Go Ahead, Shock 'Em
A favorite question reads something like this, "The heroine's mother is really horrible. Is it okay if I have her throw battery acid at the heroine?" Inevitably, the answer is, "Yes."
Real life is messy, and sometimes downright ugly. Headlines, push notifications, the evening news and social media are rife with all sorts of mind-boggling hideousness. And, for those of you that write historical novels, you need look no further than the newspapers and broadsheets of the day to know the world wasn't much prettier three hundred years ago. People are people, and whether they have an iWatch or a sundial, human nature hasn't changed for millennia.
Capitalize on that. Don't be afraid to have parents, siblings or lovers behave badly. The pathos is best when the people who are supposed to love and protect the H/H from harm are the ones who mess up the worst. BUT, few people are all bad. Be careful not to make the evildoer a caricature. The mother throwing the battery acid may have been a great parent until her life fell apart. In books, as in life, the better the person, the more horrific their bad deeds seem.
Also, don't shock just to shock. There have to be reasons that makes sense in the story and provide the trauma that justifies your H/H's fear of commitment, having children, taking risks...you get the idea. Which doesn't mean there has to be an explanation for the evildoer's behavior, only that whatever he/she did is the root or fulcrum for your H/H's issues.
Go on, create the worst possible background for your H/H. Give juicy, original reasons for their complex problems, which can be healed only by their newfound love.
EVERYONE AT BOROUGHS PUBLISHING GROUP WISHES THOSE WHO CELEBRATE, A HAPPY THANKSGIVING.