That character did what in an earlier book in the series?
November 23, 2013
I don’t know how many writers share this flaw with me.
I have written a couple of series, well maybe three depending on how you count them.
Here’s the problem.
It’s hard for me to remember what my characters did in the prior books.
I know. It sounds ridiculous for an author to say that.
If I’m lying, I’m dying.
I mean, think about it.
By the time a third or fourth book in a series comes out, years have passed since book one.
Okay, so you say the author should go back and re-read the earlier books before he sets out on the next one.
By the time a writer finishes a book, or at least in my experience anyway, he is sick and tired of it. He has read it God knows how many times, editing, proofing, re-writing, re-editing, re-proofing.
You are telling me I should read them all again?
It’s not going to happen.
So, you say, well just take a few minutes and think through those books. Certainly you will remember most of what you wrote.
When I re-read a book I wrote a while ago, I see all sorts of stuff I don’t remember.
“Who wrote this book?” I ask.
I know some writers who deal with this problem by making lists of the characters they have in each book and annotating the lists with important facts.
For instance: In book one Sam is a thirty-seven year old detective with a drinking problem whose wife just divorced him.
That’s a sensible approach.
But the real problem arises as the character evolves, and as he worms his way into the author’s brain.
I have a few characters I now consider good friends.
A good friend is not someone you can tell what to do. He is his own person.
“Why did you make me do that in book one? Now that you know me better, you know I’d never do that,” he says.
But book one is history, it isn’t going away, and I’m not about to re-write it.
To work my way out of this conundrum I have adopted this protocol: I remember the prior books in the series the way I want to and forge ahead.
I trust those characters to go about their business as they must. If they do things that appear inconsistent with actions earlier in their lives, so be it.
It just means they are adapting to new realities the same way we all do.
It’s all fiction, right?
Okay, I’ve spilled the beans. Now I’d like to know how you keep all your characters straight over the course of a series.