No, I’m not Santa Claus, although I am a jolly little fat man. And I used to dress up and play Santa for the kids at the women’s shelter I was involved with years ago. But I’m talking about a different kind of list.
Quite a few readers have asked me how I keep track of all of the characters in my different book series. Do I use a computer program for it, a written list, or are they all in my head?
Well, yes, they all are in my head. That’s where they’re born and that’s where they live, as well as in the pages of my books. But there are way too many of them for me to keep track of everybody, what they look like, their personalities, and their histories.
I have tried a couple of different computer programs that help create characters and record their data, but I found them to be too much hassle to make it worth the time. Every author is different. Some authors I know use a corkboard and index cards or a large erasable whiteboard for characters and things like that. I know a couple who actually have a wall in their writing space covered in corkboard and use index cards to lay out a story, like what you see on some of the police television programs showing all the suspects in the case and their connection to each other. And I know some authors who use spreadsheet programs like Excel.
I’m not that organized, and since I never plot out a book ahead of time, instead just flying by the seat of my pants and making it up as I go along, none of that would work for me. I just have a simple Word file for each book series on which I list the main characters that recur in the series and just a paragraph or so about each one. For example, in my John Lee Quarrels series, I have:
John Lee Quarrels – A good old boy deputy in rural Somerton County, Florida. Handsome dark-haired ladies’ man. Drives Dodge Charger on duty. Has a big German shepherd named Magic. His former father-in-law is the sheriff. Call sign is County 16
Madison “Maddy” Westfall – Deputy, childhood friend of John Lee, later becomes his lover. Tall, leggy blond with blue eyes. Had a tough childhood, alcoholic mother, father out of picture since she was a young girl. Call sign is County 28.
Paw Paw (Stanley) – John Lee’s grandfather, tall, thin man with a weathered face, gray ponytail, free spirit, tinkerer, grows and smokes pot, eccentric in a fun way. Sarcastic sense of humor. He and his wife Mama Nell raised John Lee.
Mama Nell – John Lee’s grandmother, great cook, plus-sized sassy southern lady, obsessed with Elvis Presley since she was a teenager. Would hit the roof if he ever called her Grandma.
D.W. Swindle – Somerton County Sheriff, John Lee’s former father-in-law, good old boy southern politician, fat, drives white Tahoe, always has mouth full of tobacco
Mildred Swindle – D.W.’s wife, wants him to retire and slow down, nags him about his health.
Of course, there are many other recurring characters on the list, and more get added as the series continues. For other characters who only appear in one book, I just jot some basic information about them on a Post-it note and keep it handy as I’m writing.
I also keep another list of the settings for each book series. On that list, I have the names of restaurants and bars and other businesses that get mentioned in the different books in the series, sometimes the owner or manager’s names, and maybe a line or two about the business such as if it’s a dive bar, a fast food restaurant, a honky tonk with sawdust on the floor, things like that.
So that’s how I do it; with lists. Of course, there are more to my characters than what I have on my lists, but over time I have come to know them as well as I do my family members and close friends. And for what it’s worth, my readers seem to connect with the characters. One of the most frequent comments I get from them is that they feel like they know the people in my books. They are just like the people in their own lives, and they love reading each new book to see what they are up to now.
Okay, maybe, just maybe, I sometimes think I am Santa and have a list of all of the naughty girls I know, too. But if I do, I’ll never tell. 😊
And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an audiobook of More Than Human by my friend Heather Ashbury. It’s a blend of fantasy and paranormal romance that begins when a young woman returns to an enchanting town in New Mexico following a mysterious death, where she is unexpectedly pulled into the mystical world of gods, demons, werewolves, nymphs, and more.
To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – I think I need to lose some weight. I tried to sit up in bed this morning and ended up rocking myself back to sleep.
So Nick, do you sometimes dream about your characters? And if you have a really interesting episode with one or more of them, do you have a notepad next to your bed where you can write it down if it wakes you up?
I dreamed the entire story of the first Big Lake book before I wrote it and much of the story of Return to Dog’s Run. But otherwise, no, I don’t dream about them. I do make notes of things that come to me at other times, like while watching TV or driving. And interestingly, I get a lot of ideas for books while in the shower. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea, and I’m not sure I want to know! 🙂