Sunday, March 23, 2014
the nitty gritty of it
Someone asked about how a writer keeps track of trilogies which would lead to the same concerns when it comes to series writing. I started to answer it in a comment; but realized I'd learned a lot, especially recently, and it was worthy of its own blog.
When I participated in that Facebook event, I had not only my own hour, but listened in and commented on other writers-- learning a few things along the way. As a writer, you tend to be all on your own especially when creating a new world where you become part of it more than your own-- at least for awhile. Unless you go to workshops, joint critique groups, or attend conferences, none of which have I done, you may not even know other writers doing what you do-- at least it was that way for me until I got into the Amazon forums. The Facebook event was even more of a connection to like-minded writers and readers. It was fast moving, free flowing, like a big party but all revolving around westerns, writing or reading.
So when it comes to writing a series or trilogy, you need to define when your characters were born (even important secondary ones) at least for yourself even if it never shows up anywhere else. In a contemporary it might seem less important but it still matters. How old was that mama? When were the hero and heroine born? When did parents die or did they? What might've impacted their lives-- like say a war. It might seem less important with a story set in today, but in romances, it's the relationships that matter; so consistency in time counts.
For years I kept all that about my characters in my head. I had no idea when a character had been born. Even more so when I had continuing characters, secondary in one, hero in next, I wasn't always that clear on how that would work for getting pregnant or jobs. Frankly back then it didn't really matter. I was writing for myself. When I decided to ePub these books, it was obviously going to matter-- a lot.
If you have a girl in one instantly being a woman two years later and back to a girl in the third, that will drive readers nuts. A timeline avoids that kind of glitch. I made my first one on Corel as frankly I didn't know how to draw a line in Word. What I did was create a straight line and on one side the years-- other side what happened. In my first timeline, I didn't use major world events. They weren't a factor in the story-- or so I thought.
Well major wold events actually are a factor. We are impacted in our daily lives by what we know happened outside our own world. Historical or contemporary characters are no different. Hence attitudes, toward immigration, Native Americans, other countries, natural disasters, political causes, impact of climate, all do enter in their lives as well as our own. We may be on the other side of the popular opinion but it still plays a role in how we see it for something like a major war. If your heroine cannot vote, how does she feel about it? Was the treatment of the Chinese okay or not? Don't know what that was? If she didn't, it says something about her personality-- and if the hero knows, but she doesn't, are they really a good match?
So a timeline that takes into account what else was happening can mean two timelines if it was a lot or just notes regarding something outside the characters' orbits. I finally did learn to draw a line in Word and found that leaving spaces blank when nothing was happening for a few years, gave that timeline more meaning-- also leaving room for additions in the future.
This week-end, at that Facebook event, a writer of mysteries mentioned that she does a bible for her books. I hadn't heard the term and thought I could find out with a search the next morning. What I found is the word bible is so filled with energy that you cannot find anything except it-- pro and con. The search was awash in horror (or glee) that Costco had put the Bible in their fiction section in Simi Valley. Finally I gave up the search and emailed her with the question.
What she told me, that I never did find by a Google search, is that it's like a series bible. If I'd had that second word, I would have saved myself a lot of time. The essence is that a series on television needs to keep track of a lot of characters, what happened, what influences, and that's the bible. She has taken that term to use especially with her mysteries but clearly also her historicals
She was generous and gave me an example of how complex hers is for a series of detective stories she writes-- it was a table of contents that led to 166 pages. -- numbers, timeline, recurring character bios, professional contacts, trends, location, etc. etc.-- basically a book in itself.In her character bios, she had important secondary relationships. She had chapters for weapons, forensics, legal system, etc. Think Arthur Conan Doyle here. She went on with a lot more of the trends of that time, which might impact her stories-- each with their own chapters.
I think I should now give you the name of the prolific author who gave me all this info-- Alison Bruce, who writes both mysteries and historicals.
In the past, I did my research without anything resembling the level of a bible. It was all on many small and large pieces of paper-- some handwritten, some typed. I had a mix of bookmarks that I might be able to find again if I could remember which file. I'd lose the paper or throw them out when I thought the book was done without realizing I was going to someday write another with the same characters.
Yes, I knew some writers were more organized than me. I didn't really care as I thought I was writing what came along. Up to a point, that might work when it's not a series or even more so a trilogy where a continuing problem will be resolved in the third book (and in my case with each standing alone if someone reads only one).
In 2011, when I started to pull my books together, the ones with some of the same characters, I just felt lucky I hadn't yet published any of them. I could adjust some things to finally get them to follow in a logical line. Some, with a recurring secondary character, I had to change of names. It was impossible to blend them as I had with my loose sense of organization. The heroes and heroines were fine, but they could not show up elsewhere out of sequences for their age, age of children or jobs.
I still write seat of my pants in a lot of ways with a story that comes to me and details that grow as I consider what fits together. Now though I have a timeline, adding to it if required, and I do write character profiles when I first introduce a character or family. I am thinking I will also have a bible. It won't be so organized that it has chapters but it will stay in a folder that at least can be found later with printed off articles that relate. Yeah, I'm not anal-- I also though am not nuts, don't want more work than required, and realize readers keep track. A writer that's sloppy likely won't get a second chance.