I Really Did Love My Father

…but, for some reason, many of my characters have difficult relationships with their own fathers. It’s the reverse of the Disney Princess situation, where it’s the mothers who are missing (seriously: many Disney Princesses just seem to not have had mothers at all!). In the majority of my stories, main characters challenge their fathers, are estranged from their fathers, their fathers are dead, or some semblance of all three. I honestly don’t know where this particular character detail comes from, since I had a pretty good relationship with my own father, and I honestly did love him. I think the admission of that love is what I’ve enjoyed exploring through these stories of children challenging and reconciling with the patriarchs of their families. Or, maybe it has something to do with the idea of The Patriarch being emotionally removed from his children, so he doesn’t show a lot of love to them. Whatever the reason, the fathers of my characters tend to get the short end of the stick. That must be the reason why, when my characters grow up and have children of their own, they are so determined to be openly loving men to their kids.

Chie, from 1 More Chance!, which I wrote between 2009-2011, rebelled against her father in her choice of boyfriend, but that was a tame conflict compared to the stark animosity Amber showed to her father in Fearless, whose first draft I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2011. Daniel’s conflict with his father, written over the last few weeks and linked to below, is somewhere in the middle between those two perspectives…and, I have to admit, related to some of my own feelings about my dad, which I haven’t examined too closely since he died in 2014.

“Butterfly”
[~13K words /Β 51 pages Calibri DS- PDF opens in a new window]

This story plays with time in a way I haven’t attempted before, but I’d recently read a novel that jumped back and forth in time in a similar fashion, to share story details between scenes, that I found interesting. I don’t know if I was completely successful in my attempt – I wondered if I should have done more jumping, just to break things up – but I always enjoy writing these characters, and the opportunity felt right.

Two of the guest characters in this story are returns for me, while another is based on a university colleague, and another is an homage to a writer friend’s adventuring archaeologist. I really enjoyed bringing back my own characters into this fold, and I do hope my friends don’t take offense to me envisioning them and their creations in a way that fit into my story. But, that’s the beauty of relationships, right? You never know where they’re going to take you.

On thinking more about it, the challenge of writing this story that I really enjoyed wasn’t so much the technical aspect of skipping around in time or between worlds of my making, but the Daniel character’s uniqueness in this situation, in that he is both a child and a parent, struggling to find the balance between both aspects of himself.

How do your personal relationships with family or friends affect your characters and their stories? Do you ever find yourself writing a little bit about yourself in your stories? From a technical perspective, what are your thoughts on time-jumps in storytelling? I’m happy to hear your answers to any of these questions! (And, if you’re hearty enough to actually read the story, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about that, too!)

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14 thoughts on “I Really Did Love My Father

  1. I see nothing wrong with writing distant parents, despite your own good relationship with your own father. Perhaps, it’s just a starting point to show a progression of change within the character that makes the distance more appealing to writer and reader. I’m guilty of doing the same with my characters, where I try to get the characters to either figure a way to repair a parental relationship, or start fresh, whether with his or her own parents or the parents of a close friend or lover.

    Have you ever read “If on a Winter’s Night, a Traveler” by Italo Calvino (pardon the quotations around the title. I can’t italicize)? That book is all about jumps, except it’s not time skips, but a main story that has multiple fragments of other stories that sort of crash into the main story. I’ve had to read it for class, and while it can be frustrating at times, the jumps did keep me interested. Other books I’ve read that have such time jumps frustrate me, for some reason, like I just want a story to progress. Calvino’s book always felt like it was moving forward, even while fragmented. Others just feel like it’s a constant stop and go.

    Your story, however, had the constant flow without the jarring sensation of a stop and go. I liked that each fragment of time propelled the main story forward without losing any of the momentum. And I’m happy that Daniel was able to have some closure with his parents, too! Beautifully written!

    As for writing myself into my characters, I do too much of that sometimes, where I worry that those close to me will take notice in parallels to my own life. I was taught, though, that no matter what, the characters are not the author, that they are their own separate entities, their own persons that carry bits of ourselves within us. Though, I do wonder if we also see pieces of ourselves in others, even if we are not within those people.

    Keep up the good work!

