Why Siblings Help Us Understand Our Characters
On the plane ride home from a family wedding, I was daydreaming about the special link between sisters and brothers when it occurred to me: almost all of the characters in Island Shell Game, my not-quite-finished novel, are only children. I certainly didn’t plan it that way… but it does seem a little strange.
The imaginary island where the book takes place is quite a tangled web of emotional connections, so maybe blood relationships would’ve just over-complicated things. Or perhaps children who grow up alone are more drawn to isolated islands than those who grow up as part of a crowd?
James, the main character, is sibling-free because, after a series of miscarriages, his mother was told the risk of another pregnancy would be too high. Most of the other family histories remain in the shadows, which might not be the case if there were more siblings to “interview.” Sisters and brothers would’ve eagerly dug out the family skeletons, which might’ve provide a few shortcuts to understanding why all these folks choose to live in such an isolated world.
No matter how old we are or how often we see each other, siblings hold up a mirror that shows us as we really are. Shared memories of insignificant childhood moments (boring car rides, clearing the dinner table, feeding the dog) weave a web of sibling-knowledge that can’t be duplicated by the partners and friends we choose for ourselves. So maybe when my next round of characters come knocking, they’ll bring with them all the baggage of a large family… including the sibling-mirrors that will make it easier to see each one clearly.