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?
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Photo credit: Marek Roslan – Altas Film Studio in Ouarzazate, Morocco
18 thoughts on “Writing Behind the Scenes”
That sounds scarily organised and makes me feel like something of an unworthy amateur. I did comment on Erika’s post that it sounds like something I need to do and you’ve given me even more food for thought. So thank you.
Can I ask though: what do you use to keep all the details in? Is it some sort of specific program or just a notebook?
No fancy program or notebooks, Megs. When I start a project, I make a new folder in Word and keep all the files in there. And though this sounds organized, it’s the only part of my writing that is.
I keep a separate journal for each of my writing projects. That’s where I jot down thoughts, research, ideas that may or may not get expanded further. But it’s where the thoughts begin and grow from. I find it really works to have that one consistent place to jot down ideas that I can easily find when I need to layer a character or give the plot a twist or turn.
Welcome, Joanne, and thank you for leaving a comment.
Although I keep a small notebook in my purse to record ideas and lines that come to me when I’m away from home, I prefer to keep my project “notebooks” on the computer. My handwriting is nearly illegible, even to me.
I’ve created and occasionally use a character profile template, but I prefer to write scenes that show the characters’ appearances, interests, relationships, voices, and goals.
I also write or copy setting notes, which can include information on weather, geography, ecology, architecture, and possibly regional history; cultural notes, which include information on the relevant people’s language, customs, and technology; simple notes on the biology of alien peoples; and time lines. My novel time lines are a mess. I intend to fix them when I’m working on final drafts on my novels.
I’ve never written fantasy or sci-fi, Ann, so I can hardly imagine how organized I’d have to be to keep track of all the details necessary for that. It sounds like you have a good system.
I’d think the level of organization is similar. I probably invent more than you while you research more than me, and in the end, we both end up with a load of notes.
Hmmm, you may be right, Ann. I’m immersed in research right now.