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.)
- 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.)
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.
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.