Of all the famous first lines of fiction, there are few that ring as true as Tolstoy’s in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
In addition to being a great first line, it’s something that is accessible to every reader’s experience. Family—good, bad, or the lack thereof—is something sure to provoke strong or distinctive feelings in your audience.
Because of that, writing a family drama is something that has to be handled with care and nuance. Family relationships portrayed in fiction can give your reader a view into a deeper truth, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. But in order to do so, it’s the writer’s job to draw and articulate family relationships in a really poignant manner. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Characterization is Everything
When writing a family drama, one of the most important elements to pay attention to is character development. Relationships should be empathetic, characters should be fully fleshed out. This is not the type of genre to skimp on details. Writers should be fully aware of their characters’ backstories, what they want and need, and the dynamics of the characters to each other. Here’s more on developing a character’s backstory: Building a Character’s Backstory.
2. Make Theme Shine
Crafting a theme for a novel can often seem secondary to other things, such as plot and characters. In family dramas, themes are vital. Whether the writer intends to expound on the necessity of friendship, the way loss affects life, the sting of betrayal—this is the genre to fully develop a theme. Here are some tips to help develop your story’s theme: Theme – The Secret Sauce of Storytelling.
3. Add Conflict and Then Some
Relationships, especially in family, are all about conflict. Conflict in a family drama helps us understand what the characters want, what is at heart between petty disagreements, and what needs to be healed or solved in order for the characters to go through their full character arc. By presenting conflict, writers have the ability to give insight into every relationship in the novel.
4. Emotion is Your Friend
Dramas are full of real, human emotion by their nature. When writing a family drama, it’s incredibly important to take the time to make the characters act and behave in believable manners. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of emotion—both by giving the reader a view of the rich emotional interior life of the character and by evoking empathetic response or emotion in the reader.
Family dramas have the potential to move your reader in a profound way. Dig deep, tap into your what you really want to communicate through your characters and their relationships, and then make it come alive on the page. Chances are, your readers will be captivated from the extra effort.