Thursday, June 09, 2011

Don't Lose your Characters

What I'm reading: Damaged, by Debra Webb

Don’t forget – there’s plenty of time to leave a comment on Phoebe Conn’s Tuesday post to be entered in her drawing. I’ll wait while you scroll down.

Meanwhile, I’m over at The Romance Studio at a release party today. I’ll be in and out all day. If you’re so inclined, pop on over. I’m talking about WHERE DANGER HIDES, and I’m giving away a download of WHEN DANGER CALLS.

When writing series or connected books, there are some extra considerations, such as handling back story and keeping track of characters. And sometimes, it can get you into trouble.

For example, in WHEN DANGER CALLS, I needed Ryan to be able to get into the Blackthorne’s fancy computer system, even though he’d technically quit. It made no sense for a company like Blackthorne to have conveniently forgotten to shut down his access. (that would have been one of those handy “coincidences” I talked about in an earlier post) So, I simply gave Ryan a throwaway line:

“I sort of borrowed a login from a buddy. His fault—I kept telling Grinch to pick a smarter password than his kid's name and birthday."

So, when it became time to write Grinch’s story, I was stuck with the child. And due to other plot considerations, I gave him a dog as well. While it’s one thing to have a throwaway line, once a character is on the page, be it human or animal, it becomes your responsibility.



If you’re going to introduce a character, you have to be ready to consider where he will be even when he’s not on the page. Make it a child (or a dog) and you have other considerations, because they require tending. You can’t simply send them off to work, or leave them alone in the house all day. They have to be fed, walked, whatever.

I recently read a book where the inciting incident in the first chapter involved an abused animal. The heroine rescued it and brought it to an expert. We saw the hero agree to try to undo the damage, and a brief scene where he assessed the animal. However it was over a hundred pages—maybe closer to two—before we saw him working the animal again. Since caring for the animal was the sole reason hero and heroine got together, I kept wondering what was happening. And several weeks had passed, so it wasn’t a matter of a lot of other stuff going on in a short period of time.

When I use my tracking board, I try to put up Post-its for clues and when secondary characters appear in scenes, so I know whether I’ve dropped a thread. It’s important to make sure you don’t lose track of what, or who, is important. If it happens to be a pet, and you find you’ve neglected it, then find a way to remind yourself of its existence.

Tomorrow we’re going to Loveland, Colorado for a classic car show. And you know that because it’s Jason taking the pictures, they’re going to be something special. Come back!

13 comments:

Calisa Rhose said...

Great reminder about secondary characters. In my first ms I had two dogs, intentionally. They were in the first few scenes and then my cp- a huge dog lover- noted not so gently that I'm starving, neglecting the poor abused animals. lol She assumed they had run away out of protest to neglect. I realized how much of a struggle it was to reintegrate them throughout and now I watch that more carefully. Not that I don't still get tripped up. But I'm more careful.

Terry Odell said...

I find my tracking board is helpful, once I know what to keep track of!

Jannine Gallant said...

A tracking board is a great idea. Every once in a while I read through my WIP and have a "pull my hair out" moment when I realize we haven't seen grandma in 5 chapters! I'm all over the dog angle, though. My own makes sure I don't forget the fictional version.

Terry Odell said...

I've just started another tracking board for my current WIP. It really helps me make sure I'm not dropping threads (or forgetting to feed dogs)

Jemi Fraser said...

I've never tried a tracking board - but it seems like a really good idea. I'll have to give it a shot one of these days!

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - I just started a new one for my current WIP. I'd written 4 chapters and set up the board this afternoon; I've already found something I'd left out. My last book, due to moving, I didn't do a board until I was totally finished, and that was a royal pain. I'm definitely going to keep up with this book.

Beth Trissel said...

So true Terry. Good post. Definitely something to bear in mind.

Kathy Bennett said...

Terry;

Great post. In my current WIP I can't keep track of my characters, much less an animal!

I think forgetting your secondary characters is an easy thing for a writer to do.

For me, I've found colored index cards to be my best tool...at least this time around .

Karen said...

I love reading your blogs, Terry. As a reader, I learn so much, and become much more appreciative of the final product.

Terry Odell said...

Karen, that's good. Readers are what it's about; without them, we're not going anywhere. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too focused on the craft side of things here.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy - index cards will work. Anything will work. I like the post-its because they don't run away. The trick is learning what you have to keep track of!

M.E. said...

Next week, I plan to start my tracking board for my 1st novel. Thanks for the tips - I'm excited to have found your blog via my Twitter buds. :)

Terry Odell said...

M.E. - Glad you found me. Good luck with your tracking! I've got a handout on my website that might help (plotting for non plotters.)