In my family, sometimes the only time we all get together, unfortunately, is for a funeral. This fall we will have a chance to undo that tradition by attending my son’s wedding in North Carolina together.
The scene above was taken in the Brunson Family Cemetery in South Carolina, in September of 2004 after my mother’s internment. My dad is the bald fellow wearing the camera. The rest of us are daughters, sister, cousins, sons, and grandchildren of my mom. Two of the granddaughters sang at the funeral service, bringing us to tears. Mom would’ve loved it.
Why am I writing a blog about my family? Because family is where conflict begins and ends. We learn how to fight fair and dirty, how to play together or disagree together. When we were children, we bickered with the best of them, but as there were five of us, we also always had somebody else to play with, go places with. And now we have a common history, a common memory of life in the South in the last century.
Fiction writers, as a rule, get to make stuff up, which, to me, is the beauty of this career. On the other hand, we have a rich treasure house of memory from which to dig out diamonds and emeralds of conflicts and relationships. Parent to child; child to parent; parent to friends, etc.
For conflict is what drives plot. Without conflict there is no true story telling. Each entity in a story or novel has a wish, a yearning, a wanting, that has to come out on the page.
Look, really look, at the picture of my family. Do you see, really see what’s going on? Do you see who is standing next to who? Do you understand the family dynamic going on? I do, because I was there..
But for a reader to understand the family dynamic, a writer must describe that dynamic in words that draw pictures, so that the reader sees not only the people IN the picture, but the relationships of the people and why they are who they are.
What you don’t see is anger, not that day. That day we were all united in remembering our Mother, Grandmother, Wife, Aunt, and Sister. Who would’ve loved that we all came together for her and her alone.
So here’s a writing prompt: dig through the old photos in albums gathering dust on your bookshelves. (You know you have them.) Pick a picture out of the album, set it up next to your keyboard and start writing. Tell the story. Change the names, if you must.
You will then know this basic truth: Family trumps everything, including Story.