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.