#5onFri: Five Tips for Writing About Family Dynamics

Worthy of reposting, especially #2

 by Erin Tyler
published in Writing

So, you want to write about your dysfunctional family. Well, good for you. (And if you’re one of the lucky few who wants to write about your functional family, I’m not your Huckleberry).

Family dynamics are difficult enough to grasp, let alone write about. But when properly explored, they make for powerful stories.

Here’s a few rules I follow when writing about my family:

1. Empathy, Always

My number one rule for writing about family dynamics is: always do it with empathy.

Human beings are seldom monsters. They do harm each other because of unresolved trauma, emotions they were never permitted to feel, and pressures that were too much too soon. When we fail to acknowledge this in our stories, we’re only telling them by half.

You don’t have to dive into the details of Grandpa’s PTSD and subsequent struggle with substance abuse to explain the nuances of your father’s self-absorption, but Grandpa’s inability to be emotionally present with him must be a part of your explanation of who he is as a human being.

You don’t have to reprint every malignancy Grandma used to whittle mom’s soul down so that she always feels less than. But if you’re going to tell us that mom perceives everything said to her as some thinly veiled slight meant to rob her of confidence, you have to explain why.

Empathy is the practice of standing hand in hand with our characters—allowing them to be human and relatable—and no story about family dynamics is even decent without it.

2. Write Angry, Then Refine

Families aren’t designed to be fair. They can be infuriating, and they can leave you feeling bitter and bruised. When we deny we’re angry, we kiss our truth goodbye.

I always write my rough drafts with as much anger as I can muster—even if I know it’s irrational—because I believe anger is respect for self. And without self, you just don’t have a story. When I refine that rough draft, and edit out the irrational bits, what’s left behind is just the right amount of vulnerability.

3. Avoid The Clinical

If you’re writing about your family, odds are you’ve already sought therapy to deal with them. You may have picked up diagnostic terms from your therapist. Don’t use them.

It’s all well and good to know your Aunt Grace is codependent with her son, your mother is slightly borderline, your Dad is a narcissist, and your brother has bipolar disorder—and it can be comforting to lean on a therapist’s knowledge when the holidays are nigh—but fact is: clinical diagnoses are boring, unemotional, and reductive. People are more complex than the collection of traits they embody when stressed.

Your Thanksgiving story packs more punch if you simply retell what you saw and felt. Your mother threw a tray of green bean casserole at your father over a perceived slight, and your father was more upset over the stain on his expensive shirt than the emotional impact the outburst had on his loved ones. Your Aunt Grace launched into a rant because everyone upset her nearly 40-year-old son who still lives her basement, and your brother laughed maniacally at it all because he was stoned on pills and had been awake for three days straight. As a result, you felt [insert emotion]. That’s good writing.

4. Dig Deep

What do you really want to say about your family? Don’t ask your prefrontal cortex. Ask your gut. That’s where the answer to that question really lies.

How did your gut feel when your mother threw the beans and huffed off? What went on in there when your dad stormed out the back door to go play with his toys like an infant?

So often we control the way we feel with our thoughts, rationalizing them into something more acceptable (and controllable) when the real story is roiling below. Nobody wants to read the acceptable story. They want the meat. Give it to them.

5. Follow Your Fear

Have you ever written about your family with nausea in your stomach, typing out sentences, deleting them out of fear and then typing them again? Have you ever thought, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly say that. You’re not supposed to say things like that about family.”

Good. Who gives a crap about what they’re supposed to say?

Family dysfunction feeds on our secrets. It is nurtured by our silence. It rolls, storm-like, through generation after generation—feasting on souls and leaving a wasteland in its wake—and the only thing that stops it dead in its tracks is truth.

If there is fear in the pit of your stomach when you write about your family, then follow it. Honor it. That fear means that what you’re writing about is honest and therefore relevant. And if you’re not interested in relevance—if you’re only interested in saying what has already been said—then don’t bother writing about your family.

We don’t need to read it.

Erin Tyler

Over a celebrated twenty-year design career, Erin Tyler has designed book covers for multiple New York Times bestselling authors, such as James Altucher, Ryan Holiday, David Goggins, and Tucker Max. She is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology and is currently the creative director at Scribe Media. Erin is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Bad One: A Memoir About Growing Up a Goat.

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WordPress Meetup Recaps


10/14/20 – What’s New in WP 5.5?

Dan York mentioned:

Reusable Block Pattern Builders – image on left; three rows of text in different fonts on right, gradient background option, posted on multiple pages, editable.

