Sunday, January 16, 2011

Finding Hiram Turnbloood

     After a couple of weeks hiatus, for various reasons, I got back to work on a couple of my writing projects.
     I had a couple of ideas to incorporate into my fantasy novel, and I needed to un-scramble my mystery series.
     You see, I've been planning out a series of mysteries set in a fictional Central Texas small town. I have a main character I like and a few possible story lines figured out. Early on I had great fun planning the town, based on my experiences with many different smallish towns over the years. Thinking of likely places of business and town characters has been interesting.
The program SimCity or The Sims might have been helpful for this process, I expect, but the way I was going, I may have gotten totally distracted by that process and forgotten my purpose of actually telling a story.
     So there I was, willy-nilly popping in characters and coming up with suitable names, with an eye on the whole series rather than just one novel. For this project, I'm actively using the free yWriter5 program I've written of previously. I set up one file for the overall series, treating each projected book as if it were one chapter for purposes of making notes and keeping them organized. Another file is set up for the one novel of that series I'm actively working on. The software has the capability of importing data from one file to the other, such as character files, etc.
     After some time of plugging in new ideas for the series, and working on the selected novel, a couple of things became evident. One, the list of characters in the book was digressing a bit from the list for the series. Two, I was losing track of the relationships of main and peripheral characters. Now, one of the telling characteristics of small towns is the appearance that literally all the old-timers are related to each other in some way. Not totally true, but it certainly seems that way.
     I realized as I went along that I couldn't just randomly establish that character A was an uncle to character B, or that C was an ex-wife of D. Before long that would get me into trouble. In fact,  I was already getting there. It wouldn't be so much of an issue in a one shot novel, but as a reader, I value some consistency in a series. Also, at least one of my projected story lines involved genealogy, so I decided I'd better get straight on it from the beginning.
     As I wrote in my blog on genealogy, I use the P.A.F. program from the L.D.S. folks for my genealogy pursuits. They have evolved a different name for it now, but I still think of it with the original name.
     I set up a genealogy file with that program for my townsfolk. I entered all my established characters into PAF. As I proceeded, I worked out ages and generations, who was related to who, and added a few new characters to round it all out. I actually came up with a few surprises for myself. Like "oh yeah, if this person is that one's aunt, that adds this interesting slant!"
     Yesterday I finished working it all out in the genealogy program. I printed out an alphabetized list of everyone (three columns on both sides of one sheet to save paper.) The list had names and birth dates. I went back to my story software, started correlating/adding new characters and filling in ages I now had established, marking them off the printed list as I went. I had to refer back to the genealogy now and then for relationships. "Oh yes, Susan is Claude's wife."
      I had one name left over.
     Hiram Turnblood.
     Who's that?
     I didn't recognize the name. Not a bad name. In fact, an appropriate name for the older generations of  my townsfolk. I just didn't remember who he was supposed to be. I looked in my original character list. Not there. I turned back to the genealogy program that produced the printed list. Hmm, he's not there either. No Turnblood family names, even. Not only is he not connected to anyone I entered, he does not exist in the program that generated the printout. He's there in black and white on the printout, he just doesn't exist anywhere prior to that.
     Hmmm. Okay, I guess he wants to be included. I added him to the story program character list. I don't know who he is, or what his purpose will be, but there he is. You hear writers talk about characters who take over the story, but this is totally out of left field. I wonder who he'll be.
     Maybe he'll be a Norwegian Bachelor Farmer type. (Prairie Home Companion reference, for the uninitiated.) 
     At least in my fictional world there's no shortage of potential jobs.

The Ultimate Writer's Name Book: A Novelist's, Screenwriter's, and Playwrighter's Resource for Naming Characters


  1. Wow you are organized! I write very loose outlines and character profiles when I start writing. And when it comes to a series skeleton is definitely bare bone. I add things as I progress.

    I see why it would be troublesome to have too many people related to each other in a series (can you say interbreeding?).

    Your process is extremely interesting, maybe if I were half as organized as you, I would be more productive.

    By the way, I would love to post 113 of your words on Pagan Fiction in 133 Words or Less. I hope you submit a thing or two ;-)

  2. Intriguing, I'll give it a shot Magaly.

    As to the series. Since it is so dependent on the town, I wanted to have a rudimentary map at least, as well as a consistent location for businesses, roads I use, etc.

    Small towns do sometimes seem, at least to an outsider, to be very inbred. The one I grew up near had a population of around 500 when I was in school there. My family had roots in all directions from there. It seemed like you couldn't throw a stick without hitting at least a distant relative.

    It felt important to retain some of that aspect but keep it real, and not a parody. To some it may seem like that anyway.

    Thank you for your comments. I enjoy them and your blog very much.

  3. Ha! I was most certainly joking about the inbreeding comment. I grew up in a village of less than 10 families; we were all related by marriage, but that was as far as it went. I miss it every day.

    By the way, "Beads" was a hit. Everybody loved it, me included. If you haven't, you should stop by Pagan Culture and read the comments of your fans ;-)