Writing About the Modern Family

I’m sure if you haven’t watched ABC’s Modern Family, you’ve at least heard of it. Over the past few years, it has been racking up Emmy Awards for best comedy along with best actors and actresses in a comedy series. If for some reason you’ve not watched or heard of it, here’s a brief run-down:

A father (Jay) married to a Colombian hottie (Gloria)juggles a company while dealing with his interesting children and their families. His daughter Claire is married to the awesomely funny and nerdy Phil and they have three children. His son Mitchell has a charasmatic life partner (Cameron) and they have an adopted Asian daughter. Basically, the show revolves around the all-too-familar bumps and pitfals of being a different kind of families in a modern world.

Now, I’ve just started watching the series this year and found it so funny, so fresh and orginal, that my husband and I immediately went out and bought the second season on DVD (they were out of the first :() and over the last few weeks, we’ve spent time catching up on what we missed. And although some of the topics are awkward around kids (like the one where the kids walked in on Phil and Claire having sex) my boys seem to enjoy the series, too. So, yeah, we’re hooked.

How does this relate to something more that my being a fan girl of the writers and actors in this sitcom?

Well, it got me to thinking about the way families are portrayed in books…and about how refreshing it is (and often funny) to have characters that deal with real world problems. There are no Italian mistresses or undercover nannies (yes, that’s in my next book) and there are no wounded war vets with PTSS or leather-clad demon slayers. Merely every day monotonous stuff that should be snooze-worthy…but in this sitcom, it’s soooo not.

And I think that’s because there is a fine balance between comedy and being real. The problems hit upon on the show are big ones – teaching kids values – getting them into college, teaching them respect, and showing them parents are people too. And the relationships between the characters are complex, humorous and tender – all good things I like to see in the books I read. So, I’ve been thinking hard about the way I present my characters. In romance we glean that our characters need to be larger than life, but what if our characters were just…. life?

Okay, may not work for some genres, but rooting our characters in the reality of life makes them relatable, and I kind of like the idea that a heroine is like me. She forgets her keys, yells at her kids in the grocery and wears pants too tight. So I’ve been thinking hard about writing relatable characters as I write. Yes, real characters with warts, late bank notices and runs in their pantyhose (btw, does anyone wear pantyhose anymore?)

What do you think? Could I totally fall flat by making my characters too real? Or might it strike a cord in readers? Have any favorite “real” characters out their? I’d love to hear about them.

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9 Responses

  1. My favorite writers are the ones who write everyday people with a dash of humor. Karen Templeton is the master. Jenny Crusie’s Crazy for You and Tell Me Lies are two awesome examples. Many of Kristan Higgins’ characters are just everyday people. So no, I don’t think there’s any risk of falling flat.

  2. First, the show:

    This is the only show that all four of us watch together. It’s definitely Must See TV (even if it’s on a rival network LOL). What we love the most is that they take situations almost-but-not-quite to ridiculous levels and then smooth them out with heart. It’s so different from so much of today’s “comedy” where the jokes all come from people treating each other like jerks.

    Can it work in writing? Absolutely! Most especially in contemporary romance, but I think it can work in anything. In fact, the more divergent a book is from “reality,” the more important it is, I think, to keep the characters relatable, which means providing some commonality to real life. Infinite possibilities in application! 🙂

    • We really love the show. Very clever humor and once you watch a couple of times, the fabulous characterization really clicks.

      Thanks for your thoughts on writing real characters.

  3. I like to hope it works as the everyday person is what I aim for in my books! for the majority people respond postively, even commenting on my use of just regular people. But sometimes I’m called boring. not that I’m bitter. 😀

    We tried Modern Family, but we just didn’t get into it. Maybe we shouldn’t have started with an episode mid-season. Or maybe after all I’d heard about it, maybe we were expecting something so freaking fabulous, it didn’t meet our high bar.

    I do like NEW GIRL and I think it follows real life stuff, but there’s not really kids in it to make it family-friendly. It’s kind of like a retake on FRIENDS.

    • I’ve gotten some of those boring comments, too. Whatever. It’s authentic, people. LOL.

      Definitely try it again. It’s subtle in a way and really works after you’ve tried a few episode and know the characters. The first time I watched it, I was like “Hmm…just okay.” The next time I nearly wet my pants. I think it was one in which Cam ran. Gotta see his gay man run. Hilarious. And Mitchell always shouts, “The hands!”

      Haven’t tried New Girl, but is that the one with the Zoey Deschamel gal?

  4. I haven’t seen it, but it sounds interesting. I think there are plenty of great books that take real people and put them in extraordinary situations. We can relate to the character because we think that’s what we might do (or hope we would do) in their shoes.

    Food for thought, for sure, Liz!

    • This is what I think. I really strive for authenticity in my books, even though I do have an undercover nanny in my next one. LOL. Hey, she’s down on her luck and takes a job with a security firm. Dealing with vomiting kids and SpongeBob is a little too real for her.

      I do like the normal gal or guy in an unusual circumstance. Definite food for thought.

  5. Great post, Liz! Those real characters are the ones that we can relate to and stick with us long after reading that very last page. 🙂 A must for sure!

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