Photo Editing Ability on the page, at point of insertion, optional rounded corners.

Lazy loading can make your site faster.

The skinny – 5.5 also does away with several plug-ins.

2021 theme – released at the end of month has

  • more block patterns and features and
  • will work well with WP 5.6 (release date unknown).

6/29/20 – Google Adding UX to Search Ranking in 2021

Dan York mentioned:

Core Web Vitals  and User-centric Performance Metrics

  • help site owners measure user experience; also factored into site rankings.
  • An uncluttered, engaging and easily navigated page that’s easy to interact with    and contains timely, accurate information will rank higher, and lead to UX      success.

The skinny – SEO and UX-optimizations complement each other; they are not mutually exclusive.

And that’s it.

Happy Thor’s Day!


Healthy baby born during Covid-19 Epidemic
Healthy Great-granddaughter

Mom! Dad! Guess what? My baby had a baby! You’re Greatgrandparents!  Jerry and his wife Carole had a healthy baby girl on September 1st. Another September birthday in the family, Mom. And they got married two days after yours in 2016.

So exciting! Jerry texts us photos of her sleeping on his chest. So cute. He’s really into her. And Carole, you’d like her, sent two videos of her hiccuping, adorably.

We didn’t buy a crib like you did when we visited you with Audrey. I can still see Dad scoop Audrey from the crib with such gusto. It really surprised me, what with his heart and everything, He seized the moment. I have a photo of the two of them sitting on the bed. So precious. I should find it and put it out.

I still have the framed proof of dad and I dancing at my wedding. Even faded, it’s one of my favorites.

I also have a picture of Grandma, sitting in the living room, beside her walker, Audrey, in her infant seat at her feet. I didn’t get the impression she wanted to hold her— I can still hear her say, she looks like her father, not one of us. Gee, thanks, Grandma.

So glad you were able to meet your great-granddaughter.

So, we’ve been Face-timing. Don’t know when we’ll get to meet her. Hopefully, by Thanksgiving. You know about the virus, right? I’m sure they’ll answer your questions where you are.

You know, for years I wondered whose heart I had. Turns out, I got a condition. (I sound like Grandma. I got a condition…) Don’t need to change my diet or lifestyle. But I hardly go out since the virus hit. Last Saturday, Ed and I ran errands. Lowe’s for lightbulbs and The Scoop, for peppermint stick ice cream. I’ll see the doctor in a few weeks. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

It’s just another factor defining when we’ll meet our granddaughter.

Oh, her name is Rose, born 10 days early. First baby! Full-term. Well, they did induce her. 

The important thing is they’re all healthy.

Text alert. Another Zoom. Can’t wait! We’ll talk again, soon. Love and miss you.

10-word email exchange

blank business composition computer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To:      Employer

Cc:      Tammy

From:  Exemplary Employee

Date:   Tuesday, June 30, 2015, 8:10 AM

Re:      Vacation week

I’d like the week of August 3rd off.

Thank you.



To:      Exemplary Employee

cc:       Tammy

From:  Employer

Date:   Tuesday, June 30, 2015, 8:30 AM

Re:      Re: vacation week

Should be fine.

Check status of my

April conference reimbursement.

(small first initial signature)









Carl Sagan on the Magic of Books

The scientist, astronomer, and author, Carl Sagan, on the magic of books:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”


10 Ways to Hook Your Reader

(excerpt from the Writer’s Digest)

  • begin at a pivotal moment
  • add an unusual situation
  • add an intriguing character
  • conflict
  • add an antagonist
  • change emotion
  • irony and surprise
  • make people wonder
  • dread factor
  • keep narrative voice compelling


Have fun!

George Saunders on Fiction

The wonderful thing about fiction: the meaning of a story is contained in the way it unscrolls, in the experience the reader has, phrase by phrase. Everything else—the analysis we tend to feel the need to do—is reductive (fun, but reductive). The reading experience, when you think about it, is so complex and lovely and hard to describe: ideas come up and are complicated and refined by the next beat; moral notions arise and are challenged; the language surprises; parallel images from our own life are continually invoked; questions that, in our everyday mode, we’d be more simply opinionated about are endorsed and negated and complicated. All this happens at once, and in a granulated way that’s impossible to describe. I think it’s important to be respectful of how mysterious the whole deal is: a person being moved by a story another person made up. It’s weird but it happens and it can really change people’s lives. I think fiction at its best can serve as a moment of induced bafflement that calls into question our usual relation to things and reminds us that our minds, as nice as they are, aren’t necessarily up to the task of living, and shouldn’t get cocky. ~ George Saunders



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