Barbara Barrett can’t help being a bit schizo when it comes to her lifestyle, since she lives half the year in Florida (guess which season) and the other half in her home state of Iowa. She believes she has the best of both worlds, with visits to the Mouse in winter and her six grandchildren in summer. Although she has been writing romance fiction for several years, her debut novel, The Sleepover Clause, was just released this September by Crimson Romance. While she has refined her craft, she has also been active in RWA, particularly the Kiss of Death chapter (someday she’s going to start that cozy mystery series), chairing their annual conference planning committee for two years, including New York City. Her next book, And He Cooks Too, is coming out in the next several months with The Wild Rose Press.Visit her website at:www. Barbarabarrettbooks.com
Family obligation is a frequently occurring theme in literature, because it provides strong character motivation. Characters to do and say things they might never consider otherwise due to the pressure of obligation to family. This theme also serves as the obstacle that prevents characters from readily obtaining their goals.
Sometimes one family member will outwardly exert their influence over another family member. (Though this is an example from television and not literature, Marie Barone of “Everybody Loves Raymond” comes to mind.) That type of situation generates one type of story.
In other instances, something within the character’s emotional make-up sets them up to feel obligated rather than just grateful. In the case of Mitch McKenna, the hero of my debut romance novel, The Sleepover Clause, for Crimson Romance, it’s the belief that his brothers will fail if he’s not there to help them. That character flaw provides rich territory for exploration and development of Mitch and his story.
A few years back, Mitch put the career he was meant to follow, practicing law, on hold in order to customize luxury motor coaches with his two older brothers. Though miserable ever since with that decision, he refuses to let his brothers know. If they find out, they’ll throw him off the team, and that will jeopardize their success. Or so Mitch believes.
Mitch feels obligated to his brothers because they paid his school bills and made it possible for him to go to law school. The irony of how his sacrifice negates theirs eludes him.
But there’s more to it than that. Even though he’s the youngest sibling, he sees himself as the smart one, the successful one – the “savior,” if you will. That drive and intelligence make him a perfect candidate as an attorney. That ego also prompts him to see his brothers in a less positive light than himself. One left a boring job before he was fired. The other developed a serious medical condition. In Mitch’s mind, they both “need” him. Which is true, up to a point. Yes, they can use his assistance. But they are both quite talented and resourceful in their own right and probably could make a success of the business without his help.
Even though Mitch hates the idea that the heroine, Aubrey, tries to “fix” everyone else’s lives, he is doing the same for brothers. He can’t move on until he recognizes that paradox. The journey to that realization is one of the story’s major underlying themes.
Resolution of family obligation comes in many forms – self-discovery, confrontation, game-changing circumstances, to name a few. Something out of the ordinary must occur for the character to see the obligation for what it is and take action to get past it. Therein lies the foundation of a solid story.
I’ve portrayed “obligation” in a pretty negative light in this post. Are there any times when obligation is positive?