Sunday, 12 February 2017

Siblings in speculative fiction and how they create conflict

When it came to choosing the main characters for my novel, "Welcome to the Apocalypse", I don't know why but I always had a brother and sister and a best friend in mind. Three characters fighting for survival in a world of never ending apocalypses, three characters looking out for each other as best they can.

Writers are often asked how we choose our characters, but the answer is often the characters choose the story. It's weird, right, but that's how it is for me. One of the character types I see quite often in fiction (and one that I don't always like) is the lone wolf character. No family. No siblings. No friends. This situation is sometimes important because a novel is very insular, and if you have too many external factors you can pull a character away from their mission.

Which brings me to the top reason why siblings as main characters work in speculative fiction.
 

Siblings who detract each other from the mission can be where the conflict lies.

"Supernatural" is a prime example of where conflict comes from the commitment to the family. Dean and Sam Winchester are hunters of demons who invariably end up entangled in a situation where one brother has to choose to finish the mission or save the other, all the while the other brother gets mad at the other because they didn't need saving and the mission should come first. These very typical, bickering, stubborn-brother mannerisms are the key to the success of this series.

 

Family commitment is a strong theme in "Welcome to the Apocalypse", Jack Minnow enters a virtual world and instead of running around shooting aliens and killing monsters, he spends a good deal of his time chasing after his sister to make sure she's okay. I wouldn't say he spends every minute detracted from his mission to have fun, but in the beginning it might appear that way. He often thinks about her, especially when it becomes clear that they're not getting out of this malfunctioning game and his parents are going to kill him if anything happens to her. For Jack Minnow, much of his internal conflict comes from deciding whether to have fun or look out for his sister.

Another reason why siblings work as main characters. They're often the first people we look up to as children.

Siblings are like super heroes


When it came to writing Jack Minnow, the older brother of my female character, Kelly Lawrence, in "Welcome to the Apocalypse", who sweeps in like a superhero to help his sister through a tough time in her life, early memories of my older brother protecting me from harm sprung to mind.

One of my earliest memories is of my first week in first grade and a boy telling me he was going to 'get me'. I knew what that meant, having four siblings, so I walked all the way home and told my mother that school was cancelled. She extracting the reason for my walk-out like she was pulling out a tooth, but she got the truth. I remember feeling so humiliated that I was never going to go back to school. Mum told my older brother what happened, and the next day he walked with me into the school yard, and told me to point out the boy who said he would 'get me'. My brother gave this boy his fiercest look, the boy took off, and I was never harassed again. My older brother also told me to fight back if I had to.

 

And the last reason for me why siblings work in my series has to do with my genre. I don't write romance.

Siblings means zero romance or love triangles.

Watch any TV show with a female and a male character who are not related but are of similar age, and the writers will invariably have them hook up at some point. I just didn't want to have a female and two male characters and leave any reader wondering if I would plunge them into a love triangle. By having siblings as main characters, I've removed that notion altogether. Not that I want to remove love or sex from the story, I just don't want it to be a plot line. Jack Minnow forms relationships in the cyber world. But not with the main character.


Jack Minnow sounds like the perfect brother right? Swooping in like a superhero, supporting his sister every step of the way? But he's far from perfect, in fact Jack has his own reasons for wanting Kelly to get over the death of her husband. He has his own reason for wanting his sister and his best friend to hook up. But I won't give away the spoiler. You'll have to read the book to find out. 




Extract from a review of "Welcome to the Apocalypse" by Rachel Sawyer.

Jack, good, sweet, protective big brother Jack. He fully encapsulated the big brother role; he was a hero, a friend, and a protector, just like older siblings tend to be (I should know, being the youngest of two sisters, this is how they are). He might not have understood Kelly, or her feelings, all the time, but that didn’t stop him from being right there in her corner. He was calm and collected in almost every apocalypse scenario (which is probably the polar opposite of how I would’ve handled cannibalistic children or alien invasions). He was the glue that held the trio together and for that I will always be a little bit “Team Jack”.


When I read the above review, I was touched. I felt I'd achieve my task of creating this older brother. Jack Minnow acts like a big brother to other players in the book. He befriend Reis Anderson the third main character, and took this troubled teen under his wing at fifteen. In the game, Jack meets a 16 year old boy and immediately takes him under his wing too.



Extract from "Welcome to the Apocalypse"

  A static voice came over the radio. Different to the first voice, this one sounded frightened.

"…anyone out there? Hello. Come in…"

The blood drained from Jack's head as he recognized the voice.

"…if you can hear me, my name is Douglas Smith and I'm under attack."

"Douglas. This is Jack Minnow. Where are you?"

Static. Silence. More static.

At last, the voice said, "I'm inside the cinema. Jack, they're outside. What do I do?"

"Hang on." He pulled off the backpack and took out his map. Attractions were usually featured on maps and he located the cinema on Roper Road. "Douglas, stay where you are. I'm on my way."

Kelly gripped his arm. "You just said we should stick together."

Save the kid or save the woman, he thought. How did superheroes deal with these tough choices?

Jack had met Douglas at the hotel the operators had taken him to during the biochemical disaster apocalypse. They'd ended up sharing a limousine and Jack had immediately taken Douglas under his wing. They'd sat in the hotel lobby eating pizzas and playing cards. Douglas had told Jack his theories. Broken computer. Broken pods. Training exercise. Military game. Terrorist attack. The kid had an active imagination, which was in stark contrast to everything the older generation kept predicting about kids who played video games.

"I have to get him," Jack said. "Reis, take Kelly to the armory and take charge of the small-scale explosive attack."

"What small-scale attack?" he asked.

Jack suspected Reis might be pulling his leg, but his friend was usually too literal to involve himself in pranks, so Jack had to suspect that Reis was suffering from shell shock, even though he told himself it was more likely cyber sickness. Gamers got it from playing in 3D for too long. He must have it, too, he realized, because he couldn't keep his thoughts under control. They were flying all over the place.

"General Yulrich will fill you in when you get to the armory," Jack said. "I'm going to get Douglas. He shouldn't be here."

Then he took off out the door and down the street before anyone could remind him that none of them should be here.




 
 
If you'd like to learn more about my "Welcome to the Apocalypse" series, or read more about Kelly's awesome big brother, Jack Minnow, please click on the link and read an extract or visit my website www.dlrichardson.com 
 
Stay tuned for insights into more of my characters.
 
D L Richardson
 





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