Build a Family

When you think about it, every human being belongs to a surprising number of families. Of course we have our biological ones, those that we do not get to choose, but are chosen for us. But then we have the families of our neighbors, workmates, casual acquaintances and friends. All of these families create our present, past and future.

When you design a character for your story, you must take into account all of these, for each subset impacts the development in varied ways.

For example, some are born into poverty, others wealth. Some of us feel hunger and a lack of safety, while others never want for anything that money can buy. How does this impact the personality, dreams, actions? A poor person might simply give up and live that life into adulthood, while another might be motivated to rise above. A rich person might do nothing of merit and just live off the money, while another might use the wealth to set up charitable organizations that help others.

Some families are physically and emotionally abusive. The child reared in such an environment never feels loved or safe. How does this impact their outlook on life? Will the unloved child seek love in all the wrong places or look for the one individual who can fill all their needs?

Lucky children grow up in families that nurture and encourage. Even if poor and hungry, these children know that they are loved and feel safe in the home. Because these primary needs are being met, the child can focus on school success. What about your character? How was he/she reared?

Our neighbors form a unique, and often unfortunate, frequently, changing family. People come and go. Friendships are formed and then lost. Yet for those brief moments that paths cross, something magical happens. We are exposed to new ways of thinking, eating, doing. We learn from the mistakes and successes of others, which then helps us to grow in ways impossible without that interaction.

When we are young, we have a school family. It does not always consist of nice people. Bullies dominate the weak, deals are made and kept, circles are created that exclude others, bonds are formed. Some of us are lucky enough to remain friends with school friends, while many of us drift apart, yet for the years that we are together in that one place, our lives are forever touched.

As we age, we join our workplace family. Again, we are touched. A mean, intolerant boss brings us to our knees, while an encouraging one pushes us to seek ever higher positions within the business. We form bonds with our workmates that extend beyond the workday, some for the good, some not.

Your project is to think of a character that wants her story to be told. Make a list of the different families in which she belongs, including those that have impacted her past and those that will continue to develop her future. Under each subset, list the ways that the family has changed the character. Think both positive and negative.

Once you have your lists, write a short biography of that character. You do not have to go back to infancy nor do you have to include every tiny detail. Write enough that you get a feel for what your character has experienced, both the joys and the struggles.

Only then can you tell her story.

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