Keeping It In The Family

by limebirddennis

As it’s only two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and today is NaNoPrep Day, I have been thinking about what my novel will be this year. I thought that I would share the process with you – and ask you all to share how you go about generating your ideas.

While tossing around various options for NaNoWriMo I was also idly looking at a spreadsheet that my sister has put together (a very small version of one branch is below). She is seriously into genealogy and has produced a very detailed family tree going back over two thousand years!

I was thinking about the various stories that such a spread of people, times, and places represented. Then I moved on to how these stories could be linked together in some way. In the comments of other Limebird posts I have talked about how I really get into research, and so it shouldn’t surprise you that I spent quite a few hours looking at the lives of some of the people on the family tree. What I wanted to find were events that happened during the 12th year, 13th year etc. of my ancestor’s lives to see if I could hang an overarching narrative on them all.

Then it all clicked!

I have been describing the result as a Young Adult cross between Quantum Leap, Assassin’s Creed and Stargate!

Not wanting to give too much away; I now have a broad outline of The Helix Key series (the first five books anyway) all based upon my own family tree. The protagonist is Shara my granddaughter (as I don’t have any grandchildren she is imaginary) who was born in 2041. Earth is preparing for its first interstellar mission, and this draws her into a centuries-spanning secret.

The King’s Jewel (889AD)
12 year old Shara is sent back in time to inhabit the body of 12 year old Princess Ælfryth (my 36-grands Grandmother). Set during the politically difficult time following the death of Athelstan (King of East Anglia) she has to get the (real) Ælfred’s Jewel to the monastery at Athelney so that it can be found in 1693. She also has to deal with the prospect of getting married to the 27 year old Count of Flanders!

The Magi’s Gift (4BC)
This time 13 year old Shara is a boy (which does NOT please her!) the prince will grow up to be Marcomir III of the West Franks (my 70-greats Grandfather). Due to his father’s (who was an astronomer and diviner) war with the Romans, Marcomir is sent to the Levant where he travels with an astronomer following a strange star.

The Conqueror’s Sword (1055AD)
Shara inhabits the body of 14 year old Muriel Conteville (my 31-greats Grandmother). Her half brother is 27 year old nobleman who will become William the Conqueror. She has to ensure that he finds the sacred sword that he will carry into battle.

The Dissenter’s Scroll (1791AD)
Once again Shara is a boy, 15 year old James Chantrill (my 4-greats Grandfather). He is a labourer’s son who has to brave the mob and save an ancient scroll from Joseph Priestley’s library during the Birmingham Riots.

The War in Heaven (2057AD)
In the concluding book, all of the different threads are brought together and 16 year old Shara has to help protect the Earth as its first interstellar mission brings unwelcome attention.

All of the characters above are actual ancestors of mine. However, you will see from the timeline that I have included my 60-greats Grandfather Odin! Historians say that this was a bit of poetic licence by Anglo Saxon chroniclers – I know different!

How do you go about generating ideas for stories?

Have you used real family members in fictional settings?


23 Responses to “Keeping It In The Family”

  1. That is well impressive Dennis!! My way of preparing has been to raid all the threads of half stories I’ve thought of and written on the years and try and bash them into some sort of order. Not sure how it’ll turn out, my descriptive language is a bit blah at the moment. Should do what Blackadder did: ‘Edmund: A Butler’s Tale’ Over 400 chapters crammed with sizzling gypsies! Good luck and yours looks like such an original approach too, brill.

    • Thanks for your comment Cat, I’m having fun with it and haven’t even started the writing yet!

      Good luck in cramming some sizzling gypsies into your novel!

  2. My goodness, you have thought deeply about this, and sound well prepared!

    I’m normally not a planner, but in order to avoid potential brick walls during NaNo, I’ve planned fairly meticulously (well, meticulously for me anyway!). I’ve decided on 30 chapters of 2,000 words each, so that’s one chapter a day over the month, which obviously equals 60,000 words, which is 10,000 higher than the NaNo goal. The reason I’ve done this is that it gives me some breathing space if I miss a day or two, or if I just can’t seem to get much out on a couple of days – I’d rather aim higher than what I actually need to achieve. And I am now writing out just one sentence for each chapter about what will happen in that chapter. Just basic info to show the progression of the story. So hopefully on each NaNo day, it will make it easier if I know what I need to achieve that day in terms of story development. We’ll see if it works!

