Sunday, April 4, 2010

Absent Families

fairy tales I’m taking a couple of days off from blogging to celebrate the Easter weekend with my family. I hope you’ll enjoy this older post, which originally ran last June.

Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White, Harry Potter…and it’s not just in children’s literature that there are absent mothers/fathers/wives/husbands.

If you think about it, many novels (except, maybe, ones that are specifically focusing on family life) have protagonists with no significant other.

Why is that? I think it’s because husbands or wives or--in the case of children’s lit, parents--can be domineering, interfering, or overly influential. Worst case scenario, they can weaken the protagonist as a dominant force in the story.

I was editing my current WIP yesterday and noticed that my protagonist is a widow. Not only that, but four supporting characters are spouse-free.

I’m fine with my sleuth being single (her husband might try to curtail her crime-fighting activities: particularly after they put her in danger), but I’m going to take another look at the bevy of single characters in the supporting cast.

I always thought it was funny in Cheers that Norm’s wife became a character, even though we never meet her. Just his remarks about her were enough to bring her to life.

If our supportive characters are married to characters with no role in the plot, their spouses could just have a passing mention. The problem is when we have too many characters in our book for our readers to keep up with. Keeping the head count down is another reason why I have so many single characters or divorced characters.

How do you handle the families of your supporting characters? Do you briefly mention them? Don’t mention them except to describe the character as a parent or married? Or leave any mention of them out all together?