Details, Details

Quiz time for fiction writers. No need to fear. This is easy.

  • As you think of the main character(s) in your work-in-progress, what color is that character’s hair? Eyes? (See? Easy-peasy.)

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  • Does he or she have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • Where does that character live? Town, city, or rural community? What is the character’s street address (or what are the landmarks that lead to this dwelling if an address can’t be given)? This can be a made-up address like 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Kudos to whoever knows this address from an old TV show. Skip to the very end of the post to see if you are right.
  • What animals are in this character’s life (like a pet or a warhorse)? What are their names? Species? Colors?

Now think of a secondary character and answer the above questions. If you have fifty secondary characters, could you easily answer the same questions about all of them?

By now you are probably wondering why I’m being so nosy. Well, for one thing, sometimes I forget some of the information about my characters, especially in a book with fifty plus characters. That’s why I have to keep a list of people, places, and things, especially when I am writing a series. But I keep a list even for a standalone book with fewer characters. Nowadays I add to the list as I write the book. I remember how tedious it was to write the list after the book was done.

I’m wondering how many authors keep a list of pertinent character information. Some authors have told me they keep track of everything in their head. Do you? If you don’t keep a list, would you consider doing so? I ask this also as someone who wears the freelance book editor hat from time to time. I have had to email or text authors to inquire about hair and eye color, names, addresses, etc. because of inconsistencies found while editing.

Speaking of other useful things to have, I also think of a timeline sheet for a book. Do you keep a list of the day-to-day events (for example, June 4—the Fruit Fly Festival in Harbor Creek)? If you say a book starts on a Tuesday in April and ends on a Wednesday in May, do you check a calendar to make sure the timing of the story events works? If you’re writing historical fiction, do you search the internet to see if May 4, 1925 really was on a Monday as you mentioned in your manuscript? (It really was on a Monday, by the way.)

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Maybe you’re thinking, Why should I do any of this? The editor is going to check all of that. True. But why not do it for your own sake, instead of waiting for a busy editor to take time out of his or her day to ask you questions about inconsistencies. After all, none of us is perfect. Okay, I take it back. You are. But for everyone else, if you keep a list, maybe the questions won’t have to be asked by an editor (or a reader, who might not be kind).

This public service broadcast was brought to you by I-will-now-mind-my-own-business.

And now onto the winners (finally) of the following books written by Charles Yallowitz and Sandra Nickel respectively. (Click here and here for the interview posts with these authors.)

savagery TheStuffBetweenTheStars

New Charles Author Photo SandraNickel

The winner of The Stuff Between the Stars is Marian Beaman. The winner of War of Nytefall: Savagery is S.K. Van Zandt.

Marian and S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you for commenting!

Address Answer: 1313 Mockingbird Lane is the home of the Munster family in The Munsters.

Author photos and book covers courtesy of the authors. Eye image from lolwot.com. May calendar image from dreamstime.

30 thoughts on “Details, Details

  1. Lucky me! I won a BOOK! Thanks So much, L. Marie. I think you have all my contact info.

    About characters: Even in memoir, I had trouble keeping track of how I described or recorded action for the characters. My main problem was repetition, probably because many of my non-fiction characters derived from blog posts. I had to watch for overlap of some details, as my beta readers pointed out. I never wanted to hear: “You said that already!”

    Good one, L. Marie. And thanks again for offering this wonderful book. Blessings! ((( )))

  2. I can’t keep track in my head. That’s why I make character bios, keep a list, and do a refresher before every new volume. Too much information to keep in my brain, which is constantly bombarded by reality.

  3. Yay, thanks Linda and Charles!! You have my contact info, too, Linda.

    About character traits, it’s a slow process for me, learning about my characters. I need to get better at keeping all of this organized. But I definitely keep a calendar to make sure the story evolves as smoothly as possible.

  4. Oh I’m a list maker from way back…so while I don’t write fiction per se (except during past times with NaNo), I’m a pantster who keeps track! HA!
    Great post, L.Marie. The eye photo is really neat.
    Congrats to Marian and S.K. Van Zandt!

      • Good question…I did it 3 times – 2xs with the standard fiction slant, which was the fun challenge for me and once as a ‘rebel’ using it as a confined time to work on my non-fiction/music stuff.
        The Pandemic might have opened it up as a ‘to-do’ option for those unfamiliar with it. For myself, I’m kindof tired of ‘indoor’ isolated activities.
        😉
        How about yourself?

  5. Oh, bless you! Is that what you’ve been grappling with lately? I do try to keep a list of characters and I think the timeline is super important. Yes, I will refer to calendars to make sure my dates are consistent. I wouldn’t want to leave those kind of details to an editor. Surely, I’ll overlook some details but I always thought a draft is supposed to be as complete as possible before giving to an editor. Just sayin’ 😉

  6. It’s a good idea to keep track before the copyediting stage, because some mistakes may involve more significant rewriting than anyone wants to do at that stage. When I write historical fiction, I download calendars from the year and add my story events, so I know the day and date.

  7. Great advice, LM. I’ve read many many books with internal inconsistencies that the writer didn’t catch before publication ~ changing names, ages, days of the week, order of events, etc. I usually keep a running list to share with the author before they do the next draft. Most appreciate my attention to detail. Some do not. 😀

  8. I keep track of names, dates, and ages on cards. And yet, I still have trouble. Sometimes I forgot to add some characteristics and had to go back and look. The hardest part on this recent novel, though, was ages and dates because I kept changing them and making small adjustments. Now I’m looking back on those lists in case someone asks me a question at my book launch. I’d totally forgotten that I named the cat Jasper. Next time I want to do a better job.

  9. Ha! I’ve just finished a book – which I loved, in fact – but the days of the week were all over the place. It would be Friday, and the character would arrange a meeting for the next day – a Thursday, apparently, and then suddenly it would be Tuesday with no intervening time having passed. My pedantry was having a nervous breakdown! And it was published by one of the Big Five, so no, editors don’t always catch these things…

  10. You’ve given some great advice about keeping lists. Thank you! As I cautiously toy with writing again after many years, I would definitely keep lists. It would have helped me a lot in the past, even though I did somehow experience success. Today, my memory is not as sharp as it once was. My confidence is not as sharp either! Hearing your advice as a writer and working editor is invaluable.

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