As an avid reader I’ve perused a fair number of books over the years. We’ve all found those hidden gems which grasp us from the first page. Though most of my current reading involves a large red dog, or cheeky talking trains, many aspects of those novels continue to influence my work. An old expression ‘the devil’s in the details’ has most certainly remained in the forefront of my thoughts.
Growing up, spelling was never my strong suit (God bless spell check and my new editor). However, I have always possessed a keen eye for the little details surrounding various works. Did someone’s personality change suddenly? Did a prominent mole switch cheeks? If you notice these flaws then your readers are sure to as well.
Within my own little piece of chaos the first words of a new project, to the completed published novel, take about two years. That’s a long time to forget someone’s eye color, or the spelling of a name. In order to keep everything as consistent as possible I utilize a computerize list. Excel has worked the best for me, but feel free to try some different formats to see what is the easiest for your own project.
To start, each series has its own sheet. Since I only have a rough outline for any sequels which may come, I begin with the first book, making columns for the following novels as new locations, and people, are added. I outline every character’s name, physical description, traits, if the reader can hear their inner thoughts, and what novels they appear in as I’m writing the story. No matter how minor the person, place, or creature, I know in the future I’m not reusing names. This also aids me should a character pass away for whatever reason. You don’t want them to appear suddenly in the next book outside of things like flashbacks, spiritual forms, or zombie invasions.
As you can image, this list can get a bit lengthy. Being a visual person, I color code certain aspects to help while scrolling through it. Creatures, places, and deceased characters all are highlighted a different color. I keep a separate section at the bottom for my break down of spells.
While being consistent throughout your book is important, you should keep in mind that like all things, characters, and other elements, can and will change as the story develops and grows. I know this may sound a little contradictory, but I believe it to be an important balance. Different experiences, people a character meets, or loses, all shape the ways they think and feel.
Take my protagonist Alec from The Dragon Marked Chronicles: The Dragon Sage. When my readers are introduced to Alec, he is somewhat closed off, has difficulty trusting, and wrongly perceives Jade’s kind intentions. This is largely due to years of fighting as a gladiator. As his story progresses, Alec begins to change his perception, coming to trust and rely on his best friend, Garth, and Jade as well.
This brings me to another important factor I’ve seen done both incredible well, and not so much: using what you write. I strive to give my character’s depth in a believable way. They have dreams, fears, both incredible skills, and some flaws. Not only do I give them these qualities to bring them to life, but I also use them to shape their story. If a character is afraid of something, you can have them face it or perhaps it may lead them to greater danger. If someone’s eyes change color when they’re angry or happy, be sure to use it throughout your novel. If you create a prophecy, make sure it comes to light. I don’t recommend writing something just for the sake of writing it. While an intriguing prophecy may sound compelling at the time, if nothing comes of it, your readers will remember.
Keeping track of a slew of details may sound tedious, but taking the time for some type of system will be well worth it. Having a list, and making notes, helps me focus on the heart of my books without mixing up important facts over a longer period of time. So no matter how many dirty diapers I change, or uniforms I need to wash, I still possess a way to maintain my beloved characters and always jump back into the worlds I’ve created with ease. Until next time.