EDITED: UPDATE WITH CORRECTIONS
We few…we happy few. We band of brothers. For he that sheds his blood today with mine shall be my brother. – William Shakespeare, Henry V
Let’s talk about storytelling
Many times tropes are pretty bad. By trope I mean a recognizable storytelling concept that readers (or viewers) will connect to. There are tons of them; with characters you can have the plucky girl, or the badass bookworm or the genius bruiser. With plot/structure you can have the Call to Adventure or the Redemption Quest or a mashup of both where the MarySue goes toe to toe with the Magnificent Bastard.
They even made a periodic table out of them. (If you click that link you might never resurface. That pool is vast and deep and fascinating. Consider yourself warned.) Point is there are certain structures that have become normalized and a given when telling stories.
Some people will tell you tropes are terrible and to avoid them at all costs. But here’s the catch: tropes are popular because they are often true. Stole a boyfriend? Date the boss? Accidentally pregnant so we’re getting married? These things happen.
And on top of that tropes also provide a framework, like an anchor of familiarity for readers. There are definitely tropes you should avoid, ones that vilify marginalized people. And while many characters tropes are dangerous at worst and annoying and eye rolling at best, there are story tropes that are necessary and provide structure – the reveal, the three act, the maguffin, ensembles, etc. And one of the ensembles that I love and have always loved is the Found Family.
Found Family trope (also called the Family of Choice) is by definition a group of unrelated persons who commit to one another as a family.
I put a found family in my book Palimpsest. (oh yeah remember that book Palimpsest that was killing me. Some things happened. Eek!) My main character, stripped of her own family and searching for them, finds herself falling in with a bunch of teenage street chess hustlers who teach her a lot about privilege, love, and showing up. They teach her what it means to be a family. In my current WIP I’m crafting another found family – this one all girls because I also think that the more books we have showing girls as friends not competition, as loyal and kind not catty and bitchy, the better off we’ll all be.
So let’s talk about some of my favorite found families.
These guys were my first:
All the other TV shows I watched as a kid focused on the nuclear family until these guys. This was revolutionary for my viewing. I respect that there were shows prior to that had found families but with my age and experience this was the first one.
UPDATED: After discussing this with the hubs last night I realized that Friends wasn’t my first Found Family (and I’m not even sure if I would count them as a Found Family technically but…) THIS was my first found family. Of course, it was Jim.
Jim Henson’s wonderful Labyrinth was my first encounter with a found family. And it has all the specifics. Hoggle has to be bribed into helping Sarah but then finds that he cares for her. Sarah sees past Ludo’s ferocity and acknowledges that he’s just another creature in need of a friend. Sir Didymus’ classic camaraderie.
Damn, Jim. You did it.
Another popular found family:
This is a good mash up because you have the typical orphan (Harry) matched up with Ron who does have a very loving family and then Hermonie who is the magical “outcast” in her family. Harry Potter in general is full of found families – The Order of the Phoenix is basically that.
Speaking of books I am in love with Kaz’s Crows in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:
In an interview with Leigh she had this to say:
It sounds a little bit like the TV series Firefly where the heroes are smugglers trying to survive in a corrupt world that’s dished them a rotten deal.
I love a rag tag band of misfits story. In a way, if you’ve read The Grisha Trilogy, you know that that story becomes a rag tag band of misfits story. But I love Ocean’s 11 and Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Dirty Dozen. The Untouchables is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s definitely a story I like. I like the feeling of found families, people who maybe don’t have much in common, but come together and become stronger together than they are apart.
And speaking of Firefly:
The crew of Serenity are probably one of the most “typical” family structures in the Found Family. Mal, the captain and Inara function as the “parents” to this rag tag team of misfits as they fly around space giving everyone the warm fuzzies. Another aspect of Firefly which is often the case in Found Families is that they contain actual blood relatives – in this case River and Simon who are the newest additions to this family. What this does is allow for the audience to contrast the harshness of River and Simon’s true family with the camaraderie of their found one.
In one of my favorite episodes, “Safe” Mal and the crew rescue Simon and River and Simon questions Mal about why he saved him and Mal offhandedly replies that he’s a part of the crew. Simon, confused presses on :
Simon: “But you don’t even like me. Why’d you do it?”
Mal (irritated in the way only Mal can get): “You’re on my crew. Why are we even still talking about this??”
My favorite current found family are these beautiful beauties:
Sense8 in a lot of ways sort of typifies what I love about Found Families. Their loyalty and love and their empathetic connection means that no matter where they are on the planet they can always be together. The Found Family means that someone is going to, like Mal, always come back for you. It means you’re never alone. You’ve got your crew. But Sense8 ups the ante by psychically connecting 8 strangers from around the globe. And it’s not just that they can see what is happening in each other’s lives, they can literally be there, through their senses. And while this makes amazing action scenes, like when Sun (who is in wrongfully imprisoned) can appear in Kenya to kick some ass on behalf of Capheus, it also allows small moments like when Kala, feeling trapped and alone, finds herself with Sun in her prison, also feeling trapped and alone. Or when Nomi tells her coming out story to Lido who is struggling.
Sense8 is about what it is to be human – in all it’s complex mushy messiness. These characters will fight for each other, yes, but they will also grieve with each other. It’s a show that reminds you that underneath the superficial, we are all we’ve got so we damn better show up for each other. If that’s not the most perfect Found Family, I don’t know what is.
These eight people are strangers and these 8 people are also family just as we are all strangers on this earth and all family.
Sometimes… a trope is a really beautiful thing.
Peace, love and starbursts,