In my school years I was diagnosed— not as having Asperger Syndrome but as being weird and unhappy, and the school that made the ‘diagnosis’ compelled my parents to take me to the kind of professional that I, at the time, called a headshrinker. One of my better shrinks, knowing I was intelligent, gave me a copy of the book ‘I’m OK, You’re OK,’ which was a popular book about a kind of psychology called ‘Transactional Analysis.’
Transactional Analysis insists that we all have three observable ‘ego states,’ which it calls the Parent, Adult and Child. In other words, your ‘You’ is divided into these three parts. The stuff you (or your fictional characters) say comes in one of these three voices.
The first of these three ego states is the Parent, which is composed of the memories of the stuff your parents, day care people, teachers and other caregivers said to you in childhood. Even though you think you have forgotten all this stuff, science shows that if the brain is stimulated you can uncover long-buried memories (at least in a lab for experimental purposes.) So it is all still in there.
Your fictional characters, if they are at all human-like, had parental figures in their early lives that influenced them. Even androids— remember how Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation was about his ‘father,’ the human that built him?
No matter how odd your character’s upbringing was, he has memories of what his authority figures said to him in early childhood. He has internalized much of this stuff— because that’s a survival skill. We need to learn to obey those useful parental mandates about not touching a hot stove or borrowing a wizard’s magic wand or playing with phasers.
Your Parent voice can have wrong or no-longer-accurate information in it as well. What if your character’s parents always said ‘never move in next door to a unicorn,’ because they once bought a house in a declining neighborhood where impoverished unicorns were moving in, but didn’t have the gold to repair their shabby new houses? And you have the chance to move into a house in a good neighborhood, but next door to a corporate CEO unicorn— who is a heck of a fellow and has season tickets to Green Bay Packer games which he shares around the neighborhood. The Parental mandate ‘no unicorn neighbors’ is not up to date in this situation.
A character with a personal history of massively abusive parents or caregivers will have different Parent content than a person who was raised around loving and kind people. But even loving parents can make a child feel ‘not OK’ because a child has to be corrected and taught a lot of things in childhood, and many of these things are hard to do at first. A little child, learning to tie his shoe for the first time, finds it hard and is dismayed that all the adults in his life can do it so easily.
Characters speak with their Parent voices often when in a parental or mentoring role, but even little kids have their own Parent mode and can use it— as when a four-year-old child hears his mother asking where the rolling pin is, and says ‘Where did you see it last’ to his mother in Parental mode. People also speak Parent-to-Parent when expressing ‘dogmatic’ Parental judgment on things— ‘the city buses are always late, aren’t they?’ ‘Young people have poor taste in music these days.’
The Parent is an important part of every character, because parents/caregivers are necessary for an infant’s survival. The internalized Parent sayings are an important part of every character you will ever write, so keep the character’s origin story in mind when writing the character— even when you don’t go into that backstory in the story itself.