Family Matters in Historical Suspense

I recently attended a mystery writer’s conference and sat in on a Historical Fiction session where several successful authors discussed the role of the family in Historical Fiction as opposed to contemporary fiction. As I thought back on my writing process for The Darkest Current, I realized that I inadvertently made almost every character a relation to another character in some way. Family is EVERYWHERE. And when you think about it, that makes sense, doesn’t it? In 18th and 19th century America, neighbors were distant, and the family unit meant everything. You relied upon family beyond all else.

In today’s world–and this is reflected in contemporary literature– family is much more broadly defined. Family can be a character’s close knit set of friends, colleagues, roommates, etc., And of course, much of literature still grounds the main character with nuclear family relationships. But a character can be totally estranged or unconnected from all family and yet still have a strong support system, whereas in Historical Fiction, it would be almost completely unbelievable that a character could be emotionally stable without the support of their family.

Over time and as our access to the world has expanded drastically, the definition of “family” for a main character has also expanded, but in some way, it has stayed the same. Literary characters need support, whether that’s from their nuclear families or beyond, if we are to find them validating of the human experience.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton


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