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    • Thanks for stopping by, spooney, and double thanks for reading the story! ❀

      I have not read Calvino, but I'll look for it next time I'm in the library. I've found that I learn more about writing from reading than I do from self-help or instruction books. Just reading what other writers do helps me see new angles for crafting my own stories. This particular time-jump effort came about because I'd read two books back-to-back that used this technique, and I wanted to see if I could use it, too, to create a story that made sense. Glad to hear that it was not too confusing!

      It's good to remember that point about characters not being the author, even if we share similarities with them. That distance allows us to put characters into tough situations, and imagine new outcomes, good or bad (because drama often makes for great story!).

      Thanks again for reading. I hope your own stories are coming along well!

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  2. Firstly, Yay for Ross and Amber! The glimpse of the future you have written them is just wonderful, and it makes perfect sense why they would invest in orthopedics. They haven’t changed a bit since the end of their story and it makes me so happy to see.

    As for your story overall, I really enjoyed it. The conflict weighing on Daniel is well written and Rob and Paige are outstanding as his support. Plus, the impac that even Ross has on him in a very short time really ties into the resolution of it all, so I think that was a good addition.

    Your method of time-skipping is a good one, I thought. It breaks each scene almost into it’s own chapter instead of weaving one through another and back again which could confuse the tenses. Keeping the time the scene was set in as a header instead of trying to just sneak it into the text is a good move.

    Honestly, the only nitpick I have with this is the inconsistency in the text messages. To me, it just makes sense to italicize them all, coming or going, but that’s writer’s choice.

    I think how family and friends have affected us play right into how we write, no doubt. By the same token as your characters growing up and becoming loving families, I suppose my usually tight-knit group of pilots, rascals or bros just seems to be easiest for me to write. It’s the dynamic I’m most comfortable with. Which probably does indeed mean that a little bit of me gets into anything I create, sometimes without even meaning to. Would it really be ‘ours’ without a little touch of us?

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    • Thanks for reading, shade, and for offering your thoughts. I will make sure to go back and check the text messages. I didn’t pay too close attention to the formatting of all of them as I was tapping out this story. The value of careful editing revealed! πŸ™‚

      I have to admit, while Amber’s and Ross’s appearances were mostly self-indulgence on my part, I did love revisiting them as a slightly older couple. I actually have to thank you for that particular prod. You had mentioned some time ago how interesting it might be to see Nev and Daniel interacting, and that got me to thinking. While Nev’s home base is too far west to create any organic meeting between the two of them, Daniel’s childhood in London made him a pretty perfect match for being Amber’s contemporary. Plus, I just plain enjoyed being able to jump my Fearless crew forward ten years to include Alex, since I dropped that bit from the novel’s original ending.

      While I understand that we are writing drama and fiction, when my characters write themselves into foreign conflicts – like the one Daniel has with his father – it’s always a bit startling to me. I need to remember your point about our stories needing a little bit of ourselves to truly be ours. πŸ™‚

      Thanks again!

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  3. When I delve into a character’s background, most are byproducts of single parents. Or if they have both parents living, they don’t have as much contact with them.

    I went through a time where I didn’t speak to my mom for months. We couldn’t even agree to disagree. A lot of my character was called into question, and I didn’t appreciate it. My relationship has improved, and I want the same for my characters.

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    • Thanks for commenting, George!

      It seems like our stories find their own ways of mirroring our experiences…or what we may have wanted our experiences to be. Family relationships are the first strong relationships we have, so I guess it makes sense that they often figure prominently into our characters, who had to have come from somewhere! πŸ™‚

      Glad to hear that your relationship with your mom has improved, and that you’re seeking the same kind of resolutions for your characters through their stories. We may not always get them, but I think everybody wants to experience a happily ever after.

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  4. Well, first I want to know why Meghan never told me she was off to England! Maybe that’s why she’s been ignoring me for a bit. πŸ˜‰

    But seriously, you do such a great job with these characters. They strike me as real people with real feelings and issues. And if asked to pick one relationship to describe as “It’s complicated,” I bet a lot of folks would choose the one with one or both of their parents. I know I would. As I get older, I think I’m coming to understand my father better, but it’s many years after his passing. He was a surgical tech in World War II, and now, as a mature adult, I realize what an impact that must have had on him all those years before I was the surprise baby bringing up the rear of the family. But he passed away before I reached that level of understanding.

