Older family members will be protective and some arguing about being overprotective can occur. Realize that the sibling rivalry and hatred between family members that can be used a major conflict is an exaggeration of the normal versions. Tone it down to a point where the characters aren’t out to kill each other and it can work for character development.
One can realize that there are other types of families too, especially in fantasy. Here are some examples:
- Friends as Family– A common one is having your main characters bond to a point where they are practically family. They can even call each other brother and sister while showcasing the interactions typically found in families. Teasing, arguing, friendly rivalries, and other small side events can cement the bond between your characters.
- The Clan or Tribe– Used a lot with gypsies and barbarian and non-human species, this is really the idea of a close extended family. People are blood related in these groups, but there are other characters that are not related by blood. Those non-blood related are still treated like family, which is key for this. Now, this is easier to use when the clan or tribe are the focal point. If they are merely the grouping that the character came from then you use it to color that character’s social aptitude. They may be scared of outsiders or amazingly accepting of everyone. It depends on the culture you make for the clan or tribe.
- Build Your Own– This is for you necromancers and mad scientists. It isn’t unheard of for a villain to work with a ‘family’ of resurrected ancestors or constructs. An anti-hero can use this too, but we’ll focus on villain. Remember that villains can have families and some might be inclined to kill and rebuild their actual family. It’s straightforward and the main villain can show any level of insanity that he or she wants toward their non-quite-living relations.
- Orphan– Honorable mention since it’s been done a lot and you don’t need me to explain it.
A key point in writing with family involved, but not central is that you let them act naturally. Don’t force the family thing down the throat of the reader. They’ll figure it out when you have the characters call each other by familial names (mom, dad, sis, bro, etc.) and if they act naturally. You don’t have to be over the top with this. An occasional overprotective act or defiance can get you further than ‘I hate you, brother, and I’ll kill you with this magic sword’ scenes.
Some examples that just came to me: Fullmetal Alchemist (us against the world bond), The Ranger’s Apprentice (Halt & Will are not related, but their bond is amazingly well-written), and The Wiggin children of Ender’s Game (rivalry and love).