I'm starting to feel a little nomadic in my career path. For about 12 years, I worked in the IT department of a large metropolitan hospital where I designed and developed about 30 software applications with corresponding databases and also planned out the transition from custom software to a new multi-million dollar system. A lot of the time was spent diagramming and documenting processes, data flow, user requirements, and even detailed function calls. (This is where the nerdliness of this post stops - I hope you are still here.)
Now I'm writing novels, specifically a historical fiction series that's also a family saga. I think diagramming function calls is profoundly easier than mapping out the details for these novels. Yikes.
I am happy to say, I have finally named my characters. This is a huge check mark off my to-do list.
To decide on character names, I took names from my family tree on both sides of the family including siblings of each person - there were a terrifyingly huge number of siblings, like one baby a year until the mother died.
I made separate lists of male and female first names. Then I listed last names and added to that list last names I thought would be reasonable like Crabtree and McKinley. Then I jumbled it all up to create character names that don't correspond to anyone I'm actually related to. Some of my more senior relatives would be pissed if I used real names, especially since it's fiction...dark tragic fiction.
To manage the characters' names and relationships, I created multiple family tree charts (pedigree style) using Publisher. From what I gather, the pedigree family tree is a sideways tree that starts with one person and lists only their immediate ancestors. I wanted to list the siblings of the character I was mapping as well as their children, so I added boxes as well as a bar at the bottom to note the historical events that are important in the story. It ended up looking sort of like this:
(If anyone has a use for something like this, I have no problem sharing out the file.)
The next step was to assign birth dates to each character while keeping in mind the historical context of each novel. One of my characters needs to go to the mental hospital in 1940 because they stopped doing electroshock therapy in 1941. That means she has to have had her second child in 1940 for the plot to work. I knew how old I wanted her to be when she had that child, so I set her birth date to 1920.
I realized I had complete chaos because different trees started in different generations than others. (And I wanted to cry.) To make it easier for me to line up characters of the same generation across different trees, I put a label on the document to note the generation. Generation 1 for the series (the most recent characters) is born around 1920, Generation 2 around 1900, etc. So far, my series has eight generations and several families.
When I figure out how to diagram historical dates to individual characters' lives and also note where individual novels begin and end, I'll report back. I think I need something with a grid in the background.
I am absolutely open to suggestions if anyone has done this. I wish I had a copy of Rational Rose, software we used to diagram detailed function calls, which are essentially cause and effect relationships.