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Writing is a form of playing God. One takes the clay of words and molds and forms them and breathes life into one’s characters. Oh, but perhaps that is the sixth day of creation? One starts with a void, a blank page, and separates the land of plot from the waters of possibility. Or, perhaps one licks one’s world or one’s characters into existence from the ice as Audhumla licked out the first frost giant, Ymir? Perhaps each author of fictions has his own method, and yet, they boil down to the same in the end. One has to have plot, characters, and the other elements of a story to build the story from.
I have a series of Science Fiction/Alternative History books I have been working on. They are not truly novels. They are more a group of short stories in a family saga grouped around a historical period and events with history gradually changing and distancing itself from the history we know and have experienced. The premise starts with a genetically-modified human showing up in rural North Carolina in 1700 and builds from there with his descendants inheriting his modified genes, reproducing, and spreading further and further around the world in a ripple effect.
Creating characters for this series is, in some ways, quite simple. It is almost like rolling the dice for characters in a Role-Playing Game (RPG), except instead of aspects such as race, luck, charisma, strength, and so forth, the generator I created has elements such as height, number of marriages, number of children, age at death, birthday, and so forth. Thus I started with the progenitor character, found him a wife, generated their children who married and had children, and so forth until it sounds like portions of the Bible with all the begettings.
There is a catch, though. Most of the characters’ spouses are historical figures. Oh, not all. It’s hard to find much information about the lower classes or average people from that period of time. Some have to be fictional. But the modified genes help this family thrust themselves up into the highest echelons of society, so I have an excuse to pull in historical figures and mess with their marriage prospects. For instance, I find myself constantly righting the injustices of history. What sort of injustices?
Righting the Wrongs of History
Well, there was the patrimony and titles of John Scrymgeour, first Earl of Dundee. Scottish titles were different from English titles. Scottish titles could go to any heir, often whether male or female, and even if the next heir was third cousin to the first guy who had the title. So, when John Scrymgeour died a distant cousin named Reverend James Scrymgeour should have inherited. But the nobleman running Scotland for the king—King Charles II was busy down in London at the time getting it on with half the female population of Earth—declared that Dundee had no living heirs and that the title was extinct and the property now belonged to the guy set in charge by the king. Nice work if you can get it. The problem for my story was that John Scrymgeour died in 1668, and my story wasn’t even beginning until 1700. Beyond that, when I read about Scrymgeour, I already had the first two volumes in the series out, and was up to 1778, so was 110 years beyond being able to help, right?
However, the family’s genetic modifications can produce robust psychic powers and even an ability to travel in or manipulate time. After all, some guy showing up in the year 1700 didn’t get his genetic code modified earlier than that year. Of course, some form of time travel is involved. I sent one of the young, female family members back in time to 1642 to marry the Earl of Dundee and have his children so nobody would mistake the fact that he had heirs. (Of course, he was just plain John Scrymgeour at that time.)
(For those wondering about poor old Reverend James Scrymgeour’s losing out in real history and my history, I gave him one of the earl’s daughters as a wife with a nice dowry, plus he wound up as an archbishop. Sure, the real guy mightn’t have appreciated that, but he never objected as I did it.)
But really, sending a girl back 136 years was a stupid thing to do.
Why? Because now I have to trace that section of the family forward from 1642 to 1778 before I know what the background is for the next volume. Have I mentioned yet that the family members tend to live about twice as long as average, have plenty of children, and not die easily, such as from the childhood diseases of the time that took out about a quarter of those born? Let’s say that each family character produces an average of ten surviving children and those children each produces an average of ten surviving children and so forth. In 136 years, there are about five generations, so that’s ten to the fifth power, and suddenly I’m generating an extra 100,000 characters to get back to the present. Of course, multiple births also run in the family, so twins and triplets are not unusual, and ten children per may be a low average, even adding in the family members who do die young or otherwise do not reproduce at all. But let’s just say that it’s 100,000 family members, many of whom will be dead before that 136 years is up, but still providing plenty of new characters to have stories about in the next volume. This is why I have split the next volume, which only covers two-and-a-half years, into six volumes. I have a lot more stories to tell.
