I saw this terrific post yesterday about family models and their impact on our heroes and heroines. Jeannie brings up the matter of two modern styles of marriage and how the expectations our characters have jives with how they are raised. It is something to think about, particularly with regards to the romantic relationships our characters enter into.
I thought about it in a broader sense in both my reading and writing. The books I'm attracted to deal with family both good and bad. In urban fantasy, family is a big theme. Sometimes it is the front and center of the plot, other times it is an element. Its something I pay attention to, something I use to give my characters depth and motivation. Of course I do find in my writing I really hone in on the mother-daughter dynamic. But I write from a heroine's point of view and I like to use the relationship to help mold my female protaganist.
I don't use my own family as models. We aren't extreme enough. In fiction where you only have a few thousand words to work with, it becomes important to write with a bit of exaggeration. You have a minimal amount of space to get your point across and families harboring attributes a reader recognizes helps. For instance, the mother in my last book was a PTA mom. We can all recognize that character, we have preset opinions as to what she is like and how she will respond to certain situations. It helps define what her daughter will be like. And I have the option of using her role as a catalyst for the heroine's development. Does she admire and want to emulate her mother or does she despise the woman her mother is and wants to be the exact opposite? It takes some of the legwork out of creating my heroine. If she is going to go one way, then I can use her background to fill in the motivations behind the heroine's actions.
Of course families are great motivators. What wouldn't a child do for their parent or vice versa? What if a parent chooses their own life over their child's? That's going to have some ramifications with the characters involved. Again, our expectations with regards to family dynamics can be used to move the plot along or create a black moment for character development.
How important is family in your writing? Do you use family dynamics to build your characters?