Keep Your Details Straight

>> Thursday, March 4, 2010

When I write a short story, I frequently write it in one sitting. Maybe a couple. If I can't remember the color of a character's eyes or what I called her pet tiger, it's only a few "page ups" away. Keeping track of characteristics and familiars and skills, etc. generally isn't that difficult.

That can change when you write a book, especially if, like me, you have large casts of characters. I can remember their characteristics, of course, what makes them characters. But, over the course of the weeks, months, even years it takes me to write them down, I can forget eye colors or ages or even names. Actually, I have a real problem with names. It's a considerable failing.

Few things jar an interested reader like having a familiar change from Wistful to Weapon (or worse, back again) before the book is over. Someone left-handed should bloody well stay left handed. Scars and limps should stay where first described. Short people should stay short and old people should stay old.

With my first novel, which had a substantial ensemble cast, I actually wrote up a who's who, which kept familiar names straight and who was married to whom - very important when having a group of mates off to rescue their other halves. I'm including it with the book because, on the very few times I've run into things like that in a book, I've appreciated it, especially if, as I did with Curse of the Jenri, the book bounces from one character's part of the story to the other.

With only a few characters, of course, it's less important. But I have cheat sheets for the ones with big casts, including height, gender, talents and alter animal for my shapechangers in Beast Within and special skill in the group of characters in The Guardian.

I suspect, for those who favor plot-driven books, rather than character oriented novels, especially those with a tight plot, similar notes might be used to keep all the threads carefully groomed, leaving no strands dangling in the end.

Details matter.

3 comments:

  • Jeff King
     

    Agreed... I need to heed this message, I fail to write down any character details, and find myself going back to read what I had written just to find out. I could save a lot of time if I would do this small thing.
    If only I could master my laziness in this manner. Thx

  • Project Savior
     

    I find it even more important to write down the motivations of the non-humans, viruses or the government organization.
    The people's motives in my books are pretty open, it's the ones behind the scenes that are complex and if I lose that the storyline falls apart.

  • Stephanie Barr
     

    The motivation of viruses?

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