How to be brothers, with Sam and Dean Winchester

Posted: August 20, 2012 in How to... (Writing Tips), TV Shows, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

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?

  1. Juliana Haygert says:

    I have an older brother and we argued and fought a lot when younger. I really detested him sometimes, but still, I loved him with all my heart—just like you said. Yes, it’s fascinating, and that bond is amazing … unbreakable … I know he’ll always be there for me, even if he doesn’t agree with me or hates me at the moment lol

    • Karen Rought says:

      It’s true! I guess that’s a testament of a true bond or friendship – even when you’re not getting along, you can still be counted on to be there for that person. Thanks for sharing your story!!

  2. I absolutely love the relationship between Sam and Dean. Besides the fact they’d both bend over backwards for family and want to save the world, they’re really nothing a like. But deep down, like you said, it all boils down to trust. I’m not sure the TV show would be so great without the relationship between the two… and if you really want to get into it, I think the addition to Cas just adds to the “brotherly” theme. Cas isn’t family, but he might as well be.

    • Karen Rought says:

      The show really would be quite different if it were only about one or the other. The brotherly relationship just adds a whole new dimension. I haven’t gotten to Castiel yet, but I’ve heard people really like him. Can’t wait to see what he adds to the show!

  3. EM Castellan says:

    Haha, I like that we watch exactly the same TV shows 🙂 Great post on Supernatural, I’m sure you’ll love the next seasons!

  4. As the oldest sister I can tell you it’s tough when your younger sibling who used to look up at you with hero worship suddenly either wants nothing to do with you or is constantly starting fights. My younger sister and I were oil and water in our middle school years. By high school we had an uneasy truce. Now, she’s one of the best friends I have. The best part is she knows everything there is to know about me, and loves me anyway. I feel the same way about her.

    • Karen Rought says:

      That’s beautiful! I think those are the normal stages for most familial bonds – worship, annoyance, understanding. It takes a little while, but most siblings eventually realize that there is something in the other that you just can’t find in anyone else. I always say, “But you’re my mom, you HAVE to love me!” and it’s true. There’s something unique about knowing that no matter what, you’ll always love each other.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. […] Make sure you check out my previous post titled, “How to be brothers, with Sam and Dean Winchester.” […]

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