Found families. They’re a staple of my writing. Depending on your upbringing you may be nodding in understanding or puzzling. Found families are families of choice, a group of people who accept, comfort, and support when a birth family has failed to do so, either out of tragic loss or rejection.
It struck me recently, for some unknown writerly reason, to wonder how many ways a found family could form. After a long walk I came up with five approaches.
It’s odd I had to think about it.
When I wrote my list of favorite writing elements almost four years ago, found families was seventh on the unranked list of over forty items. It came after no-brainers like a heroine, magic, and fantasy world.
Yet, found families wasn’t a term I discovered until long after first writing them. That’s proof, I suppose, of how organic it was that they sprung to life in my writing.
So, here’s my list, keeping in mind the perspective is often that of a protagonist.
1. It Comes Into Being One By One
We start with one character who becomes close to another and then another and so on. This is a fascinating scenario where we watch the slow evolution as a family forms. It’s also one I haven’t used before.
I can see this working especially well in a series, but the last thing I need is another series. Still, it’s in the back of my writer mind now and there’s little that ever leaves that place.
2. Circumstances Thrust Characters Together
This option fascinates me, the word thrust implying tension right away.
Characters who may or may not know one together are thrown together under trying circumstances, have to rely on one another, and eventually coalesce into a family.
Almost I did this in one novel, but the group shatters because one betrays the others. There’s another instance in another book that comes close. Actually, I’d call it a blend of #2 and #5 on this list.
3. Character is Brought Into an Existing Found Family
This is pretty self-explanatory and the cornerstone in many of the stories I’ve written.
There might be growing pains within the group if one member introduces the protagonist and they don’t fit right away. What’s almost certain is that the dynamics within the family will change, maybe for the better, maybe not.
In one scenario that I’ve written, an existing member of the family who always felt the outsider feels more welcome after someone else is added. The best part was it wasn’t planned.
4. One Character Becomes the Magnet that Attracts Others
In other words, other characters who may or may not have known each other already become closer as a result of knowing the protagonist. Brought together, they become family.
In this case, though, the protagonist isn’t operating from a plan, there’s no intention to create a found family. It just sorta happens.
This plays out in two novels I’ve written. It’s messy in both cases, but in both cases friendship leads to family as people with differing backgrounds find something deeper.
5. The Protagonist Actively Seeks to Create a Family
This is simple enough. A character actively wants a found family to form. It’s also central to the story in one of my novels, though the intent evolves over the course of the story. It’s also no coincidence that the novel features a rare instance when my main character is an extrovert. When it happens, there’s no doubt about the character’s intentions because the plan is declared before it’s carried out.
Keep in mind, my list might not be all inclusive, there’s considerable overlap possible, and there are variations possible on any in my list, as I’ve noted. This isn’t a formula, but rather food for thought and food for inspiration.
What all my scenarios have in common, though, is that, in the end, there’s choice. Each found family happens organically, plan or no. After all, there’s always the right to refuse inclusion. That’s an extraordinary option for someone who’s suffered lost loved ones because of tragedy or rejection.
Maybe someone with close family bonds all their lives would view these examples as merely close friends. That’s fine. For those of us raised in difficult situations, stories featuring found families are a lifeline. From my perspective, each found family I write becomes a part of my family.