Creating a character #2 – Origins

creating a character

Where and how does your character fit in their family?

When we think about ourselves, we’re made up of everything that has ever happened to us, plus our family background, our culture, religion, our view of the world and much more. So are our characters. You might ask why you have to bother knowing your character’s life story and who their family is/was. Some writers prefer to write their way into a character’s life and make it up as they go along. But once you create a history for your character, once you know where they came from, you will find that everything they do in your story has added resonance and meaning, not to mention consistency and credibility.

So what does “origins” mean? Take a look at the following aspects:

  • Parents – who were they? What were they doing when your character was born? Where were they? Jobs? Class (working, middle, upper, etc)? Someone born during a war will have a different start to life from someone born in the Depression, or in the 1960s. How much money the family had plays a part, as does the kind of house they lived in and the suburb/city/rural/country. Did the parents stay together? Happily or not? If there was divorce, was it bitter? Effects?
  • What was your character’s relationship with his/her parents? What effects did this have as time went on? When did he/she leave home? Why?
  • What was the family’s religion? Cultural roots? How did this affect the character as they grew up? What did this mean to daily life? Restrictions? Did he/she stay in this religion? Why/why not?
  • Did your character have siblings? Where were they in the family – eldest, middle, youngest? How did the siblings get on? Or if he/she was an only child, what did that mean? Spoiled or mistreated? Was there an extended family? Was this a nomadic family?
  • Schooling – how did your character fare at school? Were they clever? Average? Did they have friends? What kinds of friends? Imaginary friend? Did they play sport? Did they end up being a loner? Why? (Remember that your character usually needs to be reasonably intelligent in order to consider and take action in your story.) How did they cope with authority figures?
  • What are some significant events in your character’s childhood and teen years? How did this affect him/her?
  • What romantic relationships did your character have in the early years? First sexual experience? How did this affect later relationships?

In some ways, I’ve barely scratched the surface here! But once you start thinking about these questions, even if you only make brief notes and brainstorm some answers, you’ll start getting to know your character more quickly and in more depth. And be ready for the next layer down.

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