How Well Do You Know Your Character's Family?
Whether they're the cold-hearted adversary or your courageous protagonist, your character has a family and their family is their history. (Unless, of course, your character is an orphan or foundling whose family doesn't exist, in which case this exercise is completely pointless for them, and a waste of time for you, so why are you even still reading this?)
Take a few minutes to answer these questions about your character's family tree and learn a lot more about them in the process!
Step 1. Mum and Dad
1. Give full names for both parents:
2. Where was their mother born and what is her happiest childhood memory? Her saddest memory?
3. Growing up, what or who did she hate the most and why?
4. What was her most treasured childhood belonging?
5. Who is her closest friend as an adult?
6. Name one dream of the character's mother:
7. Where was their father born and what was his childhood like? His happiest memory? His saddest?
8. When he was little, what did he want to be?
9. What gave him nightmares as a child?
10. As an adult, who is someone he respects and why?
11. Name one thing the father regrets:
(Now, go back and flip the questions around for the parents—answer the mom's questions from the dad's perspective and vice versa.)
12. Write a paragraph (more, if you like) about how these parents met:
Step 2. Siblings
13. Does your character have siblings? Make a quick list of their names and ages and one thing about each of their personalities:
14. Were their siblings born in the same place as they were? If not, where?
15. Which sibling does your character have the most in common with?
16. Which one irritates them the most?
17. Which one do they spend the most time with (because they want to, or they have to)?
Step 3. Grandparents
18. Choose a pair of your character's grandparents from either side of the family (or answer these questions for both sides, if you wish!). What are they like?
19. What ideals did these grandparents instill in their own children?
20. How was the world different for the grandparents than it is for the character?
21. How have the actions of the grandparents affected the character directly and indirectly?
22. If they were to give one piece of advice to your character, what would it be?
Step 4. And In No Particular Order...
23. Which member of the family (sibling, parent, aunt, etc.) does your character look up to most and why?
24. Which member of the family does the character see as their greatest enemy?
25. Which member of the family, living or dead, does the character most resemble in both appearance and character?
26. What is your character's earliest memory of a family member other than their parents?
27. Which family member(s) support the character? Explain.
28. Your character is upset. To which family member do they turn?
29. Which member of the family makes your character the most uncomfortable and why?
30. If your character could tell one family member anything, who would it be and what would they tell them?
31. What secret does your character's family keep—their skeleton in the closet?
32. Every family has a black sheep somewhere in the line. Who is your character's? How does this person influence the character?
33. Describe the most valuable family heirloom, its history, and its importance:
34. Are there any hereditary illnesses or curses in the family line?
35. Someone somewhere in the family died unexpectedly. How? (Was it heart attack? Shark attack?)
36. What are two things your character longs to do which the family disapproves? Explain the “why” of both sides:
37. If your character was separated from their family permanently, how would they react and how would it change them?
38. Pick five different family members (probably the ones you know best) and have them describe your character in one or two sentences each:
39. Does your character want a family of their own? Explain your answer by how you think their family life has affected these desires:
40. Imagine the character was abandoned/orphaned while still a minor. Who in the family (older sibling, aunt, etc.) would take them in and what would life in that surrogate family be like for the character?
Step 5: Bonus! Using What You Know
Imagine that your character is in a post-apocalyptic world or possibly just lost in the wilderness. (If they are already—congratulate yourself on being sneaky, clever, or lucky.) Pick two family members for the character to have with them as they try to survive. Now answer the following questions:
1. Is there a particular reason you chose these two characters?
2. What familial stresses are caused by this journey or set-up?
3. If your character is injured and needs one person to stay with them while another goes for help. Which family member goes, which one stays, and why? If your character has any say in it, how do they decide who goes and who stays?
4. Which family member might snap/lose it first?
5. If attacked, which family member has the greatest chance in a fight?
6. Your character dies (Don't panic, it's just an exercise.) and the two other family members are left. How do they handle this loss and what do they do next?
7. Have them sit down at a campfire or give a brief funeral ceremony: What do they say about your character? What they hated, and what they loved, and what they'll miss the most?
Now, look back at your answers. How much have you learned about your character? What have you learned about their story? I hope you've enjoyed growing this family tree and that your character and story are richer because of it!