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Meet the Found Family

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 14, 2023

Last year (har har har obligatory New Year's Joke done) I'd started talking about Found Family, one of my favorite tropes in pretty much any narrative work, from movies to novels to comics and webcomics. Found family is when a bunch of characters, usually unrelated and mismatched, end up forming a cohesive, tightknit group that genuinely loves and cares for its members- like a family should. They are usually brought together by need and circumstance, but they stay together by choice, which makes them …a family.

I'd like to talk in this installment about what types of characters are usually expected to be found within a found family group. Note that this doesn't mean that such characters should exist as a rule- just that I have seen them recur often and are quite functional for this trope.

The one who needs help: Usually, this is one of the main characters who we start with, before the found family is formed. It can be an orphan or young kid/teen/youth or without any parents or other adults that could help support them, or even an adult without any support network. Usually this person is also in some kind of dire situation: escaping a horrid place, running away from home, being pursued for some reason by The Big Bad (or similar), or has some other need that is well beyond their own capacity to see to independently.

The one who offers help: This person has the power, knowledge, capacity, and skill to offer the exact help that is needed. They may or may not offer it willingly, they may be pushed to offer it or paid or bribed or just coerced (even by the person who needs the help!) or begrudgingly yield to their own unacknowledged morality or sentiments. Often, this one is an adult but it's not absolutely necessary. This need ties the two characters together enough for the original receiver of the help to begin to offer support of some kind that this helper also needs, whether they're aware of it or not. This could be companioship alone, but also any range of different things, from actual technical skill (the one originally helped might have knowledge or talent the helper needs) to emotional support to anything else.

The one who adds to the group: This might be a little deceptive as a description as every single member of a found family adds to the group, but what I mean is this character tends to be the one that boosts the team to action or to development more often than not. It might be someone who challenges everyone else, or a catalyst for interaction (e.g. in the original Ice Age, the human baby forces the animals to interact with each other in ways they wouldn't normally have, even after they commit to the road trip).

The one who is the mom: This character can also be a guy, or anything else, but they are definitely the mom of the group. They are the ones that pay attention and look after every other member in terms of their wellbeing. They'll usually be The Responsible One or the Reliable One. They will also be the family conscience often, reminding everyone what the right thing to do is (as far as their own moral code dictates). They will often mitigate and deescalate situations, seek out members to ask after their wellbeing, and so on. In the Last Airbender, Katara tends to be that mom character, always seeing to others, protecting and supporting them, and nagging them on occasion.

The one who is all over the place: What it says on the tin. This person may be impulsive, jump to conclusions, be easy to excite or disappoint, might be gullible or may be trying to “find shortcuts” for whatever the group is trying to achieve, often inviting more trouble than intended. At the same time, they are also invaluable in some manner, adding to the team as much trouble as they are causing. They could be as vital for the group's cohesion as the mom character.

The orbit: This is the distant one. The one that is always part of the group but just at the fringes, for whatever reason. It could be trauma, it could be sheer personality traits, it could be troubled past shared with the group, or any other reason that makes this person be present but always avoid having attention on them. This character is often quiet and stoic, but with an explosive side that …well, usually is triggered at some point in the plot.

Any of these types can be a different character, or traits of one character- someone could be the mom and the broody one, or the one receiving help and being all over the place, or the one that adds to the team and the one that is the mom, and so on. Sky is the limit, which is why found families are almost never the same, and the plots that yield them come across as unique. Some characters may be blood relatives, but not all of them will be.

The net effect of found family is always one, however, as far as I've experienced: that genuine concern and love carries people through and keeps them together through thick and thin. They are the people that chose to stick together and find solace in each other. They're family.

What other types have you written or encountered in found families?

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PaulEberhardt at 3:43AM, Jan. 14, 2023

The grumpy/nasty/distrustful one (GND-1) who is wary and/or jealous of the new family member (the one who needs help) and has to be convinced to accept him/her, which usually takes about two thirds of the story or more and involves that the new one saves the GND-1 from a real pickle, often one that is potentially existence-threatening. In these two thirds of the story before the pivotal event, the GND-1 either keeps a very close watch on the new one or behaves as badly as possible towards him/her; after the turning-point of grudgingly accepting that the new one is quite OK after all, the particular way in which the GND-1 used to mistreat the new one becomes a playful joke between the two. Brownie points for the writer if instead of all that the GND-1 turns out to be right in the end.

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