Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writing Exercise: Create a Family Tree

Creating Characters: Create a Family Tree!

Step One: Pick a name, including a first and last name. Male, female, twins - it doesn't matter. All that matters is that this person has a first and last name.

Step Two: Ask your CHARACTER - the one you just created a first and last name for - whether or not he or she has any siblings. This is where you might create a half-brother/half sister or a step-brother/step-sister or you might discover your character was adopted!

Step Three: Since no one is ever born at age thirty, there must have been some sort of parental unit for your character and, if applicable, siblings. Now, give those persons first and last names. If your initial character is illegitimate, this is where you could identify his/her mother/father. If he/she was raised by an uncle/aunt/grandmother/friend of the family, give that person(s) a name!

Step Four: Branch out as far as you want to go! Think about how your own family is structured. Is there a middle name that all first born males/females receive? Does every third child in the family carry the maternal grandmother's maiden name? Did someone in your family marry someone with a different ethnic background and give those children names that match their heritage rather than the core family?

Step 5: As you're doing this, jot down anything that comes to mind about any of the names appearing on your family-tree chart. Was Uncle a miser? Did Grandma have a heart of gold but was a terrible cook? Did someone's sister run-off and have a child with a man she refuses to name? Is your cousin gay? Is one branch of the family happy and poor? Is another branch rich and miserable? Is there an ambitious family member conspiring to take the family fortune? What would happen if distant cousins united to take on the family patriarch for control of the family coffers/land?

What you're doing is providing yourself with, not only a comprehensive look at your character's backstory, but invaluable information about how your character 'ticks'. You have the basis for daddy-issues, mommy-issues, inter-racial relationships, family drama, sibling rivalry, cousin-to-cousin rivalry - so much juicy stuff! Not only that, but you'll have characters to draw on should you find that you've written yourself into a corner, need someone your character can trust or someone to betray your character - so many possibilities!

But don't keep this to yourself!

Share it with us! We'll post it here and on the website!

PS: Do you need a name to get you going? I have hundreds and hundreds of names in my handy notebook--I'll be glad to share!

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