In a post on Erika Marks’ blog yesterday, she talked about how she keeps character details straight while writing her fiction. I commented that I, too, make character files. Mine consist of three sections: Physical, General, and Relationships.
Physical includes not only the basics like hair and eye color, but personality traits, habits, mannerisms, clothing style, etc. General is where I record details on schooling, occupation, home, political or religious views, hobbies/activities, talents, fears, goals, etc. Relationships not only records the character’s status with a significant other, but relationships with children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and pets when applicable. I record not only the names of these people and animals, but details of how the character relates to each.
In each of these sections, I record significant dates, which is a practice I carry over to my scene list. As I write, I make scene lists that not only include descriptions of what happens in the scenes, but the calendar date they took place and the number of days into the storyline. I include the day number because that makes it easier to not only see how many days have passed since the opening scene, but to calculate the number of days between story events.
If my story takes place in a location other than where I live, or have lived, I also check the weather archives for the locations because I don’t want to write in a thunderstorm out of season, or have someone dressed in shorts and a tank top, when the normal high temp at that time would be 45°F. And since my character Jalal, in my last novel, frequently ran on a California beach, I checked the tide tables for the time period to make sure he wouldn’t have been jogging through three feet of surf.
This is a glimpse into the writing, and a little bit of the research, I do behind my scenes. Many of the details I record never make it into the manuscript, but they help my writing by making me see my characters and locations as real. I know that most readers would not give the weather or tides a thought, but the fear that a few would notice a gaff strikes fear in me. However, most readers would catch the error of changing a character’s eye color mid-book or losing track of the birth order of siblings. Besides, I like knowing I’ve done my best to make every aspect of my novel “real” to me and my readers.
Your turn: What do you write behind the scenes?
Photo credit: Marek Roslan – Altas Film Studio in Ouarzazate, Morocco