I'm fascinated by the visual aids that many writers post near their keyboards while working on a book. Timelines (I've got one of those); magazine or newspaper clippings of faces that represent characters; and interviews/questionnaires that the writer, "in character," has filled out for the MC are some of the most common and helpful ones I've heard about. But when I tackled a MG novel with twelve characters (most of them friends of the MC) I wanted a way to keep track of the relationships between any two of them. What I hit on was a wall chart.
My chart measures roughly twenty inches square and is divided into thirteen rows and thirteen columns, for a total of 169 squares (I did say there'd be arithmetic in this blog). Across the top, in squares 2-13 of row 1, are listed the twelve character names, and down the left side, in squares 2-13 of column 1, the names are repeated in the same order. The square in the upper left corner is blank.
The squares of intersection show what the character in the left column thinks of the character in the top row. For example, find Jared's name in the left column, Eleanor's name in the top row, and run your fingers down and across to the intersecting cell. In that cell is the word "egghead." Jared thinks Eleanor is an egghead. Find Eleanor in the left column and Jared in the top row, and you discover that Eleanor doesn't disdain Jared (as she does most people); rather, she's mildly scared of him. Ann thinks Nicole is a popular golden girl; Nicole thinks Ann is plain and on the dull side. Run your hand across any row and find out what that character thinks of everyone; run your hand down any column and find out what everyone thinks of that character. Pick the same name at the left and on the top, and the intersecting cell will tell you what that person thinks of her- or himself. Obviously, this type of chart could be made quite easily with a spreadsheet as well as by hand on posterboard.
Have you found any neat visual aids or organizers that have helped you with a specific project?