I have always been a planner. And I’m not usually over the top–although I can be–but some amount of planning goes into every one of my stories. It’s usually just a rudimentary outline (see 7-point story structure) and a rough idea of setting, conflict, and characters. Most of the time, that’s enough to keep me on track.
However, as I’ve been diving into Book 2 of my series with ACHILLEA, I’m trying to crack down on a lot of what I know my weaknesses are. Chronology and seasons, how much time does my book actually cover, little hints and breadcrumbs, military details, where I put Rauden’s scars, etc. As my books have evolved, I’ve added a lot of minor characters and I have apparently drifted slightly from where my main characters were. For example, I looked back over my notes on Lyda, Sielle, and Naniha, a group of three friends and Achillea’s first recruits. In my mind now, they’re older than I originally intended. Fun thought experiment, I asked my friends at the Dead Pete Society how old they thought my characters were, and I got a range of reactions:
Kathi said 17-20. Jori said 16-18. Frankie said 20-26. I had them written down as 18-22, and in my mind, they’d become somewhere between 20-24.
Then I asked who they thought was oldest, and who was youngest.
Kathi and Jori agreed Naniha was the oldest, Lyda the youngest. Frankie thought Naniha was the youngest, and Lyda the oldest. Originally, Lyda was the youngest, but now my brain thinks she is the oldest. I find it interesting…Kathi and Jori have a closer handle on where I originally placed my characters, but Frankie seems to share my now-brain.
I clearly had some work to do.
I have character sheets for all of my characters in Scrivener, but as each of my books has its own file, this became a bit of a pain. And yeah, I know I can export/import from one book to another, but even that became a pain as I added and subtracted characters because I had to make sure it was consistent across all of my books.
And since I plan to take the series into at least seven books with a set of spin-offs, I knew I had to be more organized this time. You can’t just race off into the sunset and chase a series without being completely, one hundred percent in control of your setting and your characters. If people fall in love with my series as I hope they will, they’re going to catch on. I need to know this world and these people better than anyone.
So I made another book. A physical one. I have a weakness for office supplies, and that most certainly includes blank journals and notebooks. So I repurposed a journal that my friend got me for Christmas into a character reference. Every character gets a page, even if I only put them in the book to kill them off later. If I need to, I’ll start another journal, but so far this one has everyone in it with about half the pages to spare.
I gave each character the following details:
- Name, with pronunciation and applicable nicknames
- Age at the founding of Vaethrre (my city), including birthday (because I might need that) based on what I think their astrological symbol is. (Okay, look…I don’t REALLY ascribe to this belief…but there are people who read this that might). For example, Lyda sounds like a Virgo, so I put her birthday in that range. This will help me keep their ages straight as the books progress, provided I can keep my damned timeline straight (this is the challenge).
- The top of each page has their D&D alignment (Lyda is Lawful Good), their Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator (Lyda is an INFP), and who I think would be a good actor/actress for them (right now Lyda is marked as Natalie Dormer…her inability to properly smile because she always smirks is a shoe in, and Natalie looks badass with short hair)
- Physical appearance, especially important if someone changes theirs later (like Heike does, or when Lyda gets new tattoos).
- Personality; this is their concrete personality, what is less likely to change. PTSD or character shifts are added in later to the Notes section. Sielle hates apologies and refuses to apologize herself. This won’t change. But her extreme bitterness to the point of potential self-destruction is an added change and will go into the Notes section. That’s something that may eventually be undone. I haven’t decided that yet. For her to suddenly appreciate apologies would be out-of-character, however.
- Family connections
- Motivations; What are they trying to achieve? Everyone is motivated by something, even if their ultimate goal is just to be left alone.
- Conflicts; what adverse forces are working against the character? Lyda takes issue with cruelty, and she steps in when she believes those around her are acting unfair or vindictive.
- Love interest(s), including whether or not they have an ‘aya’, the equivalent of a True Love in my stories (in ACHILLEA, ‘true love’ is a very real thing. Kind of.).
- Their opinion of the Warden (more or less ‘God’), if they have one.
- Secrets; Lyda is a very private person and she keeps a lot of her own desires to herself.
- Fears; Myen is afraid of heights and horses
- Dislikes; Heike hates cheese
- Likes; Kirae has a fondness for conversation and company
- Weaponry; Heike has 54 different bladed weapons. At some point, I intend to list them all, but I don’t want to accidentally end up with 58 in case anyone is counting.
- Notes; I left a big blank space here for most of the characters depending on how long I intend to keep them around. Myen and Heike get several pages each, but cameo characters like Carme (who works at the hospital) only get a page.
Then I put a Table of Contents at the front, and voila! I’m good to go! Now I can use this handy dandy notebook for all of my books. And hopefully, I’ll never get lost again!
S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).
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