Losing Characters

I knew there would be challenges in writing a novel.  Just having the stamina for keeping up with a book length story was new as most of my writing experience had been with short stories and articles.  But I had no idea keeping track of my characters would be so difficult.

My main character is obviously someone I know pretty well by now.  But she doesn’t live in a vacuum.  She has family and friends and neighbors and work contacts.  And then, of course, there are the people who are new to her life that she meets in the process of solving the mystery.

For side characters who provide information or add color to the story, there aren’t any real difficulties.  I write them and then move on.  The recurring characters are more problematic.  These are people important to the story or who are important to the main character (making them important to the story – hopefully!).  A person may appear in the first couple of chapters and then show up again in the middle or towards the end of the book.  Keeping track of what they look like, their personality traits, their way of speaking, is more difficult than I was expecting it to be.  No one wants to go back through 30,000 words to find out whether “Bob” had a beard or not.

I found that after I had written my first 7 chapters, I had to go back and fill out notecards for each of my characters.  These cards are lists of physical and personality traits for the characters I’m populating the story with.  I may even end up writing whole biographies for some of them as they will show up again in other books.  (Stand-alone mysteries are fine but I love a good series).

Someone I know once suggested I find pictures of people in magazines who match what I imagine my characters to look like.  I imagine this could be helpful too with providing continuity.  Readers remember small details.  I know that when I read a series of books I find it distracting when characters change from book to book without any explanation.  One book series I read (and I won’t name names) had one character who smoked in the first book and then in book three had never smoked in her life.  That drives me crazy so I’m doing my best to not inflict such trauma on my own readers.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Losing Characters

  1. Mateo

    I can appreciate the hard work done in character development and I am so happy when an author pays attention to continuity. I notice the details when an author commits a continuity crime like the sometimes smoking character you referenced. Supporting characters reflect different facets of your main character that the narrator may not be able to get away with directly. Still so proud of you!

    • The same is true for script writing. One of the things I really appreciated about the television series Buffy was that the writers evolved the story line so well that even several years later they would make references to early episode events and the details still held true.

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