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:
- Go to Random Name Generator, set it to females, 10 names to a page and generate
- Go to Random.org and set it to pick from 1-10 and generate, I came up with Theresa Day this time
- 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.
- 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.
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.