Families in Books

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Families in Books

Postby Tonyblack » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:27 am

I was wondering what you all felt about the use of families in books?

Let me try and explain. I have read a lot of books and series of books, but I often find that a winning formula falls flat when a main character is given a family. If a bachelor, or spinster detective gets married or even has a boyfriend/girlfriend, it can totally change the way that character is able to act or react.

It seems to me that most successful books in series have some main character who is, for whatever reason, alone.

I mentioned detective fiction and think that it is particularly noticeable there. I have known authors introduce a wife and then manage to lose her a couple of books down the line. And I've known some books where I dearly wish the author would dump the partner.

This is not the same as the occasional sibling or family member who happens to crop up now and again. Those are often very welcome.

Can you think of any successful introductions into a series?

My thought was Sybil to Sam, but Sam was still an unformed character when he met Sybil. And Sybil has the grace to stay at home, out of the way, and not ask too many questions about what Sam has been up to.

What are your thoughts - if any, on this subject? :)
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Dotsie » Fri Apr 05, 2013 10:13 am

I haven't read too many series of books (just Stephanie Plum), but I guess all the ones I can think of agree with you. Stephanie Plum swaps between two love interests, but the same ones since the first book anyway.

The same in TV series - it's only OK if it's two maIn characters, otherwise they have to break up (or it's the end of the series).
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Tonyblack » Fri Apr 05, 2013 5:17 pm

Sticking with the Crime/Mystery genre - nearly all the best loved sleuths are single as far as I can tell.

Sherlock Holmes - bachelor
Miss Marple - elderly spinster
Morse - possibly a misogynist
Father Brown - Catholic Priest
Brother Cadfel - monk
Inspector Frost - widower

You get the picture. I think it over complicates plots if the writer has to be thinking - what's the wife doing?
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Re: Families in Books

Postby chris.ph » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:15 pm

harry dresden is single :D
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Jinx » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:56 pm

Tonyblack wrote:My thought was Sybil to Sam, but Sam was still an unformed character when he met Sybil. And Sybil has the grace to stay at home, out of the way, and not ask too many questions about what Sam has been up to.

Don't forget that young Sam was introduced later (NW). I think it's fair to give credit to this introduction. Vimes has a huge responsibility to his son and it's a big part of his character now. It hasn't really changed Vimes either. It's only made him more Vimes... (That really was the best way I could think to describe that).


...oh and in films, lets not forget James Bond. ...oh wait... right. Lets just forget that in fact.
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Dotsie » Fri Apr 05, 2013 8:06 pm

Columbo has a wife, but he might as well not. The Harts are married, but to each other - does that count? They've also got Max and Freeway, but no kids.
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Tonyblack » Fri Apr 05, 2013 8:12 pm

Dotsie wrote:Columbo has a wife, but he might as well not. The Harts are married, but to each other - does that count? They've also got Max and Freeway, but no kids.

The Harts were different because they were working together on cases.

There's a series of books I've read with a sheriff in a small Kansas town. The wife was getting so tricky that the writer killed her off. :lol: And another series where the woman detective is getting involved with a bloke and it's ruining the series as far as I'm concerned. It can turn a decent story into a soap opera if the writer doesn't watch it. :?

Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan series of books has the main female character having on/off relationships with her ex husband and a Canadian police detective, but these never become too serious and don't get in the way of the plot so much.
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Alanz » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:42 pm

The Unseen University are a family.. of sorts :?: :D
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Re: Families in Books

Postby =Tamar » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:13 am

Tonyblack wrote:
Dotsie wrote:Columbo has a wife, but he might as well not. The Harts are married, but to each other - does that count?

The Harts were different because they were working together on cases.

I don't think you can discount the Harts for that reason. In a family, people do work together.

There is a current series by Laurie King, a Sherlock Holmes follow-up in which a young woman works with him on adventures and SPOILER
x
x
x
x
eventually marries Sherlock, and they continue to work together.
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Alanz » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:58 am

I used to enjoy Sherlock Holmes when it was on the box Years ago.. :D
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Tonyblack » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:28 am

My understanding of the Laurie King books (I haven't read them, but Sharlene has) is that the female character meets a retired Sherlock Holmes and he becomes her mentor in the art of deduction. It's more about a much younger woman, Mary Russell, solving crimes with Sherlock helping. They don't actually get married until around the fifth book in the series.
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Alanz » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:47 am

You can't blame him, he had to be sure before he commited himself, chapter 5 sounds about right on a long Engagement :lol: :lol:
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Re: Families in Books

Postby Phoenix » Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:46 am

I'm trying to think through the books/series I've read with families and I think most either have families from the start, or introduce them pretty quickly, which may be why I haven't found them a problem. In the Amelia Peabody books, she meets the character who will be become her husband in the first book, and they have a son by book 2 or 3. But she works with her husband and their son is often involved (even when very young), so maybe there's less need to think what's happening elsewhere with family members. That's similar to most of the family members in books I read- and a lot have siblings involved, rather than partners, so maybe that alters the dynamic?
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Re: Families in Books

Postby raisindot » Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:21 pm

"Happy families" in fiction rarely work, because the whole central point of fiction is to create drama through conflict. With a few rare exceptions (such as "Little Women" or the "Little House" books) most novels with families that essentially get along rarely work. The kinds of family fiction books that do work are those where there's conflict and competition between family members. You can go back to the Greek myths for the origins of family fighting, what with Zeus cheating on Hera all the time, Aphrodite cheating on Hephaestus, and all the gods taking sides in the Trojan War. And the mortals, from Oedipus to Agamemnon, weren't much better.

Heck, look at Genesis in the Bible--either you have one brother killing another, or a father on the verge of killing his own son, or one brother stealing his brother's birthright, or a wife sending a mistress into exile or fathers willing to send their daughters out to be raped by mobs, or brothers sending a favored brother into slavery.

Historically, families don't make for good stories if they're all content. The ones that work best are those facing challenges that threaten to tear families apart--such as Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. In the Discworld series, Sam Vimes is the only "main" character who is married, and this aspect of his life only becomes interesting when his family is being threatened, as it is in Night Watch and Thud!. Nanny Ogg's extended family is interesting only as punchline gags, and as a couple Verence and Magrat are incredibly boring until this unity is threatened in Carpe Jugulum. For the true definition of the boredom of marriage and family in the DW, look no further than Fred Colon, whose marriage has gotten to the point where both of them have arranged their shifts so they're rarely in the house at the same time.
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Re: Families in Books

Postby =Tamar » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:40 am

raisindot wrote:"Happy families" in fiction rarely work, because the whole central point of fiction is to create drama through conflict. With a few rare exceptions (such as "Little Women" or the "Little House" books) most novels with families that essentially get along rarely work. The kinds of family fiction books that do work are those where there's conflict and competition between family members.
But there are books where the members of the family get along; the conflict is supplied by external events. The Railway Children by e. nesbit, for instance, and Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones.
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