Birth of a character

Write up a scene depicting your character’s birth or arrival in her parents’ arms or home. You’ll probably find this says a lot about your character’s family and parents, but by extension this can also give you insight into the kind of welcome your character had and how that might have affected her.

For play, here’s a similar scene I wrote recently. I used it just as suggested—as an exercise to get greater insight into a character’s background—so I won’t claim it’s a great work of writing. But then, I’ve often argued that when it comes to prompts and exercises you need to let go and feel free to write crud anyway.


The figure at the door consisted of a brown cloak, hood pulled over his face, gloves on his hands. His entire identity was comprised in that moment of a soft voice and an accent the doorman couldn’t quite place. He held a basket in his hands; the baby tucked inside couldn’t be more than a week old at most. It was tiny, pink and wrinkled, fragile-looking inside the gray blanket wrapped around it. At the moment it slept, but the House Khatru* doorman tensed for the inevitable onslaught of noise should it wake and start to cry. “We don’t take in—” he started to say, his voice softened only by the desire to keep the baby asleep as long as possible.

“She belongs to Dern,” the soft voice said, and the gloved hands placed the basket on the ground in front of the door. The figure turned and walked away as the doorman fumed silently. An envelope rested in the folds of the blanket. The stationery was a rich cream color, expensive, and Dern Khatru’s name had been inscribed in an elegant hand on the front. When he picked it up, he found that black wax held the flap closed although no seal had been used on it. Perhaps this wasn’t an attempt to dump a low-born child on the house after all.

He gestured imperiously to a young boy in house livery. “Tell Master Dern that a… an urgent delivery has arrived for him.”


Dern followed the nervous page through the halls of his home. It was only an hour or so past sunup and he’d already worked up a good sweat from sparring with his two older brothers. His black hair curled around his face and dripped sweat onto his shoulders. He wondered why the page kept glancing sideways at him as though expecting to be kicked; unlike some of his family he strove to be fair as well as strict. And he was barely considered a full adult himself, which meant he didn’t cut nearly the imposing figure some of his older, battle-scared relatives did.

As Dern entered the sitting room a piercing wail cut the air. He raced forward and drew his sword, fearing some sort of attack. He stopped dead at the sight that greeted him: a man-at-arms stood next to a basket, calling for a wet-nurse and desperately trying to calm a tiny child. Dern sheathed his sword.

“Oh for heavens’ sake, give me the child.” He frowned at the man’s ineptitude and took the little girl into his arms. He’d held and calmed his youngest sister in just such a manner many a time. He couldn’t help smiling at the girl’s healthy cries even as they quieted to faint gurgling noises. Finally a wet-nurse entered and he gave the child to her to feed.

“Whose child is this? And why was I summoned?”

The man-at-arms held an envelope out to him. “Ahh, we’re not certain whose she is, sir.”

Dern took the envelope. “Not certain?” He started to laugh, and then his eyes dropped to the envelope and his heart stopped momentarily in his chest. He recognized that careful handwriting. He looked at the child again, thinking of the little girl’s dark, almost black eyes, and suddenly he knew who those eyes reminded him of—the young woman he’d had such a brief and passionate affair with, who’d stopped seeing him without explanation just eight months ago. Eight months… His mouth dried up as he tore the envelope open. The small sheet of paper inside held only one short sentence, in the same hand as the envelope: “Your daughter’s name is Cea.”

He took his now-sleepy daughter from the wet-nurse’s arms, staring at her for a long moment before carefully tucking her back into the blanket. “Take my daughter to the nursery,” he said, looking away as the nurse’s eyes widened in surprise.

*House Khatru is from Monte Cook’s book Ptolus.

It’s a short piece, but I think it implies a lot about her father, her family-to-be, her upbringing to come, and even her mother.


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One comment on “Birth of a character
  1. thanks for the writing tips.. it has been good to add them to the various things that I have been writing lately

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