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Creating a Family Saga - FS9 - Keeping Track of Characters and Threads

Updated on November 17, 2017
Homeplace Series profile image

Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

What I would love to see is a hub about how you have organized all of these characters and story threads...this is a monumental task you have taken on, and you appear to do it effortlessly.

— Bill Holland, aka billybuc, comment on “The Homeplace Saga” blog

This was the beginning...

My first novel
My first novel

In the beginning…

I am going to attempt to respond to Bill as he does so well in his weekly Mailbags. I owe it to him, and to the rest of my readers. If you are new to “The Homeplace Saga” stories, characters and time periods, you will also want to read at least Episode FS8, in this Creating a Family Saga series, and a few others, as well. As a starting point, let me remind you that I originally created the “Back to the Homeplace” initial story and set of family characters in 1987. I’ve lived with them a long time. I revisited them in 2009 with the intent to polish and publish that first novel in 2010, which I did. This was followed a year later by a continuation of the characters, setting, and family saga story in the second book in the series, in 2011. It was at about this time that I created my Developmental Wiki to begin the process of organization to which I believe Bill refers.

You can view the wiki at: Remove the __, of course. I put that in so that HubPages does not penalize me for two many links in this hub… ;-)

Note the left sidebar in the Wiki: About This Wiki, Character Files, and Oak Springs Directory. These are my quick reference guides. At Character Files, the main characters each have links with icons on that front page. However, all characters are listed, alphabetically by first name, on a link near the bottom of the page. This list was initially created so as not to duplicate names in those first two novels. It has since been expanded to include names of characters added in the third and fourth novels that followed, as well as the stories added by way of the blog stories, such as the one now running each Friday.

The Oak Springs Directory has a full list of the businesses and governmental agencies in the town of Oak Springs, the setting of all the stories, with icons for each. Click on them, and you get a page with more detail, background and history, on each entity. Often there will be links to the owners of the business, if they have a personal page. This is an ongoing work-in-progress. However, of course, I can go to these resources at any time to refresh my memory on any questions I might need to recall, or build on.

Oak Springs regrew after the war

Early Plat of the town
Early Plat of the town

The Founding was another story entirely

All of my “The Homeplace Saga” family saga, historical fiction stories are based on my extensive family history research background and personal family observations along with experiences over an already extended life span (I’ve outlived my father by 15 years at this point, for example). As I created the stories set in the 1980s and 1990s, the content of the stories was closely related to the (more than) 150 years the same family had been on the farmland in the same location… a Century Farm plus a half plus. To further understand these motivations, bit-by-bit, over time, I found (internally, personally) I had to discover (that is, create) the family history of this McDonald/Bevins family back to near State of Missouri statehood. This resulted in a skeletal ‘family tree’ in my best genealogical form, including a fully computerized database - right along side my own real family history.

With dates and life-spans, births and marriages in place, to fit with the known ‘facts’ from the first novels, I began writing some short stories about ‘The Founding,’ beginning in 1833 with the arrival of the first four ‘founding families’ in the Oak Creek valley, which would become the home of the town of Oak Springs. Three of these first stories were published, over three years, in a Regional Writer’s Society Anthology. A lot of actual research of the time and place (turned out it was the northwest corner of Shannon County - site of a state park, no actual settlements) went in to making the fictional site as realistic as possible. I even drew maps with the topographical features and then added the settlements as they occurred in my stories. As a good genealogist, of course, I created a Census in 1840, in 1850, and 1860 just as would have been done in real-life. Creating those census data sets, of course, then became the reference point for the characters, the people of the valley. I grew up in a small, rural community like I was creating, so I knew how families inter-married, new folks moved in, some folks moved out, and the patterns of children and schools and businesses developing. I used the actual U.S. Census data for nearby counties for surnames, given names, and for businesses of the time period.

At first I used all hand-drawn maps, then I went to computerized maps, to keep track of all the people on the various farms. Then, when the town was formed, just like in real-life, I platted the town, and began to record who owned which lots and where each business was located. That map has gotten quite detailed up into the 1880s. There was one big problem, however. This spot in the U.S.A., in Missouri, was right on the dividing line of the North and South in the Civil War. Towns in this location were totally wiped out by marauding bands, from both sides. So, this created more stories, and revisions (start over again after the war) to the maps. All but two people left the valley, living in caves, but who came back? More stories… you can read them all in the Short Story Collection book, or you can read them in the blog. They are all there. Between the maps and the census reports, adjusted, updated, and re-recorded, you have the organization of the 1833 to 1880s where those stories continue to this day, on HubPages. BTW, the most recent census set, for 1885, is about 15 typed pages long, with every family and every child…

Read about "The Founding" here

Collection of Short Stories
Collection of Short Stories

In summary

This will be the 143rd Hub in this set, plus 20 in the Weston Wagons West for Levi Weston, and 24 in the Murder, He Figured book of Raynor Crimmons… in addition to the four novels and the Short Story Collection that all are about the same characters and setting over the 1833 to 1999 time frame, with more to come.

For every new hub I create, I do often go back and read from one to ten previous ones. Some require reading, or at least scanning, more than 20 hubs. I’ve grouped many of the episodes, hubs, into groups of 20 and put them in ebook formats. Frequently I use the Word file for these to do key word searches for that time period to check a fact (such as wedding details) as I need to know something about a person or a family.

That is how I go about it, Bill. Hope it is helpful, to you as well as my other readers. This was kind of fun. Soon, the Super Bowl will be on. Go. Broncos! ;-)

Video Book Trailer

Video Book Trailer


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    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Sha, your interest and feedback is worth any length of weight... not an issue for me, for sure!! ;-)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      3 years ago from Central Florida

      I saw that Bill. I'm so far behind I feel like I'm drowning in HP backlog. Please be patient with me.

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you, so much. Hope the new job is going well. This all has been a labor of love, for sure. I love family relationships, real and imagined!

      I signed up to follow you over on my "Weston Wagons West" series account... hope you'll follow those new stores, where I'm also writing, right now... Really enjoy hearing from you, Sha!! ;-)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      3 years ago from Central Florida

      Wow, Bill, you've put A LOT of work into this series! Holy Mackerel, it's a full time job in itself!

      I love that you consulted real census records. When I was writing The Gifts of Faith (which I hope to finish some day and try to publish as a novel), I did the same thing when I brought the past of two of my characters into more detail. I calculated the time period in which their parents would have had each of the children (different families) and worked my way back to when I thought the parents would have been born in order to introduce the parents' parents. I found an actual census from that time and looked for names of people that had the number of children (each) that fit my storyline. I didn't use the actual names, rather I used names common to the era. It was quite interesting doing the research; I can see how you've gotten hooked, especially since it ties in with your family tree.

      Thanks for sharing this Bill. FYI, I haven't gone anywhere. I'm just way behind since I started a new job in January. I'll see you around - promise!

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I appreciate your visit. Sharing with friends is the best part. Thank you for leaving a comment!! ;-)

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Amazing! You certainly got your stuff in order. Well put together.

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you... it is still a challenge, but I enjoy it very much. I appreciate that a long readers seems to appreciate the stories, as well. ;-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      Wow, you are very organized and have this down to a science.

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you. You are very kind. What fun! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sorry I'm late, Bill, but weekend activities kept me busy. Thank you so much for responding to my question. I really do appreciate the detailed explanation of your organizational skills and procedure. Well done, my friend.


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