I have two characters near the beginning of my story, who are brother and sister. I want the reader to know right away, as the two are talking (they are alone), that they are brother and sister, but I'm not sure how to do this naturally without it coming across as forced.

How would two siblings address each other in a way it would automatically reveal their relationship? Could I write something like:

"Brother... are you sure we're on the right path?"

Or is that too "unnatural"? Would most siblings refer to each other by name? And to make the answers more universally helpful: what about other types of relationships (married, friends, associate)?

  • 1
    Is there a reason you can't say it in narration? "She looked at her brother"? Commented May 5, 2017 at 13:50
  • @LaurenIpsum Yeah: there is no narrator. It's pure dialog in a visual medium (probably should've mentioned that... oh well)
    – user23083
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 9:40

3 Answers 3


All you have to do is include the word "mum" or "dad" somewhere in the conversation.

"Dad bought another car."

"Again? What's wrong with the last one?"

She grinned. "It didn't sufficiently misrepresend his dwindling masculinity"

Edit: Something like "She looked at her brother" doesn't have to sound forced. Think it of as a weaker version of "She couldn't believe her own brother just said/did that". If the brother does something unexpected first then this is appropriate.


The answer to this is crushing simple. You tell us that they are brother and sister.

"Pass the butter," Pamela said.

"Get it yourself," her brother replied.

Don't try to slip information into dialog that naturally and properly belongs in narration. It will always sound forced and unnatural and there is no earthly reason to do it.

If you are doing this in service of "show don't tell", learn a new rule: Show when appropriate. Tell when appropriate.

In a screenplay, this would be a genuine problem. One of the advantages of the novel format is that you don't have to jump through hoops to convey these simple pieces of information. Take advantage of the liberty that the form gives you.

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    The admonition against telling in favor of showing must be tempered by Orwell's final rule of writing: "Break all of these rules rather than say something barbarous."
    – EvilSnack
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 2:32

While not all siblings refer to their siblingness, it's a common enough thing to let you work something in that will sound natural:

Not the first time I've wished I'd gained a little sister instead of a little brother!

Wow, you look so much like Mum with your hair that way

I talked to Dad about next week, and ...

Are you sure we're related? Sometimes I can't even believe you're my brother

Tell that new girl that if she breaks your heart I'll be all over her in full big-sister mode!

And so on. While some of my siblings do call me by a sibling moniker ("Hi, big sis, how's it going?") most don't and I think it's the least natural approach to showing this.

Failing that, just give one of them a chance to talk about the other with someone else.

Steve's phone rang. "Can I call you back? I'm visiting my sister at the moment."

Hi Jane, have you met my sister, Elaine?

The lady at the store assured me that little sisters love it when their big brothers bring them chocolate.

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    I like most of your examples, but a couple stick out as unnatural. "Are you sure we're related? Sometimes I can't even believe you're my brother." Real siblings resort to much nastier observations ;) Commented May 5, 2017 at 18:23
  • "I wanted new bycicle, not a little sister, and I was right!"
    – gilhad
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 12:14

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