With great reluctance, it’s time I admit that it’s become evident to me that I will have to get organized. A girl can only double-check so many times whether a character’s cane has an alligator’s head or a crocodile’s head for a handle before she has to face the fact that she’s wasting her own time.
I have, therefore, again with great reluctance, begun to assemble a Binder.
In the same way that I don’t willingly write synopses, I also don’t write character histories or descriptions, except into the text of the manuscript itself. This is because I like learning about the characters as I go. I don’t know what they’re really like until I see them in action. I don’t know what traits they have until I learn what traits they need. I don’t know what their histories are until I find a reason to investigate. This is not to say that I know nothing about a character in advance; but by not forming pre-conceived ideas about that character, I can maintain the greatest possible flexibility and give myself room to work in future stories.
An example of this is Old Tom Guyot. Readers of The Boneshaker might remember that Tom has an old injury in one knee that gives him some arthritic pain. You might have assumed that, although the actual circumstances of the injury were not disclosed in that book, I, the all-knowing writer, certainly knew how Tom got hurt.
I do know now, but I only discovered the circumstances about a month ago, after my husband had finished reading the first draft of The Kairos Mechanism. He said I needed something to raise the stakes, and the scene I came up with to accomplish that turned out to have the added benefit of revealing the nature and history of Old Tom’s injury. And believe me when I tell you, what I came up with I would have had no way of anticipating two years ago. Absolutely no flipping way.
On the other hand, I have had to look up what kind of cane Doc Fitzwater carries twice now, and just because I don’t want to be pinned down about things before it’s absolutely necessary, that doesn’t mean I like doing the same extra work over and over and over.
So I’ve come up with a compromise. I’ve made character sheets, I’ve put them in the aforementioned binder and I’ve alphabetized them. But I’ve decided that the only things that go on them are things that have already been committed to in print and things that are so mission-critical to the ongoing story that they’re really unlikely to be changed. Anything else can be recorded as ideas and notes in a designated section of the page, so that I don’t forget that those things can be changed at will. But so far I haven’t written much in those sections. The same is true with the map of Arcane I drew when we were editing The Boneshaker–up until this week it only showed places I’d referenced in that particular book. Because I added references to one or two new places in The Kairos Mechanism, I’ve added a few things to my drawing.
I’ve also started making notes that will become a style sheet. These include things like is gingerfoot capitalized? Do I refer to Doc Fitzwater as the Doc or the doc? And what reptile gave its noggin so that the doc’s cane could have a handle?
Grudging, baby steps toward organization. I suppose it was time.
Become a backer of The Kairos Mechanism‘s Kickstarter campaign here, so that I haven’t compromised my principles and become organized for no good reason. Thank you!