I looked up the word in the dictionary, and it comes from the Latin, familia, which indicates “household.” In English the word dates to the 1500s. It is understood as the basic unit in society, whether two parents, a single parent, or otherwise. Some use the word to refer to a group of people, as in “clan” or “the family of man.” Sometimes it means a group related by common characteristics, as a classification, as in chemicals, soil, flowers, or language.
When I asked what “family” means, my husband remarked, “helping each other” comes to mind. And what does “family” mean relative to this blog? At a recent family gathering, I was seated across the picnic table from a person who discussed the genius of Julian Alexander Fellowes, who wrote “Downtown Abbey.” It came to me the lasting popularity of that show is that it is based on the dynamics of “family” in the most complete way. From Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Nathanial Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, the underlying theme in most books or shows known as classics hinge on the matter of family. They are exciting, full of suspense, with metaphysical twists and turns. The Bible is full of stories that edify, examine, and depict family. Recently I heard a sermon based on the story of Jairus and his dying daughter. Talk about twists and turns!
Dealing with plot is complicated. I have a writer friend who plots out her books, sometimes going on for pages. Other writers begin a story with a theme in mind then work characters through relationships as their “pen hits the paper,” so to speak. Sometimes a character’s name will tease me or evoke some image, and I am hooked. Every book or story begins with a “germ” of an idea.
At a recent writers’ workshop, the speaker said, “Write what you know,” and for most people, that means “family.” Trouble is who wants to talk about “family” negatively? “My cousins would sue me,” said one. “I could never sell my book if I wrote about how wonderful my childhood was,” said another. It’s true. My writer friend Janos Shoemyen (deceased now but who I still miss terribly), once told me, “Rachel, if you could write about how you entered a classroom and murdered your English teacher, you’d have a best-seller.”
It’s true. How many people want to read about someone’s idyllic family or how my little lemon tree put out a new shoot? People watch movies and shows where there is dysfunction, evil, greed, murder, and/ or mayhem. Why are we fascinated by Harry and Prince William? Why do we not like Meghan? Love Elizabeth? What is with us?
Family can give a writer all the content, resources, and furnishings to make a best-seller, but a writer has to be judici0us. A tell-all book generally does NOT become a classic. We have too many “tell-all” books on the market today. It’s getting tiresome.