This is my second post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can then apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.
Make sure you check out my first post titled, “How to write about guilt, with Damon Salvatore.”
I’m an only child. I’ve had close friends and close cousins, so I sort of know how it feels to have siblings. But not really. Once of the best TV shows that depicts the love/hate relationships that family members often have with each other is Supernatural.
Most of you are probably familiar with the show, as it’s been around for quite a while and is already going into its eighth season. But for those of you that aren’t, the premise of this series is pretty simple: Sam and Dean Winchester are brothers who travel the country and fight demons and other evil beings.
[DISCLAIMER: I just finished season 2. I won’t spoil anything from the first two seasons – this is just about characterization. I would also really appreciate it if you didn’t mention anything in the comments from season 3 or beyond!]
Sam is the younger child. He decided that hunting demons wasn’t really his thing. He didn’t get along with his father (probably for the reason just mentioned) and ended up going off to college to study law. In the meantime, big brother Dean stayed with his dad and did what he was raised to do – kill things and protect the world.
Through a series of events that we’ll gloss over for the sake of time and spoilers, Sam and Dean are now in it together. They travel all across the United States, finding these things, killing them, and saving countless lives in the process.
But these are two very different people. Where Sam is quieter and more in tune with people’s emotions, Dean is loud, obnoxious, and sarcastic. Sam questions everything (including his father), while Dean takes his orders and just wants to get the job done.
Imagine spending years traveling the road with someone who is the complete opposite of yourself. Not to mention someone that you’re also related to.
That can be tough.
And it is. They get into squabbles here and there, and even some serious fights. They disagree all the time on the best way to handle a situation, and sometimes it gets one (or both) of them into trouble. They know each other’s buttons. They can see right through a lie. They can tell when something is wrong with the other one.
On the one hand, you have this person that sometimes you just detest. They harass you, put blame on you, single you out, put you down, and use you as a punching bag.
And yet, you love that person with every fiber of your being. And they love you too.
Families are such complicated monsters.
As someone who grew up as an only child, this is fascinating to me. I can relate to it because my best friend and I are very close. She feels like the sister that I just happen to not live with. We know each other’s secrets, we can read each other’s minds, and we trust each other completely. I love her so much.
But we still drive each other nuts.
Sam and Dean are the same way. To apply this to writing, I think it’s important to first start with a base character for each person. Build them up as an individual, each with a specific identity, and then set them against each other. Opposites will clash, and that kind of conflict is great for any story.
It’s even better if they’re related and you know that one would never actually throw the other under a bus. Therefore, that conflict will never go away, for as long as they both live.
But there needs to be something else about the relationship of your two characters, too. Sure, we all know how the younger sibling is such a brat, or the older sibling seems to have it all. That puts them at odds with each other. But what brings them together time after time? The best stories based on families are the ones that use what’s happening in their lives to get past their differences. Those events actually bring the characters together and remind them that love is so much stronger than hate.
As far as Sam and Dean go, I think a lot of it boils down to trust. They trust each other completely – and they have to, don’t they? They couldn’t do their job together if they didn’t have complete trust in one another. And at the end of the day, despite all of their differences, they also have the same goal in mind – to rid the world of evil.
It’s important to establish sibling rivalries. What have they competed for since they were younger? Girls? Money? Fame? Glory?
Give each one of your characters quirks that get on the nerves of the other. Something really stupid that one does without knowing it, but the other picks up on right away. It drives him up the wall. Why? This will give him character and depth and a back story.
Make sure they fight. A lot. Dean and Sam always argue. About stupid things. About important things. About things that pertain to the hunt and about things that don’t. Not only will it establish each character’s personality, but it’ll show the relationship that they have with one another. Does one always win? Does one always give in? Who can never say they’re sorry, and who can admit when they’re wrong?
But make sure they always make up. Even though they drive each other up a wall, Dean and Sam need each other. This is particularly evident at the end of season 2. For all the headaches that they’ve given each other, we know – without a doubt – that one wouldn’t hesitate to give up his life for the other.
What do you think? Have you seen the show, and if so, do you like it? What do you make of Sam and Dean’s relationship? How did you establish a relationship between siblings in your own stories? Did you pull from your own life for ideas?