Family Trees: Get to the Root of Your Characters

I’m in my dream class on mythology right now, and our professor had us make a family tree for the Mesopotamian creation story. The tree is a vertical line of boxes for several generations, not exactly what you’d call healthy by our standards. But there’s only so much you can do when you start with one or two creator deities emerging from primordial chaos. It was interesting to hear the reactions of everyone who’d never exactly been exposed to the type of godly incest that occurs in most creation myths.

I can’t say I’ve written any families as strange as the Mesopotamian gods, but I certainly have written families. It’s kind of a requirement, really–a character must come from somewhere. When I plan out a character’s family, I can’t usually get very far without drawing some sort of visual aid. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter who your protag’s great-great-great grandmother was, but in the Book of the Dead (my current project), it does, because that character is in the book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to . tick the generations of grandmothers off on my fingers.

Family Echo is a cool online family tree maker that can probably help some people out with that, if you want to see everything very neat and orderly. It’s very customizable, and has an option for a nonbinary gender as well as adding character details/info. So go crazy! I might make some mythological trees on it, now that I think about it. I’ll post the chaos on my tumblr blog if I do.

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What’s in a Name?

Naming can be hard. Sometimes you have a first name but no last one. Sometimes it’s historical and you have no idea what would be appropriate. Sometimes you know everything about a character except. their. damn. name. It’s an icky feeling to stick a placeholder name onto them knowing that it’s just not right. Here are some awesome naming resources I’ve collected over the years, from historical lists to generators to baby name sites. Enjoy!

Victorian Era Names: 1840s to 1890s, from old censuses

Medieval English Names: some really cool names

Most Popular Baby Names by the Decade: since the 1880s

Least Popular American Baby Names Historically: if you want to mix things up a little

Behind the Name: etymology and history from a variety of surnames from around the world

“American Indian” Names That Don’t Have The Meaning They’re Supposed To: for avoiding faux pas

The Nerd’s Eye View: a blog that posts a lot of cool names alphabetically, real and fantasy

Last Name Generator: Insert first name, receive suitable last name

Fantasy Name Generator: an almost overwhelming amount of generators, from robot names to holy book names

Nymbler: find names that are similar to other names; good for if you have a name that’s almost the right one, but not quite

Nameberry: has names by place, unsure how accurate they may be to said locations

Recalibrating

I’m over halfway through the current round of revision of The Book of the Dead, which has been going swimmingly. Until yesterday. I was in the middle of one of my favorite scenes, about to re-introduce a character, when…bam, all of the sudden I can see an arc for him that I have never contemplated.

It literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to write down the bare bones of the idea, close my laptop, and stop working to let it incubate.

On one hand, it’s fairly late in the game to be making a big change. This was supposed to be a semi-final draft (if such a thing even exists). On the other, the new trajectory that came to me in a flash solves about three problems that I’d been worrying over: one about representation, one about reception, and one about pacing.

So today, when I was supposed to be polishing up a chapter, I am about to re-structure three. We’ll see how it turns out.