Today I have a guest post by Essa Hansen to share with you! She is the author of The Graven trilogy, which begins with Nophek Gloss, described as being about “a young man [who] sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across a breathtaking multiverse filled with aliens, mind-bending tech, and ships beyond his wildest imagining.” This science fiction story continues in Azura Ghost and was recently concluded with the release of the final book in the trilogy, Ethera Grave. I’m thrilled she’s here to discuss a favorite trope used in her series in “Creating Belonging While Finding Family.”


Cover of Ethera Grave by Essa Hansen

Creating Belonging While Finding Family

Found family—or chosen family—is one of my favorite tropes, and I’m pleased for this opportunity to gush about it. When I set out to write a found family in my debut science fiction trilogy, The Graven, it was to give myself the craft challenge of an ensemble cast. I was more of a discovery writer than a plotter back then, meaning I threw a space-faring crew together and swiftly fell in love with them as their story and history unfolded on the page. My favorite found families have a messy warmth: broken characters fitting together over time, jagged edges that mis-fit but are tumbled smooth by shared experiences, and an enduring care despite quarrels.

Found families tend to be comprised of misfits. Since I was worldbuilding a vast, varied multiverse where intermingling diversity is the norm, I could assemble a found family of different species, cultures, and backgrounds. Part of what makes misfit dynamics interesting is the friction from these differences of nature, opinion, and approach, and the bonding that bridges that dissimilarity through shared new challenges. Surrounding ourselves with only people like us can be stagnating. Often the most influential relationships of our lives are with those most different from us, who force us to develop our perception of the world and ourselves, and help us exercise empathy. Caiden, my initially teenage protagonist in The Graven trilogy, is navigating a great trauma and a foreign world, and relies immensely on the life lessons imparted to him by the family he’s found…even when he’s still too damaged to act on their wisdom.

There are two main ways to go about writing a found family: either bond strangers together as the narrative progresses, or start with an already established crew, frequently with one new individual thrown in. I opted for the latter because I love how the breaking of symmetry in a functional system can force positive change in unexpected directions, even resulting in more stability than before. Caiden’s presence reveals the crew’s hidden tension points as they form clashing opinions of him. It tills up layers of self-development they hadn’t realized were in dire need of working out. Even if a team isn’t quarrelsome, sometimes their easy equilibrium is more fragile than it seems, or that equilibrium has become a stagnation.

Cover of Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen Cover of Azura Ghost by Essa Hansen

Misfits are frequently also outcasts or set adrift from a blood family or organization or society, and find belonging again in the group they assemble around them. Caiden was raised in a world of convention, where everyone had a set function in the machine of industry; he had no culture or sense of community or even terms for “family.” When he’s uprooted from this system through traumatic events, he struggles to feel like he belongs anywhere. Everything is new and strange, and ignorance makes it dangerous. The stability he craves comes from the crew who adopts him and whose knowledge heals the impoverished imagination his isolated upbringing left him with. Caiden finds acceptance among them, and acceptance is the stepping stone toward belonging.

A family team is community, safety, depth, support—a space wherein you can be seen as your authentic self. It’s the ride-or-die relationships, the people you can confide in, be vulnerable with, friends who both have your back and will slap sense into you. The friends who will protect you from yourself. Some readers love found family stories because it’s a model of the family they’re still seeking. For others, it validates and resonates with the family they’ve chosen. For many, the attraction of found family is precisely that it does away with rigid definitions of what “family” is, freeing the family type unit from defined roles or hierarchy or being limited to biological ties. It represents deep bonds regardless of labels, encourages platonic love, and allows family to be who you choose rather than the group you were born into.

The very best aspect of my own writing/publishing journey has been the friendships I’ve made with other authors, many of whom feel like family to me. We’ve bonded in the pages, in the query trenches, in submission hell, and through the rough waters post-deal or post-publication. I’ve grown immensely as a writer and a human through their perspective and critiques. Found family isn’t just the people we build belonging with—it’s all the dimensions by which we share experiences, how we mismatch and how that stresses and redefines us in the best ways, as well as how we fit that was more necessary a feeling to find than we realized.

I hope those of you still in the process of “finding” will land where you belong soon.


**P.S. For some great found families in science fiction, check out: The Guardians of the Galaxy, Firefly, The Expanse, Mass Effect, The Salvagers trilogy by Alex White, and The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. And of course, my trilogy, The Graven, which has two separate found families brought together to prevent the collapse of a vast bubble multiverse.


Photo of Essa Hansen

Essa Hansen writes immersive fantasy and science fiction, and works in those genres in feature film as a sound designer for studios such as Marvel, Pixar, and Disney. She grew up in beautifully wild areas of California, from the coastal foothills to the Sierra Nevada mountains, before migrating north to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Working her way through the fantasy disciplines, she has trained horses, practiced archery and Japanese swordsmanship, and is a licensed falconer. She now lives with her cat in the San Francisco Bay Area.