Character Motivation Entry: Seeking Out One’s Biological Roots

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

Seeking Out One's Biological RootsIf you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Seeking Out One’s Biological Roots

Forms This Might Take:

  • Tracking down one’s birth parents
  • Connecting with a half-sibling that one has just discovered
  • Returning to an orphanage in one’s country of origin in hopes of uncovering one’s past
  • Searching for the family one was kidnapped from
  • Trying to find biological relatives (if one’s birth parents were killed)
  • Seeking connection with maternal or paternal grandparents if one was abandoned by parents
  • Trying to find surviving family members long after a war or violent event scattered the family across the globe
  • Seeking out one’s relatives after being rescued as an child refugee by aid workers and taken elsewhere

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Request access to one’s birth records (once one turns eighteen)
  • Ask one’s adoptive parents for details
  • Research the laws surrounding adoption at the time to understand the information hurdles ahead
  • Interview those involved in one’s adoption
  • Return to the city, town, and hospital where one was born and ask for records
  • Return to a foster home where one was before the adoption was finalized
  • Seek advice online from other adoptees in one’s situation (forums, support groups, websites)
  • Reach out to organizations that help adult children reconnect with birth families
  • Reach out to organizations that deal with refugee placement (if applicable)
  • Track down one’s family name if one knows it, searching for others with the same name
  • Get a job or put in extra hours to save up for a trip to return to one’s country of birth
  • Hire a lawyer to help facilitate access to one’s records (especially if they are in another country)
  • Look for police reports of local kidnappings, abuse or child abandonment (if this is a factor)
  • Hire a private investigator
  • Learn a foreign language or hire a translator (if there’s a language barrier)
  • Make a list of phone numbers and addresses of possible relatives to visit and interview
  • Start contacting possible leads and set up meetings if one is able

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Becoming obsessed to the point it strains relationships with one’s adopted family
  • Losing one’s job because one is always needing time off to travel and investigate leads
  • Losing one’s sense of self and identity as one digs deeper into one’s past
  • Friendships that become strained because one is no longer working to maintain them
  • Draining one’s finances to pay for information, travel, and professional services (lawyer, etc.)
  • Reopening old wounds of rejection and abandonment as one uncovers information that may be hard to take
  • Discovering a past history that is difficult (that one’s parent is a serial killer, that one was part of a human trafficking ring, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Ineffective lawyers, investigators, and advocates
  • A fire or other disaster that destroyed one’s records
  • A lack of record keeping at the time (especially in the case of civil unrest)
  • Discovering the adoption was off the books and so documents are false
  • Discovering information that doesn’t mesh with what one’s parents were told
  • Language barriers
  • People who don’t want to talk for fear of repercussions
  • Finding relatives that are unhelpful (fearing inheritance issues, who are hurt by the discovery etc.)
  • Discovering leads have died because much time has passed
  • Discovering a cover up by the state because of some sort of wrongdoing
  • Running out of money for bribes (if needed)
  • Running into dangerous people determined to see one does not succeed (criminals, people involved in a past war crime, etc.)
  • Having to travel to dangerous areas to obtain information

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Feeling incomplete because one doesn’t know one’s roots
  • Low self worth and doubt at not knowing why one was given up
  • Guilt that one should have tried harder or did more (in the case where the adoption was not the biological parent’s choice)
  • Having a lot of debt and nothing to show for it
  • Not knowing one’s medical history and running into possible complications as a result

Clichés to Avoid:

  • A “pauper to prince” scenario, where one discovers one is actually royalty and was adopted out for safety reasons (heir to a fortune, one’s enemies seeking out one’s children and killing them, etc.)

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image 1: Foundry @ Pixabay



Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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16 Responses to Character Motivation Entry: Seeking Out One’s Biological Roots

  1. P L Holmes says:

    This is very difficult to read against the coloured background..please return to the previous format

  2. Keli Gwyn says:

    How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
    Have a DNA test. I found a half-sister I didn’t know I had that way just last month, and she’s helping me get to know about the biological father I never was able to meet.

    Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
    Tenacity or persistence. I spent fifty years waiting to find out who my biological father was.

    Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal: strained relationships with existing family members who might not understand your need to know or even want you to find out who your parent was.

    • Great adds! Thanks Keli! With your DNA, how did you find a relative through it–did you get a hit on a specific database? Or was the blood test just to confirm?

      • Keli Gwyn says:

        The DNA report included information on possible matches. The “close match” was my half-sister. I contacted her, we compared information and we connected. 🙂

        • How did your sister’s DNA come into the system though is I guess what I’m wondering–did you suspect that you both might be related, and got tested, or was it happenstance that you submitted your DNA and she had at some earlier point in time and there was a match? Just wondering from the perspective of a character who is trying to find birth parents or siblings and having to start from scratch to find them.

      • Keli Gwyn says:

        The DNA test isn’t a blood test. The company that led to the match asked for a saliva sample.

  3. Very helpful and informative article. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Great ideas!! My character is thrust into her biological family after being ripped from the only family she’s ever known. Chaos ensues.

  6. Jay Hicks says:

    Oh wow! How timely this post is. I have a recluse, an elderly woman on the old family farm, everyone she ever loved has died. Out of the blue a set of twins arrive at the farm gate looking for their roots – a nephew and niece nobody knew existed – even her her soldier brother, their father, didn’t know as he was killed in action. Your post has given me so much to work with! What fun. Thanks.

  7. :Donna says:

    I’ve always been curious about my roots beyond what I know, but don’t have the time to make it a priority. I do love it as a mission for a character though!

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