Shake a Tree, Write a Book


So you want to write a book. And you have an idea for the plot, protagonist and even the antagonist. But, how well do you know those characters?

Why not shake your family tree? As a writer, you have the unique ability to reach into your bag of tricks, be they family close by, or ancestors.

I’ll offer an example: My grandfather, now deceased, was a first generation American. His parents came from Austria, and were industrious. Survivors, choosing to chase opportunities. Firmly planted in the northeast U.S., they had a son, and named him after the Archangel Michael, because he was their shining light.

At nineteen, Michael captured the heart of his teen Lenape neighbor. The two became one, and children dotted their hand-built home front. The family thrived under Michael’s boisterous spirit, while his work ethic steered them into upper middle class.

I skim Michael’s life’s surface to set a quick background reference point. He had many facets. One in particular that always struck me as odd: he would leave the room, whistling, during certain TV commercials or conversation topics. Can you say feminine hygiene?

Michael was modest, and as I observed his patterns, this towering, bear hugging man, would whistle up a tune when he was embarrassed. Mild and quiet. As I grew older, I never saw him loose his temper. But he did. My uncle and father saw explosive episodes, and if the middle son had survived, he would have witnessed it as well. More to him than meets the eye, particularly a granddaughter’s eye.

Here’s my advice: Find the complexity. Dig deep to uncover oppositional traits. It’s definitely necessary for character building, and absolutely spot-on in real life. If you need inspiration, shake, shake, shake; shake that family tree!


Look at those branches, ask family and friends questions, and take copious notes. When you are ready to write your memoir, you’ll be ahead of the game, totally organized! But in the meantime, I hope you discover character aspects to drive you forward in your fiction writing.

Till next time,



  1. I realize it’s a late response to this post, but I loved what you had to say! I often find myself searching for characteristics of my fictional characters, and I never even thought about looking at my own family for inspiration. I’ve written a couple short snippets from my books on my blog maybe you could check it out and tell me if I have good character development?

    1. never too late to share a thought, Katie, appreciate it! Sure, I love visiting, though like company, I often open mouth and insert foot, lol! coming over now 😉

  2. I based my first book “I confess To Murder”, in my Johnny Sundance Mystery Series, on a clergyman I knew who was actually accused of the crime. My second novel also involved a friend of a friend whose daughter went missing, hence “Where’s Jenny?”. Both are in all major ebook stores.

  3. I have a character loosely modeled after my mom. When she read the book, not surprisingly, she absolutely LOVED that character. Perhaps even more telling, my sister hated that character!

  4. Hi Roxie 🙂
    This is exactly what my mother chose to do as her last project before she died. The family now have a record, in book form, of her life, family tree and a few stories thrown in.
    I do hope that you are feeling better my friend and do have a lovely week.
    Hugs. Ralph xxx ❤

    1. What a valuable treasure your mother gave the family! I hope you are compiling yours, too? Future generations need your witty takes on life.
      Thanks, Ralph, I’m having more good days than bad, lol.

      1. I am so pleased to read that you are having more good days than bad Roxie and I do hope that today is a good one, and tomorrow, and the day after, ad infinitum 😀
        As far as writing my own book I am going to pass. I shall leave my blog for posteriority 😉 until WordPress crackles and crumbles into dust, or when I stop my payments 😉 ❤

    1. Hey, thanks, Phil 🙂
      It’s tough to twist and yank characters in place. Many times people will say, “But I can’t change anything, because that’s what truly happened!” To which I answer, “Are you writing fiction?” We have absolute authority over our writing! LOL.

  5. Excellent idea. Bits and pieces of my relatives do show up in my novels and stories; anyone is fair game for this but family members are the ‘characters’ I know the best. That includes my ‘closest’ relative, of course — myself! 🙂

    1. Precisely FLR, indeed, we are our most used muse, lol!
      But stretching, pushing and tugging those personalities until they are unrecognizable by family is tricky. Kudos for a job well done 🙂

    1. Hehehe! timing, coincidence? perhaps not! YEAH, I know it will be laced with lovely humor, or not, LOL. thanks for hanging out with me, we should grab coffee (or tea) sometime soon to catch up!

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