Genre Clarification: Family Saga

Simply put, this genre is about on-going stories of two or more generations of a family. Plots revolve around things like businesses, acquisition, properties, adventures, and family curses. By their nature, these are primarily historical, often bringing the resolution in contemporary settings.

Family Sagas generally have all five of these characteristics:  (i) fabulous locations and/or memorable mansions, (ii) a strong cast of characters, (iii) it’s an epic series, (iv) it crosses genres, and (v) it explores historical, political or gender issues. 

What Exactly Are Family Sagas?

Written on an epic scale, a family saga is typically a fictional drama focusing on one or more generation of a family, or interconnected families, and closely follows their fates, fortunes, and passions.

A typical example: Sacha, a handsome nobleman, his young bride, and infant son flee Revolutionary Russia. They seek shelter in London with his English cousin and his alluring wife. In time, he starts a jewellery emporium that swiftly becomes an empire. In time, Sacha falls in love with and eventually marries his cousin’s wife, with whom he has another child, a daughter. When this patriarch dies in the 70s, his two children, half brother, and sister battle bitterly for control of the family’s jewelry empire. And so on.


Authors such as Irwin Shaw (Rich Man, Poor Man 1969, Beggar Man, Thief, 1977), Colleen McCullough (Thorn Birds, 1977) Joyce Carol Oates (Bellefleur, 1980), John Jakes (North & South, 1982), Barbara Taylor Bradford (Act of Will, 1986), and Judith Krantz (I’ll Take Manhattan, 1987) dominated the bestseller lists of the decade.

More recently, Sheelagh Kelly’s Kilmaster Family Saga (1999 to 2003) Penny Vincenzi’s fictitious Lytton family in her Spoils of Time Trilogy (2000 to 2002), Barbara Taylor Bradford’s The Ravenscar Dynasty (2006 to 2008) have kept up the glossy and romantic tradition.

Certainly, the dysfunctional family dynamics recent novels such J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine (2011) and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (2017) speak to the complicated, often irrational, bonds of family life.

Do you write family sagas?  Do you have another good example of one?  Comment below!

Book MarksGenre Clarification

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