Quick update and a tip! First, the update. The last chapters of a book always take me a bit longer to write, mostly because there is a lot to coordinate as far as plots and character arcs and such (including adding bits to previous scenes to drop subtle hints, lay better groundwork, etc). Thus, these chapters are taking longer than the others to get through. Be that as it may, I’ve started on chapter twenty-three. I think there will be twenty-five chapters in all, so that means I’m pretty close to done with first draft. Hurray!
Now, for the tip. I’d been putting off doing something for a while. I mean, I do have the files for the previous books that I can open up and do a search on, but I finally broke down and made a character spreadsheet. Why? Well, as the tongue-in-cheek title of this post implies, it began to get difficult to recall specific details of the primary characters in my books. Who was it that bit their lip when uncertain? Who calls their dragon sweetheart vs dear-heart vs big guy? What color are a certain character’s eyes? I’ve started work on a spreadsheet to address these issues. In fact, it makes things so much easier that I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t do it from the get-go. Now, if you’re writing one-off books, no biggie. It might be easy to recall all the characters’ mannerisms, phrases, and such. When you’re writing a series, and an ensemble series to boot, the various characteristics can initially be too much to keep track of until you’ve lived with the characters for long enough that you eventually memorize them. Then, too, some characteristics aren’t mentioned very often so are difficult to just remember.
I included columns that would work for any writer as well as some specific to my books. The columns so far are Name, Description (hair color, eye color, skin tone, aprox height), Age/bday, Sees magic as (bands of vibrating color, gears, etc), Expressions (phrases they say), Nickname for dragon (good and bad), Term of endearment for sig other, and Mannerisms (twirls hair, bites lip, etc). That’s a lot of stuff, you might be thinking. I’m trying to give each character their own flavor, give them subtle differences, so that hopefully, a character might be identifiable just from their words or actions. For example, instead of all the characters saying Yes as an affirmative response, how about one of them usually saying Yeah, and another might normally say Yep, etc, etc. Obviously, the character will not always say that, but that is their normal response. Doing things like this makes them feel more real, I think. I’ve regrettably not been as focused on this in the past as I probably should have been, but it is something I want to do better at, and this spreadsheet will help. One caveat about phrases, though. Groups of friends tend to adopt each others’ sayings/phrases, so you should give some thought to which phrases remain unique to a character. You also need to think about the fact that adoption of sayings happens and maybe have your characters do it. It all depends on the sayings and the friends and the settings, of course.
The spreadsheet is also handy when you have two people practically nose-to-nose atop a dragon (you’ll see the scene I”m talking about and how they could be facing each other). How could someone not notice the color of the person’s eyes two inches in front of them in the bright sunlight? Well, if the author doesn’t remember what color those eyes are, it makes it difficult to describe. That is why I have so much data in the spreadsheet. I never know when I will need a bit of information. Now, when I do, I’ll have it ready.