But Wait, There’s More!
Except, I’m not that smart. No, I added at least four other time travelers. Now, one was a man who decided to take vows of chastity, celibacy, and so forth, so did not have any children back in time. But the other three? Women who married and had children. What’s wrong with these characters? Why do they do such things to make my life harder? (I think it may be a problem with the author, but that’s a minor detail.) There are so many interesting people in history that could be included if we only send a family member just a few years farther back.
My database currently has 41,596 people in it. Some are historical characters, but most are members of this fictional, genetically-modified family.
Hint for young writers: Don’t try this at home.
Now, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with raining cats and dogs? It’s how the whole process works. I may be generating hundreds of these family members to find a story that is set around 1778. I may start with a historical character, say Sir William D’Avenant. D’Avenant was interesting because he was supposedly Shakespeare’s, uh, natural son. For those who don’t know, “natural child” is a polite way of saying his parents weren’t married, or at least not to each other. He was himself a poet and poet laureate for Charles I and Charles II. I found a female member of the family from one of these time-traveling branches and married them off. In this case, I thought it would be best to get this fellow married off to a hot redhead before in reality, in our historical timeline, he went and caught syphilis and wound up losing part of his nose among other things.
Well, that was easy. Now, D’Avenant lived from 1606 to 1668, so to find a story in 1778, we have to bring things forward. We generate the twenty children that he and his wife have. We’ll take his eldest son, William, Jr. and find him a wife. William, Jr., according to the old spreadsheet, only lived to be fifty-one, dying in 1681. That only brings us forward thirteen years. That doesn’t help much. Finding a wife for a character back then can be difficult. Usually, one has to find somebody else’s wife and have that other guy marry one of the female family members so the male family member can marry his wife.
Enter Elizabeth Ferrers. Elizabeth was a rich heiress whose father died when she was six. Her grandfather died the same year, making her extremely wealthy. Her mother remarried and then died two years later, leaving Elizabeth in the control of her step-father and his family. Since he was now a widower, he had his brother and sister-in-law given custody of the young and very, very wealthy orphan. Eventually, at the grand old age of fourteen, she was married off to the son of another brother of her step-father. This sixteen-year-old nephew of her step-father was now in charge of her estate, since the laws back then meant a husband controlled his wife’s money. He immediate sold off some of her land. His family had backed the (temporarily) wrong side in the Civil War and had huge fines imposed by Parliament. They used her wealth to get back into a good financial position. Then she died, fairly young and without issue, meaning her husband got to keep the rest of her wealth and pass it on to his children by his next wife. Have I mentioned that I don’t like injustice? I have the keyboard here to rewrite history.
The problem is that I can’t just marry her off to William D’Avenant, Jr. without changing some other things. First, I have to find a different wife for her step-father so he won’t be available to marry her mother. Then I need to find a different man to marry her mother and be her step-father. It wouldn’t hurt if this guy were wealthy enough to not be tempted by Elizabeth’s wealth, so a wealthy merchant, and one of Willy, Jr.’s maternal uncles happens to fit the bill. It’s also convenient in that it brings her in contact with her step-father’s nephew to get to know him. She is not forced into marriage at a ridiculously young age and lives a bit longer with this marriage and has children to inherit her wealth.
Thus I now generate their children, and as with his father’s marriage, this marriage also brings twenty children. The eldest son is William D’Avenant, III. According to the character generator, he lives to be thirty, dies in the same year as his father, has seventeen children, and is mainly a merchant like his paternal granduncle who married his maternal grandmother. Wait, dies at thirty and has seventeen kids? His poor wife. There’s going to have to be some twins and triplets here. Also, he dies only nine months after his father, only bringing us to the end of 1681. We’re not getting to 1778 very quickly, but let’s see what the next generation brings. After all, members of this family can live very long lives, up to 150, and we’re less than a hundred years away.
