It's even useful for non-writers.
It's called Family.Show and it's a fantastic graphical genealogy program. I've been fumbling around with it and it is one of those serendipitous things that right at the moment when I was editing some of my manuscripts for submission (Yay! The Wild Rose Press asked for a partial!) I found exactly the program I needed for free. You see one thing I've been doing as a writer is creating a community of characters for my Regency novels. Many of the characters are related and what with one thing or another, I've been losing track of birth dates, physical traits, etc. I've used everything from MS Word documents to spreadsheets to a character database and it was just too difficult because I couldn't keep all the relationships straight. So I had been thinking of using a genealogy program to do it and voila! I get an RSS feed from Tim Sneath on exactly the same day when I realized I needed a genealogy program and guess what? The fabulous guys at Vertigo released this super-easy freebie program to show how WPF works (you can even download the source code—I mean how cool is that? — okay, I warned you that I'm a computer geek).
Here is what I really like about this, as opposed to all the other programs out there on the market. Besides the fact that it is free, of course.
You have little humanoid characters with lines and dates showing the relationships of the people (characters) you input, PLUS you can add pictures! PLUS you can add text (they call it "the person's story") where you can describe things like physical traits, etc. I've been adding at least the following:
- Eye color, hair color, distinguishing marks
- Personality type, dominate traits, bad habits, and general motivation: what makes this person do what they do
- Major issues
- Speech habits, pet phrases, etc.
This is just so cool because so many genealogical programs just don't have these free-form text areas and ways to include pictures. It is just so perfect for a writer developing their "stable of characters".
Here are pictures of what I have for Oriana Archer, the character in the manuscript just requested by The Wild Rose Press
As you can see, I visualized Oriana sort of like the actress Gene Tierney with the really sexy overbite.
If you click on the [Photos & Stories] button, you can add all the information about that character you could ever possibly want (as I show in the next image).
You see—here's the thing. I've used a lot of other software, including writing software which lets you drone on about characters all you want. Some of it even lets you add pictures or whatever.
But what was always missing was the graphic representation of the relationships and that's where genealogy software comes in handy. I'm not saying you have to use this software—even if it is tres chic. What I am saying is that sometimes, when you're developing your characters, the family relationships are important and finding a way to track those relationships can be a challenge.
One note: I'm not sure how long this stuff will stay free, which is why in addition to saving all my characters genealogy in Family.Show "format", I'm also saving it in the standard GEDCOM format which is used by a lot of genealogy programs. That way, if it ever comes down to the wire and I have to buy a real program, I can hopefully import all of my information.
There is one other point I wanted to make about all of this. I really like
creating an entire world in my manuscripts—which in my case is a world set during the Regency period in the early years of the 19th
century. But this is also done by Science Fiction writers, e.g. Frank Herbert's DUNE series, Andre Norton's Witch World books, and romance writers like Jennifer Crusie in some of her contemporary romances. Kristina Cook's
Regency Historicals also have related characters.
The point is that readers seem to enjoy stepping into this world created by the author and peopled with characters who really do have relationships and family trees. It becomes a real world and readers respond to that. If they like the characters, they enjoy reading about the character's brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins, aunts and uncles. It makes it more interesting and gives the characters more depth, but it also means keeping better track of traits, especially personality traits, so that you don't take a feisty optimist and turn her into a shy pessimist in subsequent novels.
That's where it's really handy to have some way, be it index cards or some cool new program, to keep track.
Anyway, enough for tonight. Enjoy and may all your wishes come true!