Friday, May 10, 2013

Mothers as Secondary Characters by Muriel Jensen


It's said that female children carry their mothers around in their heads for a lifetime.  I'm living proof.  Mine was a stickler for courtesy at all times, for hiding negative feelings and displaying only lady-like behavior, and never, ever, 'making a scene.'  As it turns out, mothers make wonderful scenes in our books.  A character's mother can do wonders to spice dialogue and move plot. 

Mother as CONFIDANT:  This gentle soul is the receptacle for the heroine's (or the hero's)  problems, concerns, angst.  She listens compassionately and offers sage advice because she is the epitome of wisdom.  It sometimes serves your story well to have a character who can philosophise and examine all the possible solutions to a problem.  I often solve complex issues while 'listening' to my characters talk them out.

Mother as MATCHMAKER:  This is the woman who invites the heroine's old boyfriend over for dinner when her daughter moves back to her childhood home after a period away.  She is determined to bring happiness into the heroine's life by reconnecting her with past relationships and all the new blood that's come to town in her daughter's absence.  She makes it possible for the writer to parade men through the heroine's life (and how can that be bad?) and forces her to think about who she was before and what she wants of herself now.

Mother as TROUBLEMAKER:  I once wrote a loving stepmother who impulsively announced her daughter's engagement to a vice-president in her husband's company, because she was tired of  one of her friend's boasting about her daughters' brilliant matches.  It didn't matter that the heroine knew him and didn't like him.  Her stepmother considered him just what the situation called for.  That was fun.  An outrageous character always opens up the plot to all kinds of possibilities.

Mother as COMIC RELIEF:  This was my mother, a serious Mrs. Malaprops.  She had a maxim for every situation, and often got them confused.  One of her favorites was, "We'll burn that bridge when we get to it!" Took me until my early teens to figure out that she'd combined two very insightful sayings to form a confusing picture.  I love creating a mother who means well but messes up.  I think it helps everyone to deal with a character who is expected to know everything, but doesn't.

Mother as VILLAINESS:  I've used this kind of mother several times and always find it hard to write.  I hate to see my characters hurt emotionally (though, that's my job)  and something about the source of that hurt being the hero's or heroine's  mother is the ultimate betrayal.  Still, it drives the plot as few blows to the character can, when the one person in the world she should be able to count on turns her back, or hurts her in other ways.

Want to share with us the mothers you've created, or those you admire in books and film?

I'm sure you all fall into the first category.  I wish you  a wonderful Mother's Day, breakfast in bed, and many hand-wrought cards to post on the fridge.

16 comments:

  1. This is such a terrific post, Muriel! I spent a lot of time with my grandmothers who stepped in for me and my sisters when my mother wasn't able to care for us. Both of them were the most amazing advice givers and one of the pieces of advice - that has stayed with me to this day- is don't cast your pearls before swine- meaning don't give so much of yourself to those who will take advantage or not appreciate all that you do. Happy Mother's Day to all :)

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    1. I've always been jealous of friends with grandmothers. One of mine was gone before I was born and all I remember of the other is a frail little woman who died when I was four. I did get to be a grandmother, though, so that's wonderful. And what excellent advice, your grandmother gave you, Karen. Women hold precious stuff, emotionally and physically. We should give it generously, but only to others who will guard it well.

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    2. Muriel, that was beautiful! My Grandmother would have loved that :)

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  2. I think I'm the comic relief mother LOL

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    1. I see the laughter in you, Pam. But I can imagine what a well of wisdom is under it all.

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  3. I remember attending a workshop one time called: Whack the Parents. Can't remember who gave it, but said we writers of romance tend to kill off the moms and dads of our main characters. She went on to give a lot of reasons why they should remain in the books, and many were for the reasons you listed Muriel.
    My kids are both long distance away from me. But already I've received a beautiful bouquet of tulips and yummy strawberries dipped in all types of calorie laden chocolate. So I'll spend a quiet day, but will still be happy to be a mother.

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    1. I've heard that too. And, I notice that in lots of books the h and h are fairly friendly or commitment overloaded.
      My Heartwarming probably has too many friends, family, and commitments, but oh I so love the world.
      Hero has mom dad and two sisters.
      Heroine, no mom or dad, but a sister.
      Hmmmm

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    2. Pam, I love it when one of the principals has a lot of family and the other is starved of family and gets to share. That's a good gambit for growing a relationship. And, as a writer, I love lots of friends and relatives, anyway. When you feel stopped in one direction, there's always somewhere else to go.

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  4. Hi! My Mother's Day will be quiet, too. We all celebrated last weekend at the 40th anniversary of the adoption of our children. We had the best time! Now - I have your street address, Roz, and I'm on the next plane to share your strawberries (just so you're not lonely!)

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  5. Hi Muriel!

    I think my heroine's mother in my first book in my Brookhollow Series is a combination of the first four lol:) I think I may have modeled her a little after my own mom because even my mom recognized herself in some of the dialogue lol:) Oops!

    My son's daycare is having a mother's day celebration today, they always make the most thoughtful cards and the kids are always so excited to present them. For things like this-I don;t even ASK for the time off, I TELL my boss I'm leaving early lol. Wouldn't miss it for anything!

    Happy Mother's Day to all the other moms!!

    xo
    Jen

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    1. Jen - Our mother's words live with us forever and, in the case of writers, show up in our dialogue! I hope she considered that a tribute. Have fun at the daycare celebration. What I miss most about having young children around are the events at school. Our daughter was once Little Miss Scandinavia in a pageant unique to Astoria. She was seven. On a stage in front of the whole town, she recognized a boy from her classroom that she had issues with and stuck her tongue out at him. Apparently, I hadn't impressed her with the lady-like, hide-your-true-feelings thing.

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    2. Lol, that story is hilarious. Sounds like something I would have done as a child lol. The school events are great. Next year, we are enrolling him in a Brazilian Ju Jitsu class called-Little grapplers...that should be fun to watch. He's such a boy and so athletically inclined already.

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  6. Some of my favorite mothers in fiction include Ma from The Little House series and Marmee from "Little Women". They both fall into the confidant category.

    I've written characters with both parents, single parents and no parents. For some reason, I tend to kill off the dads quite a bit. Don't think I want to explore that too much LOL.

    This year, one of my sisters and I are taking Mom out for brunch. Then my husband is taking his mom out for dinner. That way we both get some "me" time with our moms.

    Great post, Muriel. Have a blessed Mother's Day!

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  7. Syndi, I love Marmee! And I'll always think of her as Susan Sarandon. What an equitable solution to taking out your mothers. I hope someone's doing something for you. (Shane's out in his car and you can no longer find him, right?)

    Happy Day to you, too!

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  8. I love this, and all the kinds of moms.

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  9. I guess the diversity of mothers is what makes our world such a wildly wonderful and sometimes awful place. I went to a church retreat years ago, and an old priest said something like, 'The quality of the world rises to the quality demanded by its women.' While a young woman today might think that puts and unnecessary responsibility on her, I was raised to believe that that's precisely what will save us all. Men do their thing and fight for our lives, but women fight for our goodness and the goodness of the world.

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