Enter Rebecca Rawson. Rebecca grew up in Massachusetts and married a man who brought her back to England. They left their trunks, which had her substantial dowry in them, in a location out of her sight for the night upon arriving in England. The next morning, her husband brought her trunks and then disappeared. She was surprised by this and also surprised by the fact that the keys to the trunks were missing. With her husband gone, she finally had some men break the locks and open her trunks to find that her dowry was gone. All that sweet, sweet wealth had disappeared with her husband. She soon found out that her husband had taken the money and run back to his real wife under his real name. She also found she was with child after their long journey from Massachusetts. She managed to make a living in London for several years before she decided to take her child and go back to Massachusetts. One of the stops on the way was Jamaica, and she just happened to be there for the earthquake that swallowed the main town and died at age thirty-six. Rebecca died at thirty-six, not the town. It was older. And it came back to life. It’s not dead yet, just ask it. Anyway, talk about a gal who can’t get any breaks.
The author intervenes and has Willy, III go to Massachusetts as a merchant seaman, meeting Rebecca before she was swindled, and bringing her back home to England where her dowry pales in comparison to his mother’s inheritance and does not get stolen.
By this time, I am determined to have a story about a William D’Avenant, so Willy, III’s eldest son and heir has to be William D’Avenant, IV. What does the generator say? William, IV only lives to be thirty-eight and takes us to 1711. Oh, for crying out loud! This is like a curse. One of his younger brothers lives for 140 years and takes us to 1821, but the heir who gets all of his grandmother’s land? When it rains, it pours. Alright, let’s see what we can do. His main occupations are as a business broker and estate manager, meaning his own estates in this case. Who can we find to marry him?
Lady Catherine Graham is the daughter of Richard Graham, First Viscount Preston. My previous messing with the timeline means that the man she would have married would never exist since his grandfather married someone else, so had a crop of children that did not include his father, etc. So, Catherine is available for marriage, and because her father was an idiot, the family needed to marry well. Catie, it is then. They have nineteen children together.
Next comes William D’Avenant, V. The generator says that he dies at the grand old age of twenty-six. Oh, for the love of Cod! There really must be a curse. This only brings us to 1719, only eight years after his father died. This can’t last forever. He is only going to have five children, including two sons.
Rummaging through history, I find Lady Rachel Cavendish, the daughter of a duke. Some folks might have the impression that people married younger back a few hundred years ago, especially after reading about Elizabeth Ferrers above. Fourteen? Really? But the average age for a woman to marry was between twenty-two and twenty-five. For a man, the average marrying age might be thirty, especially among the upper classes. It allowed a man to get established or for his father to die off and leave him the inheritance built up over generations. Lady Rachel was one of those who married when she was a bit older. But there’s no reason she couldn’t have that husband in a second marriage after her first marriage to Willy, V, who died off in 1719.
With marrying into the nobility for a couple of generations, there were different expectations of the next generation. The most common noble occupations other than landowner were the British Army, the Royal Navy, or the Church of England. Sons in any of these occupations could also be politicians and Members of Parliament.
William D’Avenant, VI joined the British Army. According to the generator, he lived to be thirty-three, taking us to 1749. This process is getting ridiculous. Alright. Fine. Let’s keep herding these cats and dogs as they fall from the sky. At least he also goes up in the world. One of the other things the generator determines is if someone earns a noble title. It’s on a numbers basis. If one gets ten or above on that random number, one gets something. A ten means going up one level. An eleven goes up two levels, etc. Apparently, Willy VI is fairly brave in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and is awarded a baronetcy, becoming Sir William D’Avenant, baronet. Unfortunately, he suffered a few wounds in the war and dies in 1749.
Even though he is only a baronet, he is very wealthy and his family has been marrying into the great families of Britain for the last few generations. He also marries a duke’s daughter, Lady Caroline Sackville, as his first wife. She dies in childbirth a few years later after giving him five children, including a male heir. As I said earlier, I am determined to have a story about a character named William D’Avenant, so guess what his eldest son is named?
