Saturday, October 26, 2013

Random Character Dossier

I was up late last night because a story line wouldn't let me sleep.  But instead of writing the story I was working out my main character's genealogy.  I've got as far as her parents and grandparents; their births, marriages, deaths and children.   Today I'm looking forward to fleshing out the aunts and uncles.  The family will be pretty important to the story so I need to know who is who, what their ages are and their family situations.  I've even gone so far as to make a family tree on my Family Tree Maker program.

Why spend so much time on the background of a character?   It gives history to the characters and keeps the details consistent.  And in the process I often find out things about the characters that I wouldn't have known otherwise.  For instance, I discovered that Christy's (MC) family lives long lives yet do not tend to have big families, her parents had a child every 5-6 years.  Her husband's family have a history of dying in their mid 40's to mid 50's and have had large families.  How did I discover this?  Through the use of one of my favorite tools, the Random Number Generator or RNG.

Here's how I make up a character's history:

  1. Go to Random Name Generator, set it to females, 10 names to a page and generate
  2. Go to and set it to pick from 1-10 and generate, I came up with Theresa Day this time 
  3. I want her to be between 23-29 yrs, so I enter 23 to 29 in the RNG and get....28, which means she was born in 1985.
  4. For her birthday, I enter 1 and 12 in the RNG and get 11, which makes it November, then enter 1 and 30 and get 2, which makes her birthday November 2, 1985.
I go on in this way to generate details for Theresa such as the state she lives in.  I look up a numbered list of the states in the US, generate a random number and get Wisconsin.  I can do this RNG for about any detail, as long as I have a list to generate a number for.  A list of careers?  Colleges?  Hobbies?  Phobias?  And so on until the details are enough for the character to be fleshed out.  I don't want to do too much so that there's always room for, randomness in my writing.

As the author I can of course override the results of the RNG any time.  But when I was doing this for a set of characters for a different book, I realized that the oldest of the 3 main women had the youngest child, that she would love to have lunch with Walter Mathau since he was a fellow New Yorker and could make her laugh.  I would never have thought up those details by myself because I am limited to my own sphere of experiences and thoughts.

And that is the beauty of the RNG.  It pulls me out of my own leanings, conscious or subconscious and into a wider world of discovery.

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