    I’m also doing my subject research this month.

    • I bounce backwards and forwards Vanessa. My first year I completely ‘pantsed’ it as I only heard about NaNoWriMo on 31st October. Last year I did like you, I planned 30 chapters, one for each day – I think that approach (due to the time restriction) really works.

      Good luck this year!

  3. My mother is totally into geneaology and is always taling about this ancestor or that ancestor. I keep telling her she needs to write it all down in one place for easy access. Until now I hadn’t thought how her info might help me with a story! But this post really got my brain cooking on an idea. Maybe not for NaNo this time around, or NaNo at all, but an eventual story.

    I want to be more of a planner for NaNo this year, but as each day goes by that I don’t get to work on the outline, I realize I may be pantsing this one. It’s okay, I’ve pantsed before, but I think it creates more problems for me in the long run.

    I like Vanessa’s and your idea about crafting 2,000-word chapters each day. Maybe I’ll aim for that…

    • I look forward to hearing more about your family inspired story.

      You still have two weeks to plan your novel, even if it is only one or two sentences per chapter.

  4. This is an amazing idea Dennis and with such a rich family history you couldn’t ask for better characters really!
    This is my first NaNo and I only decided to have a go because I had a small spark of an idea while brainstorming with limebirdbeth. Most of my ideas originate with a setting (the past, the future, a war, a forest) then I sit and really think about how people would live/interact within that setting, once you delve deeply into that image stories normally come to me without too much effort.

    The idea about planning the chapters is an idea I hadnt thought of and one which I will be adopting so Thank You!

  5. Also may I add that if you really are related to Odin you are the coolest person I have ever encountered! 😛

    • Thanks for your comments Sophie.

      I can relate to your experience of a small spark of an idea growing into a story. Good luck with fanning a spark into your first NaNovel!

      As for me being the coolest person that you’ve ever encountered, in the words of Francis Urquhart “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment” :p

  6. Wow, how fascinating Dennis! I’ve never used real family members in fictional settings before, but it sounds interesting. I’d love to do my family tree, it’s amazing what we can find out. Your story sounds really original, which I like! My ideas normally just spring out of nowhere! haha

  7. Most of my ideas spring from one tiny seed, a word or a phrase. This was different as I had tons of research already done for me by my sister.

    However, I’ve safely restricted myself to long dead ancestors; it would be interesting to see if writers here have risked using living family members in their fiction!

  8. Wonderful post Dennis, how incredibly creative. Love the sci-fi angle too. I can’t wait to read this when you’re ready for a beta-reader, k?? I’m number one. lol.
    Vanessa, loved your response to this too. It’s a really good plan and I think I will try that too. It gives me something definite to plan for, when I only have an outline of the story and a general idea of how I want it to end. This gives me some structure to follow and an ending to work toward. I also like the idea of overplanning the daily count, giving yourself some breathing room.
    I’m SO glad I read this, thank you for your advice, both!

  9. Very cool! A great premise like this has huge potential to translate into a commercial success. I’ve also been putting together my NaNo ideas, and look forward to seeing them on the page. It’s my first year, so I’m brimming with virgin optimism! 🙂

    • Well, Jack, I can hope! It should be fun writing it anyway.

      The first year can seem like a mountain to climb, but good luck with winning.

  10. Dennis, you put me to shame. I am in awe at your planning. For NaNo this year, I’ve planned a beginning, a middle and an end, and I’ve written a small reminder card on two of the main characters.

    In a similar response as LimeBirdBeth, my ideas generally pop into my head and I run with them as long as I can.

    I’ve never used real family members in any of my stories. My cousin, however, had his first debut book as his autobiography (Running for the Hills, Horatio Clare).

    I love the sound of your series. I hope you go all the way and I’m looking forward to buying them and reading the completed works myself one day. Right now, though, I’m definitely thinking I need to go and do more planning…

    • It’s horses for courses; some people do lots of planning, others almost none. Whatever works for you is best for you.

      Using family members in fiction is one thing, an autobiography is another (recently read about the law suit against Harry Belafonte by his half-brother over “My Song: A Memoir”).

      Good luck with the planning.

  11. I am in love with everything I’ve just read here. I love this idea! It’s so imaginative and …. well it’s just awesome. I can see this going places sir, good luck with Nano!


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