Before we go any farther into the stories, let’s stop and review.
We’ve looked at openings, and setting the scene. We’ve outlined some characters, and either hinted at or stated what the conflicts are going to be. We don’t have antagonists/villains yet, or motivations for the Bad Guy/Gal/Thing.
Before you go too far in your work, step back a little. One thing you need, especially for a book or a work in a series, is a Story/Series Bible. You can call it story guide, whatever, but it is a single document with all the important information about characters and settings in it. How detailed and how long depends on you and what you are using to write the story.“But TXRed, what does my computer or notepad have to do with this?”
Ah. Some programs, such as Scriviner, allow you to keep a running character/setting page on the side of the screen, and have functions that make it very easy to set up a character/setting/scene list. Others don’t.
If you are writing a one-off short story, or a book with a limited cast of characters and setting (say, Solaris), then a little tag at the bottom of your page is probably enough, something like this:
From ‘Magic in Darkness”
[Hungarian mage – blind, with Kuvazs Familiar/seeing-eye dog. music – piano tuner and repair man. Wife is secretary of local orchestra and school. Pregnant. Music for spells. Goes to tune piano, curse? Blood-magic? Revenge spell in instrument from Revolution? (100 lb, 30″ at shoulder, female, white double coat with mane, heavy body, ancient hunting and guard breed, not friendly with strangers, protective, sheds a lot ?]
I’ve got my character, a description of Csilla because I keep forgetting, a bit about Maria, and possible options for the mysterious piano problem. Since this is a short story, and since I know in my head what Obuda and Buda Hill look like, this is enough. If you need more setting information, you might include that.
I have a master document for the Familiar Tales series, with all the major characters, locations, and artifacts listed. Each character entry has name, working name (if appropriate) Familiar (if they have one), role in the story, and a bit of physical description. I learned the hard way with the Cat Among Dragons series that I had to keep a list of Azdhag markings, body-shapes, and ranks. Start from the beginning and you won’t have to go back through four books to collect and correct descriptions.
Ahem, where was I? Oh yes.
For a book-length work, you need a longer document. I’m going to include part of the notes page from Daughter of the Pearl, because one of the things I needed was a lot of minor character names. I didn’t use all of them, but I did use a lot. If you are doing cultural names, this becomes really important.
Empress of Yellow Stream: tall, slender, once beautiful with full face. Black eyes. Allied with Zhenniao, she thinks, and bandit leader – her bastard brother. Gamjinjinxi
Prime Minister/ Chief Eunich:
Leesan attributes – water and land, air lost and blocked
Chang – air and water, fire. Dark blue shading to lighter blue.
Zhenniao – land, air, water* gold and crimson
Western King – great cloud dancer with storms for eyes, coral antlers, whiskers of gold, scales of gold, rainbow talons, and water dancing around dais
Mistress Angsan – silver and mother-of-pearl with gold eyes.
Lin – Chang’s master of servants at the palace.
Lingsav – Chang’s older brother, pure fire attributes and is going insane – anger and rapid emotional shifts.
Hengyang – Lingsav’s wife, calm, acts in his place and raises children. Can soothe him, most of the time.
Xishi – one of the sisters, can’t cook to save her life.
Aan – owl servant at trading post.
Hailizhi – beaver master of frontier post. Good observer of the land.
Mistress Tongsat – catfish, owns estate upstream of the city. Haakwan is cousin and lives in palace fishpond.
Tangwu – frog in palace, nephew of Master Waa
Wei – maid possessed by Zhenniao
Chi – old woman of Old Blood.
Some of the names are Chinese, taken from late Tang and early Song Dynasty individuals. The names have meanings, and fit the characters. I don’t have descriptions of Leesan or Chang in this, because I had them on my working document instead, since I referred to them so frequently.
I’m in the process of developing a book-guide for Fifth River. At the moment I have a few names and jobs, nothing more. That will come this week, as I have time to sit and really dig.
One question that comes up is if I’ve ever considered using a spreadsheet program for this sort of thing. I prefer not to. It is easier for me to have two text documents open than a text document and a spreadsheet. No idea why. That’s just me. If your software allows you to keep a side-bar character/description/plot-ideas list, then more power to you. I know what works for me. Whatever works for you, works best. And you may find over time that your needs and options change, and that something new is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Next Time: Conflicts and character tells – or ways to reveal what a character’s really like.
First, if you like this blog, please spread the word!
Just what Lelia and her friends need – rumors of a were-creature right in the middle of retail rush season.
Photo: Jessie Tree from Krakow, Poland. Author Photo.