Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Keeping everyone straight

A reader asked the other day if I keep files of characters and plotlines like many authors and how they are all organized. I posted a comment to answer her questions, but it didn't show up so I'll just answer in a blog post where more people will see it anyway.

Sounds like a plan.

Every time I tell one of my non-writer friends I'm starting another book, they sigh and shake their heads and say, "I don't know how you do it. How do you keep everyone straight and how do you keep all those ideas from running together?"

It's all about organization, something I'm not very good at. I have a NOTES file in MyDocuments where I put any little snippet that comes to me. Possible book titles, character sketches, song lyrics, anything that sparks my creativity. I even record particularly vivid and interesting dreams. I always date them. I have actually dreamed a few dreams that will make great starting points for books. The fun thing about recording them is reading over them months later. They are usually very funny and over-the-top. Makes me wonder what I ate the night before that made my mind cook up such a concoction.

Back to my organization of characters. When I create a character for a storyline I'm plotting, I answer a few questions for them.

Who is (fill in name here)? Let's use Brandon today. Here I describe his appearance, personality traits, education, job...I fill in as much as I can, but I will learn more about Brandon as the story goes along, so I don't get too bogged down at this point. I know writer's who need to know the name of his first girlfriend, what kind of car he drives and his parents' birthdays before they can even get started. They are probably more organized than me and save themselves a lot of work down the road. For me, I like to get to know a character in increments. It makes them seem more real and three-dimensional.

What does Brandon want concretely? Example: To get a promotion. It may be something very simple or Brandon can have huge aspirations that take a lot of explanation and study.

What does he want abstractly? To find out why he always sabotages his chances for promotions.

What keeps him from reaching his goals?

What does he learn?

As you learn more about your character, you will fill in more and more. I do this with each major character in the book. It helps to refer back to this while I'm writing if I feel myself getting off track. Some of the characters will take a lot of examination while others might just be looking for a good night's sleep.

Hope this answers your questions and I'll get more in depth next time.


  1. Thanks Teresa....this post was very helpful to me! ~ I left you a message on here a few days ago but for some reason it didn't go through. ~ Anyway, thanks for answering my question!
    Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  2. Don't feel bad. I posted an entire blog the other day and it didn't go thru either. I have learned to write my blogs in a document and then paste to blogger. Not taking anymore chances.