Creating a Family Hero for your story can help strengthen character motivations and make your readers relate to them more.
What are Children’s Roles?
Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.
The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.
What’s a Family Hero Like?
A Family Hero is the ‘perfect’ kid. You may have seen, heard of, been friends with, or even been a Family Hero yourself. Let’s use the example of a single, alcoholic mother who loses her job due to her consistent drunkenness and decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. Needless to say, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. The household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos.
The Family Hero is the kid who wakes up extra early to get their other siblings off to school on time (with a hot breakfast that the Family Hero made). This kid strives to excel at everything that they do. They are often in a leadership role outside of the household as well. They might be a first chair violinist, captain of the football team, or in AP classes. They will often get a 4.0 GPA or very close to it. They may get a part-time job to help pay bills and keep the family afloat. They may be the one who physically applies for unemployment benefits or other kinds of financial assistance (for instance, asking grandparents for money) if the parent can’t or won’t.
This kid spends very little time actually just being a kid. They take on many of the responsibilities of an adult. They often juggle all these extra tasks in an effort (subconscious, mind you) to take attention away from the dysfunctional aspects of the family and try to ‘fix’ it. Their worldly success makes it harder for outsiders to view the family as a whole or even the parent(s) as having any kind of problem. “They can’t be that bad, Joe had the brains to start his own business at 16 for Christ’s sake!” neighbors might exclaim among themselves.
There is some level of appreciation for the Family Hero from the parent, though it might go unexpressed, or the focus of praise may be only on the good done outside of the home. “You’re such a good kid!” “I’m the only parent on the block with a child with a real job. I’m so proud!” Note that the parent will likely steer clear of mentioning that the child has only done these ‘good’ things in order to pick up the slack for the parent.
Therefore, even though the child has a lot of outside success, internally they often feel things like guilt, shame, frustration, and hopelessness. The Family Hero role is a facade that they can hide these feelings behind. The extra activities they engage in are often their only outlets for these feelings. Until they are offered a self-help group, non-judgmental companion, or therapist, these feelings may never be directly expressed in a healthy manner.
Family Heroes as Adults
If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.
When this happens, the Family Hero keeps looking for new ways to fill the same role in different situations. The Family Hero will often be called a ‘Workaholic’ as an adult. Being able to manage people and situations can be soothing for the Workaholic since they weren’t able to do so with the trauma they experienced during their childhood. They love long hours and difficult situations. They feel restless on vacations or when there’s a lull in their work.
Family Heroes / Workaholics in Fiction
This character is often the one who doesn’t pay attention to a potential love interest’s advances, which can be great fodder for a romance.
This character is also often not likely to pay attention to health problems (they think they’ve only had a cough for a few days, but it’s been a few months), which can be perfect for the start of a tragedy.
This character often continues working even though they have millions of dollars put away and could retire on any given day. For some supporting characters, bitterness will ensue. They will be frustrated by the Workaholics inability to realize how lucky they are to have been so financially successful since many people literally have to choose between working full time or being homeless within a few months. For other supporting characters, they may continue to admire the Workaholic. They may see this unwillingness to stop working as an unwillingness to stop living or some deep-seated passion for the specific type of work that the Workaholic is doing (feeding the homeless, finding homes for orphans, etc.).
Having a character who is a Family Hero / Workaholic with a realistic backstory can add depth to your work and maybe even offer you some extra avenues to explore when it comes to how they will behave in the new situations they come across in your story.
Stay gready, Friends!
Character development and plot management: Used just right, ‘always’ can get someone dumped (and maybe even divorced!).
“Always” could be used to initiate a feelings of distance and judgement in a relationship that eventually lead to a breakup. The person using the word would often be the one who has a hidden (or not) desire to leave the relationship.
how characters might say ‘always’
Here are the phrases that include ‘always’ that can get your character nto a lot of trouble, especially in the heat of an argument. These are only a few examples, but you can come up with some usages that fit your story.
“You always say that.”
“You always do this!”
“You’re always late.”
“You always take their side.”
“You’re always like this. ”
who uses ‘always’
In this context, ‘always’ is more likely to be used by a character who is generally seen as aggressive (maybe even assertive). This person will often have extreme reactions to certain events and be judgmental towards others regularly.
For instance, this character may save up money to pay for an abortion for their virgin daughter because she’s gone on one date with a boy. This person may also believe that someone is an alcoholic because they had a can of beer at a party instead of a glass of wine. This is the type of character you might consistently feel the urge to say “Will you relax?!” to. Controlling people who see the world in black-and white would also be more likely to use ‘always’ in this context.
why always hurts
To use ‘always’ when speaking about someone can easily trigger up their defenses. This is especially true if the character is being told that they are “always” doing something they think is negative. For instance, “always smiling” is a lot easier to hear that “always nagging,” in most cases. However, in a culture or context in which smiling is inappropriate (for instance, at a funeral, while being fired, or during a serious discussion) even “always smiling” can become a slight.
Saying that someone “always” does something, says something, or acts a certain way damages the part of the ego that views the self as special. Characters who are predictable aren’t special (in some people’s view). Therefore, being said to always be a certain way or behave a certain way can feel disrespectful.
As an added bonus, your character may not actually “always” do what they’re being charged with. This can heighten their frustration with the other person or the relationship in general because they are falsely being accused.
For example, let’s say a manager tells an employee that they “always” come to work late. Well, if this employee has been late for work twice in the past 6 months, they may feel indignant, shocked, and angry at their supervisor’s overreaction to their third tardy. Will they curse at their supervisor? Beat them up? Quit the job?
The supervisor in this example could be outright lying about the situation as well. Maybe the employee has never come in late, and this has been recognized by other staff on the team. Why would the manager say this anyway? Are they losing their memory? Is this part of some delusion they need to help cover up a painful truth about themselves? Are they purposely trying to distract from the fact that they’ve been stealing from the company?
Look at all the different places a little word like ‘always’ can take your work! Write on!