This morning (it’s Sunday as I write this), after I stepped out of the shower, I heard singing. Sort of marching singing. Coming from outside.
It was Ann Dee. We live a couple of blocks from each other (I know! I can go and visit her, like, any time!). Sam was on her back and they were one person. A happy couple. A mom and son.
I couldn’t yell to Ann Dee as I was nekkid, but I watched them turn the corner and I thought, “Ann Dee is a terrific mother.”
And she is. So kind. So good. So always there for her sweet family.
Now that I’m grown I know lots of strong women who have raised, or are raising, their families well. They seem to do it all. But most important are the children they have decided to raise into competent, loving, smart, good, amazing people.
This makes me think of our characters.
Who has raised that character?
What was that history, that we may never see?
What did Momma love?
Who did Daddy tolerate?
Was Gramma a part of the child rearing?
And Granddaddy, how has he helped?
While we don’t need to know everything about the family our characters come from, knowing some family history gives us reasons for the way our characters may do things.
I almost always write my grandmother into my novels. She’s in nearly every one. Nana was a terrific grandmother. This is no lie, I was her favorite grandchild (Sorry, Kel.). Nanny told a story about how my mom and dad and I came back from Nebraska where I was born. I was tiny and scrawny and weak. My mother handed me to her mother to hold and I wouldn’t let lose. I had ahold around her neck and held so tight Nana actually changed my diapers while I hung from her neck. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know that either. But I wonder if it’s because there was something in that baby who knew that for many, many years she would only be safe with her grandmother.
I miss Nana.
The novel due out next year from Simon and Schuster includes the names of my grandmother and all her siblings: Evie, Lucy, Pearl, Carol, Jimmey (this is Nana!), Buddy and Odie (who was a woman who’s real name was Horton. HORTON!). There was also a baby who lived only a few days (I want his name in the book) and another sister who died from throat cancer when she was older. I don’t know her name, but as soon as I do, she goes into the book, too.
For me, my writing is all about family. Always. The bad and the good. The ugly and the joyous. The icky and the sweet.
So think about the families in your characters’ lives, even if they never show up. I promise this information will answer a lot of questions you may have about your character. And as you dig into your own past you’ll find pieces of joy (or sorrow) to help support your work.