My character database is huge. And a mess. I'm trying to keep track of how old everyone is in any particular story so that I don't make a huge mistake and call someone a teenager when they're supposed to be in their thirties, but this effort requires coordination of character birthdays, event dates, and who is connected to whom.
It's a bit overwhelming. I'm currently making a character tree in Photoshop, just to get everyone's affiliations down in a visual way. So far, I have 62 characters on the map. Around 15 of those never even show up anywhere, and another 10 only have bit parts.
My main concern is keeping track of character's ages in relation to each other and events. I'm awful at math, and I'm terrified of getting anyone's age off by even a day. Silly, I know, but true.
It's just that I want something that will keep everything in order even while I'm switching everything around.
I started looking into Timeline software with calendar options. Bee Docs looks good except that it's for Macs. They recommend SmartDraw for Windows, though they don't market it to writers like Bee Docs does. (I do like that you can make images of your info just by asking the program to.)
The thing is, those programs aren't precisely for writers, though writers can use them. Programs that are for writers seem to be all about strict boxes you put your text in or offering active "word counters" (or even offering a new word processor -- which I wouldn't trust as far as a random executable file in my email) instead of allowing the user to choose their own options. Frankly, I just care about keeping all my ideas straight so I don't make mistakes. Organizing. That's what I need.
I've talked to Alex previously about creating a web service for writers, though we shelved it because he'd have to quit work for about three years to get it functional. It wouldn't be a social networking thing, just tools for the trade. You could list characters, add information about them, add an image, move the info around visually, manage a timeline or calendar, separate and view events, create an event date based on a character's age, create a character's age based on adding or subtracting from another character's age, map character affiliations... so on and so forth. (My main interest was adding characters to an event and having their age automatically show in parenthesis.) Basically, it'd be a tool to organize your info like you want it, but in a very visual way that, uh, doesn't require spreading colored note cards all over your floor. Not that I've done that. *whistles innocently*
I also wanted a (ambitious and, for us, impossible) character design option that would have required hiring the Sims staff. Actually, what I'd want is what the game "All Points Bulletin" is doing with its character customization. You can do pretty much anything with it, tweak any part of the human body, and I will be buying it just to play with that.
Can you imagine how fun that would be for a writer tool? Put in your character's statistics and add electronic note cards (that look like real note cards) and then design their exact look?
We knew we could never pull off the character design part. I'm waiting for EA Games to say "Oh, hey, we could make millions if we just released a massive character design tool that's easy to use and has a vampire fangs option." And then I'll buy it. Along with everyone else.
My backup plan (because, really, who waits for gaming companies to see the cash potential of a tool that combines the power of Poser with the ease of The Sims?) is to become a better artist. I want to take some classes at the local college, and Alex is interested in joining me. I also offered to take a graphic design class with my sister-in-law, because she's always been interested in that.
The end result, best case scenario, may be a free comic book on my website. I've been tinkering with the idea. Worst case, I put up lots more character drawings of varying badness in the Bonus section.