Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Straight from the Gene Pool: How Sibling Relationships Mold Your Characters.

tom vogt → in People “Lollipops”

I want you all to take a minute and imagine life without your siblings. Would you be the same person? For better or worse, I’m guessing that no, you wouldn’t. What if your birth order were reversed?

Whether we want to admit it or not, our relationships with our siblings shape our personalities, goals, desires, and motivations. Don’t believe me? Read this article from Psychology Today

Still don’t believe me? Watch this video from TED Talks. It’s fascinating: Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond

I apologize to all my “only children” readers out there, because I’m about to get real about sisterly (and brotherly) love—that is, in both life and in literature.

I’ve written posts in the past that detail rather unconventional methods of characterization. Sibling relationships are my latest illustration.

I can think of many examples where these kinds of dynamics are the basis of the story. Other times they are simply part of the backdrop. As a writer there some methods you can use to establish the sibling bond. The following, I think, are among the most typical. Of course being the talented scribes you are, you can fill in all the unique details later on.

1. Sister Spiteful: The classic case of the jealous sibling. I believe it works better when the protagonist him or herself is the spiteful one. That way, as readers, we see the larger-than-life genealogical specimen from the underdog’s eyes. Often in these cases we find that the protagonist is struggling with her own identity. Her perceived perception of her perfect sibling only worsens this. Generally these relationships work out, as the envious sibling discovers her sister or brother has insecurities of his/her own.

My favorite literary examples: The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkenan & True Colors by Kristin Hannah
My favorite non-literary examples: A League of Their Own & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

2. Brother Burden: This is a sibling bond that often carries sad undertones. In these cases we see a brother or sister who must care for his/her sibling. Perhaps the sibling is sick, mentally ill, addicted to drugs, etc. The caretaker is burdened by his brother or sister. His own life is greatly affected. He deals with such debilitating emotions as guilt, blame, remorse, and responsibility. But despite the drain, he can’t leave his sibling behind. If the writer is merciful, he relieves this character at the end.

My favorite literary examples: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
My favorite non-literary examples: Love Actually

3. Pals of Progeny: Maybe they bit each other’s heads off when they were kids. Fought to the death over who got more ice cream, or who was next in line to take a shower. But now they’re grown up and they appreciate each other. In fact, they’re pals, friends, buddies. Brothers who take fishing trips together. Sisters who borrow each other’s clothes. Brothers who protect their sisters, and vice versa. It’s a bond that’s tough to break. In literature these types of sibling dynamics can go both ways—horribly right or horribly wrong depending on the nature of the story.

My favorite literary example: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott & Ramona and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
My favorite non-literary example: Friends (Monica and Ross) & The Parent Trap

4. Opposing Offspring: These are competitive types. Or perhaps distant types. In these relationships there was always something that wasn’t quite right. It could be based on jealously, but often in the ‘opposing offspring’ dynamo the culprits consider themselves equals. Maybe they’re simply too different from one another. Perhaps at one time, one backstabbed the other. Either way, the conflict is deep and rich; the path to finding solace in one another is an arduous journey.

My favorite literary example: In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner & Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My favorite non-literary example: Practical Magic

A word on birth order:

To take this further, I’ve compiled a list of commonly accepted characteristics based on birth order. This knowledge may further aid your characterization:

Oldest child-people pleasing, bossy, organized, punctual, natural leader, controlling, ambitious, expected to uphold family values, caretakers, financially intelligent, responsible

Middle child-flexible, easy going, independent, sometimes feels like life is unfair, sometimes will engage in attention-seeking behavior, competitive.

Youngest child-silly or funny, risk-taking, creative, sometimes feels inferior, easily bores, friendly, outgoing, idealistic

Only child-close to parents, demanding, leaders, spoiled, self-absorbed, private in nature, may relate better to adults to kids their own age, independent, responsible

Where do you fit in with your siblings? How about your characters? Who is your favorite sibling pair in either literature or pop culture? As usual—looking forward to your responses!

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Over-stimulation

I wonder if Charlotte Bronte used to receive issues of writing magazines in the mail. Or if Jane Austen got email updates sent to her Blackberry (OK, yes, I know I need a new phone) offering discounted–or not–issues, classes, webinars, gifts, kits, tools, books, interviews, articles, etc. etc. etc. I don’t know about Bronte or Austen, but all my ‘boxes’ are certainly blowin’ up with it all.

See though, those two ladies were intrinsic writers. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out where I’m going with this. I’ve got a new issue of a reputable writing magazine sitting on my kitchen table. If my BB buzzes ten times, six will be writing sources, either asking me to purchase something or offering me advice on crafting indelible characters. So, here’s the question: Should I read these texts, or should I well, I don’t know, write?

Charlotte Bronte didn’t have a choice in the matter. She wrote. Emily Dickinson–damn, talk about ‘intrinsic,’ she barely left her house–just simply wrote, wrote, wrote. She did have issues with publication though, too bad she wasn’t force-fed advice through tweets and FB posts on how to snag an agent.

Do I sound bitter? I’m not. It’s the business. It just gets confusing for us intrinsic types. My inner-inkling is to write fiction, or creative non-fiction–stories. But I’m learning that there is a lot more involved than just that. There’s conferences to attend, platforms to build, relationships to make, and so forth. And sometimes, well, all that stimulation can cause me to look in eighty different directions at once when I should really only be looking in one direction: my novel, my stories, my writing.

But hey, I want to do it write, (oh wow, no pun intended, look at that! Told ya, it’s intrinsic) and it makes sense in this world why it is the way it is. The writing aspect, I am discovering, is only one part of it. The sitting, the typing, the blocking-out-the-whole-world-and-creating a new one-phenomena is only a certain percentage. The best percentage, any intrinsic will tell you that, but a percentage no less.

The advice is good. It’s needed. In some ways, I still have no clue what I’m doing. I just need to figure out how to filter out the junk.

Happy writing.

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Filed under Breaking Through, The Writing Life, Why We Write