Category Archives: How I write

All in a Day’s Work.

How are your fictional characters employed? A hardscrabble dystopian wanderer can live off the land for a short time, but in other genres it’s not realistic for people to have no visible means of support: even Edward Fairfax Rochester of Jane Eyre had to manage his farmland and investments, so he could hire a governess and pay other servants – especially Grace Poole, who minded the madwoman locked in the attic suite.

Characters’ jobs may have little to do with the plot, but what they do for a living is a part of their background that can influence back-story. At the very least, work is a competing demand on a character’s time that will dictate when the story can plausibly take place, such as over a weekend, or during a vacation.

In Irish Firebrands, leading man Dillon is a journalist who also does television reporting, and he rents out his ancestral farm. His rival, Frank, is an organic dairy farmer. Among supporting characters, Paula is her brother Frank’s partner in the dairy, and she makes artisan cheese (her husband is a schoolteacher); Eilish is a librarian; and the Sweeney family operates a hardware shop and a garden center with a greenhouse.

Leading lady Lana is a professional genealogist. Her purpose in going to Ireland is to conduct family history research for a client back home, but during her stay she gets involved with Dillon’s search for his roots. In Chapter 7, she shows him how to record his research, using these two forms (click to enlarge):

pedigree chartfam grp rec

Lana took some papers from beneath the box of documents. “Like everything else in life, in genealogy you’ve got paperwork. But there are really only two important forms, and they’re not too complicated. This one’s a pedigree chart. It’s used to record vital statistics for yourself and three generations of direct line ancestors.”

Dillon pulled a pen from the inside breast pocket of his jacket, but Lana proffered a pencil. “This one’s a working copy. We might have to make corrections.” She cleared space on the table.

“Good idea.” He looked at her with pencil poised, as if ready to take dictation. Suppressing a smile, she pointed to a blank line at the top of the paper.

“This is chart number one.” She indicated a line halfway down on the left side. “And you are person number one.”

Dillon muttered while he wrote. “Born … place … married … place died – not yet – in spite of the gobshites who’ve tried to change that … and … spouse….” He looked up from the paper. “There’s a place for Mo’s name, but not her dates.”

“That’s because she gets her own chart, for her side of the family. But if you’re not going to do one for her family, you can add her information below her name.”

“Okay…. What’s next?”

“You see the fine print that says, ‘Father of no. 1’, ‘Mother of no. 1’, and so forth? This means that except for number one, who can be either sex, males are always listed on the even numbered lines – the top ones – and females on the bottom ones. Using this convention avoids confusion if you draw your own charts or use some that don’t have those reminders. Then, when you get to the fourth generation, you start a new chart, where number one will be the same as number eight on chart one, and so on.”

“Got it.” Dillon watched Lana pick up another paper. “Now what?”

“Each couple on the pedigree chart is a family, and we document it on a family group record. Parents are at the top, children are listed below, and you use as many continuation pages as needed, to record all the kids. This one’s for you and Mo.”

“But Mo and I didn’t have – a family.” He looked troubled.

She spoke as gently as she could. “Even a childless couple is a family.”

Then she drew the box of documents closer, and demonstrated as she spoke. “All the family group records go behind the pedigree chart they belong to, and documentation that belongs to each family member goes with that family’s group record. If a document was created during a person’s childhood, it goes with the family group record where that person appears as a child. Records for unmarried adults stay with their parents, but documents created after a person married go with the form that shows him as a spouse.”

She took a manila envelope from the document box. “This is the file for your family with Mo. I put in your marriage certificate and her death certificate. If you don’t start a file for Mo’s parents, you can put in her birth certificate. But your birth certificate will go into the file for your parents.” She handed the packet to Dillon.

“I see.” He put the forms he’d completed into the envelope. He pushed the pile of papers in the document box to one side, and he stood the envelope on edge in one end. “So, what about my photos?”

“If you don’t store them in albums, you can use the same filing system. Some may seem hard to file because of their subjects – like a photo showing two or more families. You could make copies to file with each family, or file it with one family and make a cross-reference page for the others.”

Lana placed blank forms and empty envelopes into the box of documents. “To get you started, I’ve provided forms and envelopes for each family on your first pedigree chart, plus a couple of extras.”

©2012-2014 by Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved

To help you get started on your own genealogy – or, if you write massive family sagas with several generations of characters you need to keep track of – Lana has provided PDF copies of the forms she and Dillon used. To download, just click on the Genealogy Forms icons in the sidebar.



Filed under Fiction, Genealogy, How I write, Novels, Uncategorized, What I write, What I write about

How’s My Driving?


I’ve always wondered how drivers who keep both hands on the steering wheel are expected to contact those companies who painted, “How’s my driving?” and their toll-free telephone numbers on the backs of their trucks. Cruising on the Interstate at 75mph probably is not the smartest time to break the mobile phone law to tell Corporate that the wheels have come off their wagon. I guess we’re supposed to have somebody riding shotgun with us, for that express purpose.

Because I’m pushing 100 posts, I’ve put a blog feedback form (“Rate My Driving”) on the Guestbook & Feedback menu. The rating includes these characteristics:


Rating System

4 = Awesome!
3 = Good!
2 = Okay….
1 = Meh.

So, “How’s my driving?” Responses are anonymous, and you don’t even need a helper in the passenger seat. Thanks! 🙂


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Filed under Blogging, How I write, Uncategorized, What I write, What I write about

I Know Why The Penned Duck Quacks.

640px-HausenteI spent seven of my growing-up years in the company of a runt Pekin duck called Drusilla. Her nest was in a recycled doghouse, and she liked to cuddle up to the former occupant of said doghouse. What Beauregard the beagle thought of her friendship could be surmised by his air of long-suffering, and when he got bored with her company, he would escape through the duck-proof opening in the tool shed door, to the privacy of his lavish quarters within.

In her domain – the picket-fenced back yard of a bedroom community quarter-acre lot – Drusilla was fearless. Every morning, she boldly raised her voice to join the dawn chorus, uttering a six-syllable clarion cacophony to call the world to attention. Then she’d devote her day to expertly preening the grass of parasites, which she’d recycle into eggs that Beauregard would crack and lap up with gusto, and guano that kept the back lawn lush and green. Every year, after she molted, we had to clip her pinfeathers, to prevent her flying into danger that a runty duck wouldn’t live to regret. But when she was carried beyond the fence, she would squat where she was set down, and refuse to budge. She wouldn’t de-bug the flower borders, nor even venture across the front yard to paddle in the shallow ditch that drained the lawns of the houses on our street.

When our writing carries us through the gate in the fence, do we assume a low profile that protects our work from challenge by gatekeepers toting tablets of storytelling commandments that define acceptable limits to our art?

David_by_Michelangelo_in_The_Gallery_of_the_Accademia_di_Belle_ArtiWhat if Michelangelo had heeded critics who dissed his decision to work a 17-foot long block of badly weathered stone?

What if he’d bowed to experts and hacked up another mountain of marble into more manageable chunks?

1280px-PietaRomeMichelangelo had mastered the tools of his art, so he could proceed fearlessly with whatever size or shape of project he pleased, no matter where it took him.

We’re all funny ducks, here, quacking in the wilderness. But we’re talented artists, too. As long as we devote ourselves to mastering quality language that will keep our writing out of danger of chaos, we can bravely bring forth works for readers who will gladly carry our writing into the gardens of their own minds and hearts.

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Filed under How I write, Uncategorized, Who I am, Why I write