This guest post is by Laura Dennis. Laura is an American expat mom who currently lives in Serbia. She blogs at The Adaptable Expat Mommy, and is the author of Adopted Reality. You can also follow Laura on Twitter (@LauraDennisCA). Thanks for joining us Laura!

I have to credit Joe with suggesting the idea, just in time for writers plowing through NaNoWriMo. Seriously, it’s November 9, already. Have you hit a creativity wall yet?

Yes? Here’s a crazy idea: Adoption.

adopted characters

Photo by Playing With Brushes

But let’s not limit ourselves to introducing a new to an adopted main character; we also have adoptive parents and birth moms to think about.

Then you can get really wild: a biological grandmother who’s son’s (witchy) girlfriend up and relinquishes her granddaughter to a strange family. What if it’s a secret from the rest of the community? What if she blames her son and tries to steal back the baby?

Helloooo, subplot! Okay … now we’re getting somewhere.

These secrets and objectives (grandmother wanted a grandbaby in her life) work well with character-driven literary fiction. What about commercial fiction, where the plot line drives the story?

The adopted hero’s journey, the searching and reuniting, the fallout with the adoptive parents … These are potential adventures can be written as emotionally wrought; replete with pitfalls and disappointments.

Along the way, writers can show character change—the protagonist begins to understand her own identity, fitting the pieces together as she reunites with her birth family. She matures and accepts that while her destiny changed the day she was given away, she can now begin to shape her own future.

The “What If?” question

Adoptees wonder: What if I’d been raised by my birth family? Who would I have turned out to be?

Birth moms think: What if I’d kept my baby? Would I have ultimately done a better job?

Adopted parents probably wouldn’t ever admit: What if I’d been able to conceive, would my biological child have loved me more? Would we have had a better connection?

Avoiding Clichés

Just a note about stereotypes. Readers have seen the messed up adoptee, the perfect adoptive parents who only have unconditional love for their child. Try to mix it up a bit. With adoption happiness and celebration, there are also feelings of loss, grief, and confusion.

By acknowledging all—or at least more—sides of the issue, readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of your characters. Because remember, even protagonists have to have weak qualities and experience disappointments and setbacks. And your bad guy, the “Big Boss Troublemaker” (thank you Kristen Lamb), needs to have some good qualities.

For further reading:

• Read more about Adoption in Fiction, part 1 and part 2, at Elizabeth Craig’s blog
• Check out Joe Bunting’s post, Why You Should Write About Orphans
• Learn more about adoption stereotypes at Lost Daughters, a blogging project by adult female adoptees.


Tell us about your adopted character/adoption plotline idea. Sketch it out in general terms for fifteen minutes, and post it in the comments when you’re finished. I’m happy to give you feedback as to the direction it might take.

Laura Dennis
Laura Dennis