Branching Out

Last week I shared my main character’s family tree in all its scribbled glory. If you’ll notice, there’s an asterisk on the bottom left and next to it the list:

  • ages
  • names
  • short backstory on each

As I sat staring at my “finished” family tree, I decided at minimum I wanted to know each character’s age, their name, and at least one uniquely identifying characteristic or life experience. Time to scribble on another fresh sheet of paper.

(See below.)

On the far left of the page, I wrote how the character is related to my main character. The “(m)” means maternal (mom’s side of the family). The “(f)” means fraternal (dad’s side of the family). Yes, it should be a “(p)” for paternal. Heh heh. Oops.

Ages

This one was pretty easy. I determined the year in which my story takes place (2010) and did some elementary math to determine each character’s birth year.

Names

This category took a bit more thought, but with the help of the internet, it wasn’t so bad. There were many websites to help. I used the Social Security Administration’s and Baby Center’s.

For some historical credibility, I searched for the most popular names within the character’s birth year and then selected a name from the list that appealed to me. For instance, my main character’s mother was born in 1950. Using the Social Security Administration’s name searching utility, I searched for the top twenty names of 1950 and chose the fourteenth most popular name: Brenda.

By the way, if you’re trying to think up a last name, the United States Census Bureau’s website is a great place to look. You can download “File B: Surnames Occurring 100 more more times”, open the file up, and comb through a whopping 151,000+ surname ideas**. (My maiden name only appeared 234 times on the 2000 census.)

**Opening the file can be tricky because it’s rather large. If you are trying to open it, but are having trouble email me. I’ll be happy to help.

Backstory

This is the hardest category and requires the most creative brainstorming. I’m not going to go into much detail about it here because I haven’t tackled it yet. What I have done is highlight my minor characters in yellow. They will receive longer backstories (from a paragraph to a page each). The rest will receive one or two sentences each.

Like I said, of the three categories, crafting the backstories takes the most creative energy. By the time I’d decided on birth dates and names, my right brain felt like taking a coffee break. Or perhaps more aptly, it was bored and wanted to go find some new playground equipment to play on.

To be continued…