Sibs or No Sibs #amwriting

This sounds like it’s about me, but, like everything in the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed world, it’s about writing.

Charlie’s birthday was yesterday. Mine is coming up. Charlie has been getting birthday cards all week. I haven’t.

It isn’t that nobody likes me. Charlie’s cards are from his two brothers and three sisters. I’m an only child.

I know there’s this whole psychology thing about birth order and about “onlys” versus siblings. I don’t read up on those things much, because I think it has to be streamlined and simplified in order to make it accessible to non-experts. When you simplify a complex subject, it tends to get stereotyped and stiffened and falsified. Then you get fiction with a certain cookie-cutter aspect, and that’s no fun.

But I’m here to tell you, there are more differences between an only and a sibling than just the number of birthday cards in the mailbox.

sibsCharlie’s mother had three brothers and a sister, and his father’s father had umpty-ump brothers and sisters. I’m the only child of an only child of an only child. None of us have been genealogically inclined. How many family stories do you think I have, in comparison to Charlie? Not very, that’s how many.

I have family stories about aunts and uncles, and the cousins are full of stories, which is one of the many reasons I was so delighted to have lunch with them the other day, but the stories of my line go back as far as my grandparents, and that’s it.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be unencumbered by decades and centuries of other people’s lives. It’s just a different thing.

Charlie and his siblings have lots of stories in common — and not in contention. They get together and reminisce and debate details and dates. I don’t have a common history with anybody from my childhood. Mom and I can compare some things, but kids in those days spent a hair-raising amount of time unsupervised, and many of my memories have no known witnesses.

Again, it makes my adult re-experiences of childhood very different from Charlie’s. My memories feel private; it’s difficult for me to dredge them up and share them. Mine come with the traumas, fears, guilty pleasures, and emotions both negative and positive that thrill and baffle a child. Mine are wrapped in none of the familiarity that comes from pushing the memories around through the years hand-in-hand with loved ones who were there — or, at least, somewhere in the vicinity.

Sometimes Charlie remarks that I very seldom talk about childhood memories. When I do, he generally goes away with his hair curled. And I had a happy childhood. But even a happy childhood is a bizarre place to a child who has no perspective or experience yet, and the memories are just as bizarre, without sibs or childhood friends who can go, “That’s not a thing, forget it,” or “But then don’t you remember this happened and then it was all right?”

THE POINT IS, your characters live and relive their memories differently, depending on who they had to share them with and who they had to review them with. You may not need to deal with that but, if your character is feeling a little thin or flat, deal with it, if only as an exercise.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Does your main character have any siblings or childhood friends?


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I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Sibs or No Sibs #amwriting

  1. Jane

    September 19, 2016 at 10:31am

    You are so exactly nailing this on the head!

    I recall an afterdinner reminescence where three of my Mom’s four brothers, plus her sister, with some of us kids listening, were spinning tales of yesteryear.

    An orange was a rare treat. It was probably the Depression. They laughed about when the littlest (Loyal. Pronounced as if spelled Lowell. He wasn’t there.) had dragged back home a groundhog he’d clubbed over the head. They ate it. (You don’t eat possum, just groundhog.) They spoke about Hell Creek, where their father was called, “The Kaiser of Hell Creek.” I never found out why. They had lived around Beattyville, where they’d just been to have a look around. It was overgrown and had lots of copperheads.

    Anyway, it was fun. And sort of hair-curling, too.

    Both of my grandmothers were named Anna. My Dad’s mom didn’t like her name. She was Mamaw to us, so what did we care? Strangely, all the warmth was on Mom’s side of the family. All the Dad relatives were odd and stand-offish. Mamaw and Papaw were sort of closed off emotionally, too. Is any of that a surprise to you? (Naw.)

    So I guess one can learn about genetics from having a bunch of relatives. That my sister Dee looked more like Dad’s sister Laila than the rest of us. That I looked just like a whole sea of people at Mamaw’s funeral (whom I’d never met; I said they were odd.). That Mom and Bruce looked exactly like seas of people at the reunions on that side of the family.

    And I’m pretty damn sure that derangement is an inherited tendency!

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 19, 2016 at 11:26am

      We used to spend a lot of time around grandpa’s aunts and uncles and cousins, and picked up a lot of good stories back then, but not stories about Grandpa’s antecedents. His parents died when he was young, and he was raised by his grandparents, and didn’t like to talk about that much.

  2. Dan Antion

    September 19, 2016 at 12:48pm

    You can have lots of family and still not have many stories. I was the youngest child of a youngest child. I had cousins who were 35 years older than me. I grew up calling everybody aunt/uncle “out of respect” and very few experiences worth noting from the clan.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 19, 2016 at 2:15pm

      I’m sorry you didn’t come out of your family with stories to tell. I make a point of passing on any stories I can remember to our daughters, because I love the way their eyes light up when they hear family history.

  3. John Holton

    September 19, 2016 at 3:55pm

    Mary and I are the same way. Her father had one brother, her mother had two. All of her grandparents came to the US from Lithuania, and we have no idea if any of them had brothers or sisters. She’s an only child, neither of her mother’s brothers had children (one never married), her dad’s brother had two kids, one of which had two kids, the other had three. That’s pretty much it for her family. On the other hand, my family is a cast of thousands. It does change your perspective.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 19, 2016 at 5:24pm

      It sure does! Tell Mary I said hi, one lonelikin to another. 🙂

  4. Joey

    September 19, 2016 at 8:34pm

    Fantastic post. Highly relatable. Especially how you carry and interpret your experiences. I am an only and my family is huge. I’m the only only on both sides. I’m not allowed to complain about it because depending on who you ask, I am spoiled or DAMMIT JOEY, WE TRIED TO HAVE MORE!!! lol
    I am fascinated by siblings and study my children with the kind of awe only an outsider can appreciate.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 20, 2016 at 8:30am

      Charlie’s family, and even his late wife’s family (she’s the mother of three of our four girls), have taken me to their hearts, and I know lots of family stories from them. Hey, they’re not MY family stories, but they’re our children’s family stories, right? 🙂

      • Joey

        September 20, 2016 at 8:54am

        They are, they become your stories to share and also, You’re a writer, all stories are your stories, lol!

        • Author

          Marian Allen

          September 20, 2016 at 1:15pm

          You are so right, Joey! I’ve used a couple of their stories in fiction, too. 😀

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 20, 2016 at 8:31am

      P.S. I got that “spoiled” thing, too. But my mother says, “She’s not spoiled, she just smells like that.”

  5. A.C.Flory

    September 20, 2016 at 3:18am

    Oh wow, did I ever empathise with this post. I’m an only too, and so is The Offspring. I’m also the only one of my very tiny childhood family still alive in Australia. I have cousins back in Hungary, but that’s a very long way to go for family reunions. Luckly The Offspring and I are blessed with a great big family of in-laws, all of whom continued to include us once the marriage went its merry way. We love extended family visits, but we are also more than comfortable with our own company. And yes, history tends to be extremely linear.

    But before I forget – Happy Birthday to Come!

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 20, 2016 at 8:32am

      Thanks for the comment, and for the birthday wishes. 🙂 I’ll be 66, and I plan to get my kicks while the kickin’ is good. lol

  6. Sarah A.

    September 24, 2016 at 6:27am

    I love reading something like this. Not because I can have a snippet of their past or life but because reading something like this the author itself takes me anywhere with her. And I get to reminisce my past. Thank you for this. And I enjoyed reading it.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 24, 2016 at 7:22am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thank you — taking you along for the visit is exactly what every writer hopes to do!

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