I'm in Chicago at the AWP Writing Conference, and so I'm inviting long-time reader and Practitioner Katie Axelson to talk to us about how to write about all that family drama we all experience. Katie writes at KatieAxelson.com. You can (and should)  find her on Twitter at @KatieAxelson.

“Family is like fudge: mostly sweet with a few nuts.” – Anonymous

The challenge is: how do you capture those nutty relations in writing?

Family Fight

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Crowd scenes are the hardest to write. Throw together a crowd with years of shared memories, emotions, and tensions and you might as well just give up now.


Family can be overwhelming (both in writing and in person). Start with your own experiences. If I was coming to your family’s Christmas party, birthday bash, reunion… whatever it is you do, what would be vital for me to know?

Writing about family should be done on a need-to-know basis. I don’t need to know Uncle Larry picks his nose… unless I’m expected to shake hands with him. I don’t need to know Grandma is deathly afraid of snakes… unless we’re camping.

Don’t overload your readers with family backstory but don’t leave them on the outside of an inside joke.

As a writer, you have an advantage that most family reunion attendees only wish they had: revision.

Start a draft with a scene from every imaginable prospective. Write everything that comes to mind for every character involved.

Save it.

Then take a machete to the same scene (but not the family members).

Does it relate to the story? Is it vital? Is it logical? Is it illogical? Is it too overwhelming? Is it blasé?

Ask an outsider (that’s all of your friends here at The Write Practice) to help answer some of those questions above.


Spend fifteen minutes telling a story from your own family. Revise it for an outsider, then share it with us. We won’t judge you too harshly if your family is mostly nuts. (Mine is).


Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

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