Piece Together Characters From Family Members

Character Traits Pieced Together From FamilyOne of my favorite aspects of writing is character creation. I usually start my stories due to an interesting character popping into my mind, with a story to share. Often, I’ll know right away what they look like, what their general outlook on life is, and what their goals are.

However, I may not know what their favorite breakfast food is, what nervous habits they have, or their belief system. Some character attributes may not be needed in the preliminary stages of writing, but if I don’t know them up front, it can cause problems later on in the story. If I don’t know that the antagonist killed their parents in a war twenty years ago, then I have no idea why she is so determined to stop his reign of tyranny now.

Borrowing Attributes From Family

If I am unsure of my character’s attributes and motivations, I turn to an unending source of human characteristics – my friends and family. It doesn’t get more realistic than using actual traits and habits that other people have. However, you need to ensure that you don’t make a character who is exactly like your Uncle Bob, and ends up leaving his wife and developing a drug addiction. That could be perceived as slander, and cause ill will and even court cases between family members.

To avoid that possibility, I take observed characteristics and play mix and match. I might take my best friend’s eye twitch, add on my grandfather’s quiet attitude, and place those traits onto my protagonist’s thirty year old love interest. That way, there is no possibility of anyone seeing themselves within one character.

Also, allow the characteristics to change and grow throughout your story. Whereas my friend might twitch her eye when she is angry, my love interest character would twitch his eye when he is lying instead. His silent streak, borrowed from my grandfather, could go away completely by the end of the story, as he opens up and learns to trust the heroine.

Observe People Everywhere

Of course, family and friends aren’t the only possible sources for character creation. Inspiration is everywhere! Take your notebook and go to a crowded cafe, mall, or park. Make notes to yourself about specific attributes that catch your eye. Add these into the mix along with those traits you picked from your family, and you will have a completely different character. Even television, music, and online friends offer more character possibilities.

Once you’ve compiled your character, you might want to write out a character creation sheet, that lists all of the facts about the character that you know so far. This can range from hair and eye color, to identifiable habits, to primary and secondary motivations. Whatever you need for your story, you can outline, and add to or subtract from as necessary.

To further ensure that your character is differentiated enough from your family, write a short story that shows a “Day in the Life” of your hero. Let your family and friends read it, and see if they identify with the hero. If they do, you may need to change a few traits.

Have you ever drawn from real life people to create a character? What are your tips to ensuring you get just the right blend of fact and fiction?

Image Credit: egarc2

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Kimberlee Ferrell

As a freelance writer and blogger, Kimberlee Ferrell has developed some keen insights on web publishing. She is capable of crafting superior articles, blog posts, and web copy that can empower your business, helping you to get noticed in the digital sea. She has lived in multiple states all across the U.S., and has a unique worldview and a fresh perspective to incorporate in your freelance writing needs. From the midnight lights of Las Vegas to the down home hospitality of Huntsville, she has used each experience to hone her writing skills and expand her knowledge. Now located in small town Iowa, she has renovated her freelance writer career. Her main areas of focus are tarot, spirituality, and writing.

9 thoughts on “Piece Together Characters From Family Members”

  1. Thanks for the tips on character development. My writing group organizer gave a us a character development sheet which helps to define characters. I agree with observing people, family, and friends. It’s a big help. Sometimes I struggle to create character names. I often wonder how other writers come up with character names. Do they “pop” into their head? Do they use a software generator? Are they based on real people? Who knows…

  2. Hi Rebecca!

    Names can be tricky for anyone to come up with. My preferred fiction genre is science fiction & fantasy, so I can just come with names that are different syllables strung together. For modern names, I either swing from widely generic, or incredibly unique.

    Many times, my characters come with their own name already into my head though.

  3. Sometimes I’ve found names take a while to come in. I’ll often start writing without a name in mind and one kind of “falls into place” at some point while writing. Other times, it’s the name that comes to me first. Naming characters is the kind of topic that deserves a whole post with the different ways our characters get their names. 🙂

  4. Speaking of names and the way it can be different for everyone (and for each character). In my current WIP my protagonist is Tori, her name came first. During the course of the story she because “not-Tori” and her alter-ego is “Torque”. This name came as I was researching her alternative-form but was, again, inspired not generated.

    But when it came time to name her co-star I struggled for weeks researching his form and “interviewing” him, trying to draw him out but couldn’t get a grasp on his name. Eventually I settled on Lucas but I’m still not sure it’s the “right” name for him.

    Again, interestingly, while I can’t “grasp” a characters name I also find it very difficult to get into that characters mind. Once their name falls into place, so does most of the rest of their personality.

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