Movies & TV

Multigenerational Living: Heartland’s Secrets to Successful Family Storytelling

Heartland writers share their secrets to writing a successful multigenerational, multi-season story.

For 17 seasons, we’ve followed the Fleming family through the heartwarming drama of CBC’s Heartland, where three (or sometimes four!) generations live under one roof. This heartwarming “multigenerational living” arrangement has recently surged in popularity, mirroring a trend seen across Canada. But before we delve into the challenges faced by Heartland’s writers in crafting this multigen story, let’s explore the real-life rise of multigenerational households.

Real-Life Multigenerational Living

In recent years, multigenerational living has experienced a resurgence, with 2.2 million Canadians now living in such households. While multigenerational living presents unique challenges, it also offers numerous benefits, particularly for younger family members who receive additional care, attention, and learning opportunities from multiple generations.

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Heartland’s Writers Share Their Secrets

Heartland’s writers, Heather Conkie, Mark Haroun, and Ken Craw, have masterfully captured the nuances of multigenerational living on screen. In an exclusive Q&A, they share their secrets to writing a successful multi-season, multigen story:

Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your multigenerational story?

Heather Conkie: Our amazing cast, ranging from young Lyndy to the timeless Grandpa Jack, provides a wealth of inspiration. We’ve witnessed these characters grow and evolve, mirroring real-life experiences and resonating with our diverse audience.

Mark Haroun: We explore “what if” scenarios, drawing from our own experiences and imagining how the characters would react to new challenges.

Ken Craw: We often borrow from our own family dynamics and relationships, using real-life challenges and triumphs as springboards for Heartland’s storylines.

Q: How much emphasis do you place on family dynamics when writing an episode?

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Heather Conkie: A lot! We share personal stories and experiences, and many of them end up in the scripts.

Mark Haroun: Family dynamics are crucial. We carefully consider which characters to pair together and how their interactions will drive the narrative.

Ken Craw: We strive to see the story through each character’s eyes, considering their individual backgrounds, experiences, and biases to shape their perspectives.

Q: How do you weave multigenerational characters into an evolving story arc?

Heather Conkie: It’s challenging but rewarding. The best stories connect all characters to the episode’s theme, while allowing each to react uniquely based on their own past and aspirations.

Mark Haroun: The key is to avoid predictability and explore new territory. We delve deep into the characters’ personalities and imagine how they would respond to fresh situations.

Ken Craw: This is one of the most engaging aspects of writing a multigenerational drama. We strive to understand each character’s motivations and beliefs, crafting stories that challenge their perspectives and create opportunities for growth.

Q: Do you think family values differ in multigenerational homes?

Heather Conkie: We often hear from viewers that Heartland brings their families together. The show has inspired “Heartland family dinners,” where loved ones gather to share, argue, and connect.

Mark Haroun: Multigenerational living fosters deeper interaction between older and younger generations. There’s a growing recognition of the wisdom and value that grandparents and great-grandparents bring to the family.

Ken Craw: Children in multigenerational homes benefit from the guidance and mentorship of older family members, while elders gain a sense of purpose and deeper connections with younger generations.

Multigenerational Living: Lessons from Heartland's Writers
Multigenerational Living: Lessons from Heartland’s Writers

Heartland’s success lies in its authentic portrayal of a multigenerational family navigating life’s challenges and triumphs. The writers’ ability to capture the nuances of family dynamics, individual perspectives, and evolving relationships has resonated with audiences of all ages, making Heartland a cherished part of family viewing traditions.

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