    I think many writers go beyond “what they know” when writing about relationships. Some write about happier ones than they’ve experienced. Others write about “a dark side” they never experienced. I’d say that we need to trust our instincts as to what works best with the characters we’re writing about. And I think you’ve done a great job there. πŸ™‚

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    • Thanks, JM. I always used to hear the advice “write what you know,” and I stuck by that for many years, so perhaps that’s where some of my consternation about these grimmer plots and characterizations come from. Over time, when it comes to the darker side, “writing what I know” has become a practice in adding my twist to more serious issues.

      That sounds like a deep realization with your father. It’s sad, in some ways, to consider we don’t really know our parents as people until we’re older and have a bit of experience and wisdom for ourselves. It’s important for kids to have role models who are powerful in their goodness and – from a child’s perspective – infallibility, but kids also don’t realize their parents are people who were young, adventurous, and made mistakes. It’s just one of those maturity things that we learn as we grow up, ourselves.

      I hope you don’t mind me borrowing an alternate universe version of Meghan! I was writing the character and it just felt right to give her that name. I figured she was on her way to her own adventure somewhere across the globe. She does have that Indiana Jones feel to her, to me, though a bit more of the Professor side than the whip-wielding one.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving your thoughts!

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      • It’s totally cool you borrowed Meghan. I bet she enjoyed the break and had a blast in England. Well, as much of one as she could with Rick and John still being home. πŸ˜€

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  5. It’s funny how our real life filters into stories but not in the way people imagine. Sometimes I take one thing and magnify it exponentially or ask what if. I’ve created a character unlike any I’ve encountered in real life. It’s fun to explore things on the page. To stretch what I know into what it could have been in an alternate reality. πŸ™‚

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    • That stretching of our reality using imagination is one of the best parts of writing! The way we can take someone or something familiar and work it into a story, even if it’s something only we know…! We all must love that part, huh? Have you ever created a darker character or antagonist from someone you know, and then had them ask you if you’ve ever put them in a story? I had that happen once, and had a pickle of a time explaining, “But they’re a great character!” After that, I’ve kept my mouth shut. πŸ˜€

      Thanks for stopping by!

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      • LOL. It’s awkward. I generally tell people my characters are composites. i borrow traits and characteristics from people I know, add a liberal serving of imagination, and then toss it all in the blender. I’ve had someone ask me that and my patent answer is of course not. πŸ˜‰

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  6. Good post, Mayumi. I think “writing what we know” is a terrible blanket rule unless we’re writing non-fiction. There’s no reason why your characters who don’t have great relationship with their fathers should be a reflection of your own experiences. This is how they reveal themselves to you, and I think our imaginations like to go to places we’re curious about, that we don’t know that much about, that we can mold and shape at our whim.

    All my main characters have one MIA parent for some reason. Either the parents are divorced, or one is dead, or one is in a psych ward, or what have you. Sometimes that MIA parent comes back and the relationship is healed. Other times, no.

    My parents divorced when I was in college. I saw the signs of their impending divorce when I was around 10, so I guess, in a lot of ways, I was already emotionally gearing up to be shuffled around, be caught in the middle, etc. My imagination acted out these scenarios in my stories, for sure, maybe as a form of self-protection? If I write it, then it won’t happen to me type of deal.

    But if I were to really get to the nitty-gritty of it, my fictional MIA parents are less about my personal experiences and more about how fascinated I am by how home life affects a child — that whole Nature vs Nurture argument. Many of my stories tend to center around how a kid has to toughen up or change sometimes because he doesn’t have a dad anymore, or because his mom is a drunk, and therefore, an absent parent. How that lack of a parenting figure plays out in my character’s life choices, whether my MC is 12 years old or 40.

    I find anything related to family psychology very, very cool and interesting, and very, very fun to use in fiction. πŸ˜‰

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    • Thanks, Kate! You always have great advice. πŸ™‚

      I definitely understand that idea of, “If I write it, it won’t come.” It doubles as a form of catharsis when bad things we don’t want to deal with do happen, too. It’s been a lot easier for me to confront heavy topics like mortality in the safety of stories, to be certain, but it’s also helped me build my own defenses against the dangers of being sucked under. Seeing the world and its trials through a fictional character’s eyes has more than once helped me find my own way. Things don’t seem so bleak in real life, I suppose, once we help them through to the other side.

      Family is one of those constants of the human condition, isn’t it? I suppose that’s why I use it so often, myself. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by!

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