you’re writing young adult novels,
authors don’t always give a lot of thought to the intricacies of an
adult hero or heroine’s family of origin. After all, if she’s already
left home when the book starts, what’s the big deal about her mom and
Below are five questions from
the family APGAR assessment (acronym
explained below) that will measure important concepts about your
character’s family of origin. I’ll explain why these concepts are
important, even for adult MCs.
Question 1 (Adaptability):
Were you satisfied with the help
your family gave you when something was troubling you?
This gives you an idea of the
resources that were shared or not
shared when the character was growing up. It also shoes how the family
adapted to stressors, and whether or not they were responsive to each
Question 2 (Partnership):
Were you satisfied with the way
your family discussed items of common interest and shared problem
solving with you?
This question measures the
partnership aspect of a family. This
includes communication through decisions and how mutual concerns were
dispersed through the family. In some families, one individual holds
power while another might do all of the nurturing. Alliances can be
formed and some family members feel left out.
Question 3 (Growth):
Did you find that your family
accepted your wishes to take on new activities or make changes in your
Affirmative answers to this
question would reveal that the family
welcomed individual growth and maturation. A family that is resistant
to change might show a lack of mutual support and guidance and stunt an
individual member’s growth.
Question 4 (Affection):
Were you satisfied with the way
your family expressed affection and responded to your feelings, such as
anger, sorrow, and love?
Looking at how emotional
experiences were shared in a character’s
family of origin is a powerful indicator of how open that character
will be to emotional sharing and intimacy later. This question measures
a family’s ability to share love and affection through emotional
Question 5 (Resolve):
Were you satisfied with the
amount of time your family and you spent together?
question looks at the commitment between
family members to devote time to one another for physical and emotional
nurturing. Usually this involves a decision to share money and space,
as well as time and energy.
writers, we should keep in
mind that how a person interacted with
his or her family of origin is most likely how we would expect them to
interact in their own new families. Romantic interests who grew up
differently from each other can make for lots of tension.
your character answers the Partnership question by indicating her
family wasn’t as communicative as she would have liked, it only stands
to reason that she will look for a partner with whom she can talk with
about everything. She wouldn’t want to feel that she is left out of
decisions as she was when growing up.
The Resolve question
could be telltale about a character’s need for quality time. If a
hero’s family never let him do anything without tagging along, then he
will look for a more laid-back romantic interest. If he never felt that
his family was connected (they never ate together or played games
together), then vice versa. He’ll look for someone with more of a
tight-knit view of family time.
A character whose family didn’t
allow for or adapt to Growth very
well would be a character who either does the exact same thing or is
looking for the exact opposite. In truth, this is how parenting is
passed through the generations. You either loved what your parents did
and do the same, or you hated it and vow from adolescence that you will
not put your child through the same thing.
I hope this information gives
you some new considerations about a
character’s family of origin to bring even more depth to your fiction.