William D’Avenant, VII lives to be thirty-one. Really generator? Really? Thirty-one? That only takes us to 1768. We have gone through six generations to get us through one hundred years since the original (and real) William D’Avenant died. Of course, Willy, VII’s brother lives to be 107, well within the needed time frame, but Willy, VII dies ten years before I need him. Fine. Whatever. It’s raining cats and dogs generating characters here, but fine. We can get through this. Willy, VII joins the Royal Navy and is elevated three levels from baronet to earl. (He received a twelve from the generator, a very high score.) The only active war during his lifetime where he might get knocked up to earl is the Seven Years’ War. He marries once and has thirteen children.
Rummaging through history once more for a wife, I find the famous Lord Cornwallis’ sister, Mary. One of the problems here is that the generator also determines whether the character marries a member of the family. Since the author has already been meddling in history for generations, a lot of historical figures do not exist, or are not really the same person, since a grandmother or great-grandmother might be different and part of the family that this series of stories is focusing on. As there are more and more family members spread throughout the world over generations, it becomes harder and harder to find a suitable spouse who is not part of the family and has not been wiped out of history because of the family marrying one of their ancestors. Also, because there are iterations through time because of the time travelers, I have to be careful not to try marrying some historical figure I have already used or who appeared in one of the earlier volumes. Mary Cornwallis is not part of the family, so qualifies to marry Willy, VII. Note that none of these William D’Avenants from Junior to VII have had marriages to other family members. The numbers are just coming up hard here.
William D’Avenant, VIII, Second Earl of Flamstead in the county of Hertford, like his father joins the Royal Navy. The generator says that he goes up two steps in the nobility, meaning that he will be a duke by the end of his life. Let’s see when that will be. How long does he have to win battles and thrust himself up to the highest level of nobility in Great Britain? The generator says twenty-three years. That’s it. There really is a curse. What year does that take us to? He will die on the 18th of April in 1779. At least that brings us to the time of the next volume. The generator says he will have six sons and two daughters. Obviously, he will have to marry young to achieve that by age twenty-three, even with twins and triplets. Well, if he thinks there is a curse, he might want to marry early to ensure there is a Willy, IX.
At least I have the story now. He’s a young post captain fighting in the War for American Independence and against France and Spain who declare war against Great Britain as part of an expansion of that war. Being a younger captain, he probably has a smaller ship, rather than a ship-of-the-line (of battle), perhaps a small frigate. He’s given the opportunity for an independent cruise and does something big, like capturing a Spanish treasure galleon or the whole Spanish Treasure Fleet with just his small frigate. He’s also conflicted because his father died when he was about twelve or thirteen, same for his father and grandfather. It’s been generations since a D’Avenant had been an adult when his father died. Being an active Royal Navy captain during a war could mean that his children would also grow up without a father. Hint: That happens.
Conclusion (About time, pal. What is this? Five pages of drivel?)
It surely was a lot of background work just to get to that one little short story. I had to generate over a hundred characters, including all the unmentioned siblings. I had to comb through history to find at least eight suitable spouses to get from Sir William D’Avenant, the poet laureate, to His Grace The Duke of Flamstead (Willy, VIII) and still need to find a wife for Willy, VIII and generate their children, including Willy, IX. It has already taken about three days of work to get where I am. I still have to write the story itself, with all the necessary twists and turns, showing and not telling (as I have told you what the story is about). A lot of work can go into this writing stuff, especially if you choose the worst possible ways to get where you need to be.
You can all look forward to reading “The Curse of William D’Avenant” in one of my upcoming volumes in The Hidden Angels Series, Angels and Admirals, whenever I finish that volume, which at this rate could be in 2078.
So, my friends and fellow members of the Ricochetoisie, when it’s raining cats and dogs where you work, do you use the cats to herd the dogs or the dogs to herd the cats? Frankly, I think I may be doing it wrong.