I mentioned a few days ago that I had officially started my new writing project. I’m working on a piece of fiction that is loosely based on the life of my grandmother.
In recent weeks I’ve been researching life in the small hamlet where she raised her children by reading compilations of stories about families who lived in the area over the years, and by doing more general research on life during the Great Depression because as that’s the time the story will be told in.
There’s another tool that’s been useful to me as well–Microsoft Excel.
I wanted to get a sense of my grandmother’s family of origin. Finding out where she came from is key to understanding the woman she ultimately began. So I combed through the family Bible jotting down names and dates; I cross referenced information with letters and information in the family history books; and the picture became clearer.
Some of her story I already knew. For example, I knew about her two brothers who were killed during World War I. But I didn’t know about her older sisters, two of whom died at four years of age six years apart. Until I put this information down in a spreadsheet I didn’t know her age in relation to her siblings, how old her parents were when she was born, or how old she was when they died. I’m a visual person and seeing the information in this manner has been invaluable to me.
As I study the ages of individuals at various times I find myself considering various possibilities for why things happened the way they did and this helps shape my story. Seeing that Belle (my grandma) and Abby were so young when their sister Laura June died gives me an opportunity to imagine how the event may have impacted the young girls. I’ll be using this tool throughout the process of writing as I fill in pieces of the fictional story of the lives of the characters I’m writing about.
Now, I’m turning my focus toward character worksheets, a tool I learned about from author Jody Hedlund. I’ve got one started for each of the main characters and it’s helping me form a clearer vision of who they are and how they relate to one another. It’s allowing these characters to come alive in my mind, to become real to me, so I can write about them, not as one dimensional paper cutouts, but as complex characters with hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows.
What tools of the trade do you employ in your own writing life?