When is enough too much?
The last couple of weeks have been more than a bit odd for me — and that’s saying a lot. Between real life deciding I did not have enough excitement and a project hitting me over the head and demanding that I write it NOW, it seems like everything has been turned topsy-turvy. Real life is slowly getting back to normal (fingers crossed) and the demanding project has now seen the first draft done. 82k plus words in a little more than two weeks. Yes, my hands hurt and my brain is bruised. But the draft has been printed out, a few notes to keep in mind on the first editing pass made and it is now sitting in my briefcase where it will stay for awhile so I can look at it with something close to fresh eyes when I start editing.
Now, I usually celebrate the moment I finish the first draft of something. But not this time. Why? Because the book that wasn’t supposed to be written is actually two, maybe three books. Oh, I could keep writing and release it as a single book. Should I do so, it would weigh in at something close to 250-300k words (because I have a feeling by the time I do the edits on this first volume, it will come in at close to 100k words.) That would be fine if I was only releasing it as an e-book. But, since I plan on print as well, I will break the parts up and release them separately and will then, in all likelihood, release a digital “boxed set” later.
Again, that doesn’t sound too bad. The problem arises in that I now have three active series and another set of books that, while not exactly a series, are all related to one another. That means I have a lot of characters to keep straight and my notes, scratched on bits of paper or shoved into file folders isn’t going to do the job any longer. I need something more detailed and, well, more formal. So off to the internet I went to look at what other authors are doing when it comes to character sheets.
A little background here first. Back about six years or so ago when Sarah was first starting to push me to take my writing seriously, I did what all good little control freak authors do — I took to the internet to see what I ought to be doing. One of the things I found was a downloadable version of one author’s story bible. I downloaded it and tried to use it.
And quickly became overwhelmed.
This author had character sheets for each character that were pages long. You not only described the character (physical, mental and spiritual) but you gave their entire education history, their likes and dislikes, sexual preferences, etc. Then you got to their parents and their grandparents and even their great-grandparents. I tried filling the sheets out for the project I was working on and soon I had ten pages or more for each character — and you were supposed to do this for your minor characters as well. Needless to day, the pages got tossed and I ran to the proverbial hills, screaming in frustration. If I had to do that for every character, I might as well not write because by the time I finished the character sheets, I wouldn’t want to write the story.
So I created my own version which mainly consisted of simply jotting down what I needed to know for the current project. As I said above, scraps of paper or pages shoved into a file folder I might or not be able to find when I needed it. But now, with several series ongoing, I need something a bit more organized. So, off to the internet I went again. My heart was filled with fear and a sense of impending doom as I did. What if nothing had changed since that day so long ago?
(BTW, I know Scrivener has character sheets but I don’t write in Scrivener most of the time, so I want something that I can have at my fingertips no matter which computer I’m on. Scrivener is on my Mac and not the PC or tablet.)
It seems my fear was justified. One of the first sites I found had a character sheet that consists of 370 questions. 370! Not only no but no way on Earth. That is simply too much. Not only does it want things like name, date of birth, what the character looks and sounds like but it also wants to know when how the character died, what the character’s last words were, etc. Uh, wait a minute, what if my character is going to die? Sure, I kill off some of them but not all by a long shot and, frankly, if I were to start filling out stuff like that on some of my characters they would go on strike — or haunt me for the rest of my life. So, nope. Not gonna answer those questions.
But hey, there might be others gems among the dreck. So I kept looking.
When the list got to my character’s favorite actor, favorite book, song, genre, etc., I sighed and decided that there was no sense in looking any further on that list, especially since I was less than halfway through it. So I went to the next page my search turned up and I still hoped to find something I could adapt without much problem.
Hmm, that one looked promising. For one thing, I didn’t have to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll some more to get to the end of the list. Sure, there were still some of the silly questions (in my mind at least) about favorite music and book and that sort of thing but it was more along the lines of what I wanted: physical description, nervous habits, verbal tags, special training, etc. Still, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Close but no cigar, especially when it came to layout.
I looked at several other examples and each one left me shaking my head and wondering if I just don’t get it. I really don’t care what my character’s first sexual experience was or what her favorite position might be. It doesn’t matter unless it has a place in the story and, frankly, for most of what I write, it won’t. Nor do I want to “interview” my characters. They already talk more than enough in my head. Can you imagine what they would be like if they were the subject of an “interview”? No, thank you very much.
Then I got to thinking. Maybe this is a lot like outlining. Each author has to find what works best for them. Some authors may need to know every hidden corner of a character’s psyche, even if the character is a minor one, before they can write it into a scene. Others just let the characters jump into the scene and reveal themselves then. Me, I fall somewhere in the middle and, truth be told, what I need right now is something that can simply remind me about a character’s hair and eye color, are the right or left handed and that sort of thing. So, I will take the character sheet that came close to what I was looking for and adapt it, not only where the questions are concerned but the layout as well.
Or maybe I will just go on a scavenger hunt for all my notes on all the little scraps of paper. Wish me luck as I travel down the rabbit hole of three series and a fourth set of related books.