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SHOW ME THE LOVE: Love of Family

Love, or the lack thereof, between family members offers you rich dramatic possibilities. Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan share tips and exercises on using the richness of family in your stories.

From the book SHOW ME THE LOVE! All Kinds of Love for All Kinds of Stories by Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan

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Got Love? Got enough Love? Got the right kind of Love?

No matter your genre or style, a good story needs some kind of Love to engage us emotionally.

Too often people think Love is just the romantic or sexual kind. But wait – there’s more.

Love of adventure, land, community, family, friends, warrior bonding, love of pets, love of learning, love of death and destruction, interspecies love, transformative chivalric love….

This series explores the Mythical and Psychological aspects of different types of love, plus suggestions for the Shining Moment, Cinematic Techniques, and Symbols.

Join us for a journey through many different kinds of love that can enrich your characters, compel your plots, and move your audience. Our articles have addressed Love of Adventure, Chivalric Love, Love for Animals, Interspecies Love, Best Friends Forever, Breaking Up, and Love of Land and Country.

‘Tis the season now for families to gather and celebrate. Not all these gatherings are free of conflict – but conflict is what makes interesting stories. Love, or the lack thereof, between family members offers you rich dramatic possibilities.

BFF - 50s blond boys
brothers fighting

This month’s article will look at “Love of Family.”


The old saying goes, “Blood is thicker than water,” meaning that family connections are stronger than any other ties... supposedly. Though it’s a holdover from our herd, pack, and tribal past, it’s still very much in play today.

Some family situations are so stereotypical you just need one phrase to conjure up an entire palette of behaviours and emotions: mother-in-law, stepfather, kissing cousins, you’re like a brother to me, sugar daddy, momma’s boy, daddy’s little princess, and that poor red-headed stepchild.

Examples in Psychology

Families have a shared history of experience that others simply cannot understand. There are special languages and stories that when retold at family gatherings strengthen the familial emotional bonds.

Many stories are about finding the father and/or winning the father’s love. E.g. Thor, Indiana Jones, and The Great Santini. The complex family dynamics of Luke Skywalker, his sister Princess Leia, and their father Darth Vader are foundational plot points for the entire Star Wars series. In the most recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, family dynamics are the foundation of that story and of what is to come.

Examples in Myth and Legend


Achilles, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, and Agamemnon

King Agamemnon sacrificed his virgin daughter Iphigenia to obtain favourable winds to sail the Greek fleet to Troy and fight the Trojan War. Upon his return ten years later his still angry and grieving wife Clytemnestra murdered him with the help of her ambitious lover, who coincidentally was not a good stepfather to the remaining children.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas have all sorts of family dynamics going on among the Teutonic gods, mortal, demi-gods, dwarves, giants and sea nymph sisters, a lot of it rather troublesome and tragic but set to quite stirring music.

Examples in History and Current Events

Dynasties from the ancient Egyptian to the Chinese, the Roman Empire, and the ruling families of many countries are complex inter-woven webs of family blood, loyalties, and rivalries.

A number of ancient societies married brother and sister to keep the blood line pure. Many feudal systems practiced le droit du seigneur where the lord of the land deflowers every bride, fathering a lot of children and keeping that genetic connection active within his fiefdom. That was a major emotional event in Braveheart.

A high divorce rate and more non-married moms has created a lot of single-parent families and blended families. The lack of the large support structure of an extended family is often thought to be detrimental both to individuals and to society.

Many families are torn apart by economic hardships, climate instabilities, and armed conflicts.

Ambia Mohammed is left to look after her daughter Habiba's children after she died having reached the camp 6 days ago. Ifo section.Dadaab camp is the largest refugee camp in the world with people fleeing the civil war in Somalia. In recent months the rate of new arrivals has increased dramatically due to the added factor of drought that is affecting the region. It has now become severely overcrowded.

Examples in Media

Game of Thrones is rich with family intrigue, loyalties, and betrayals that drive the plot of the stories. Same with The Borgias.

In the Harry Potter stories the Dursleys are a wretched family Harry is happy to escape. The Weasely family is his ideal and he spends lots of happy time with them.

Boogie Nights isn’t really about the porn industry, it is about creating a lateral family.

Mid-century American TV shows suggested an ideal of the American family in Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet. In the mid-late 60’s it became painfully apparent this ideal was definitely not real.

The absurdity peaked with The Partridge Family and then came All in the Family, in which producer-writer Norman Lear was able to make socio-political statements about family and society couched in an irreverent comedy series.


Some birthmark or heraldry item. In Game of Thrones there is the dragon symbol.

Knots. Trees. Interlocking hands. Blood.

Key Element – the Shining Moment

Prodigal Son

Fierce loyalty -- as when in Star Trek [2009] film young Spock fights the other young Vulcan boys because they dissed his mom.

The welcoming celebration ala the Prodigal Son Bible story.

Cinematic Techniques

In blocking, put the predominant sibling in the foreground, or looming large in the background.

Between adult and child is a downward angle to show the hierarchy, power and protection or unfortunately sometimes, power and suppression or abuse. Between siblings the angles are more face-to-face, and between adults it’s more face-to-face.

Be very specific with your angles to get across the point of who has the power and how they are using it. Use an upward angle to show sinister intent; a downward angle to reveal innocence.


No matter your story’s genre, style, setting, or main plot you can enrich your characters and add dramatic tension by including some family dynamics, whether with the presence of the actual related people or by reference to them through conversation, photos, etc.

Keep in mind that families make us who we are, whether they are present or not. Genetics, psychology, philosophies all influence us in varying ways at various ages. By including some family dynamics in your stories you will give your audiences much richer and more memorable characters.


Exercise #1 – Awareness

What is the most dramatic example of familial love or hate you can think of, from myth, media, or actual life?


Exercise #2 – Writing

Write or select a scene of at least three exchanges of dialogue where two people are not related.

Then write the same scene with the two people related in some way: parents, siblings, cousins.


© 2015 Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan

Pamela Jaye’s BOOKS & SEMINARS can be found at the Writers Store and on MYTHWORKS, where you can also learn more about her consulting, writing, and pitching services. Mythic ChallengesAlpha Babe Academy

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