Thursday, June 21, 2007

Writer Tip #23 -- Keeping Your Characters Straight

I recently finished a book wherein the girl's hair kept changing from brown to blonde. No, she wasn't auditioning to be the new Clairol girl -- the author messed up and the editor didn't catch it. Mistakes like this have three effects:

1. It makes the author look like a doofus, which is never good.

2. It throws the reader out of the story.

3. It keeps the reader from forming an image in their mind of what the character looks like, and so the reader isn't able to bond with that character, and they don't get the full benefit of the story.

Here are some tips for keeping your characters straight:

A. Keep a notebook by your computer. Every time you add a new character, take a minute to jot down some vital statistics. Then, any time you refer to a trait of that character's, glance at your list to make sure you've got the right person. You can also do this on Post-it Notes and stick 'em on your monitor. I like doing that because it makes me look productive when someone glances at my computer.

B. Look through magazines and catalogs and find pictures of actors or models that resemble your characters. Cut out those pictures and keep them for reference. Anita Stansfield does this, but most of her pictures are of Kevin Costner. Hey, we're all entitled to have our dream men, aren't we?

C. Really envision your characters as you write. Get to know them like you would a new friend. Then, as you're writing about them, the descriptions will flow naturally, as they would if you were writing about a real person or a new friend.

You should know your characters better than anyone. After all, you've just spent how many months/years thinking about them all the time?


Lynne said...

It really throws me off in a book when I find mistakes. After I find one, I tend to forget the story and look for more mistakes. I do the same thing with TV shows and movies. Dom gets SO mad at me when I point out things that are wrong.

Framed said...

My niece recently said she wanted to write a novel so I directed her to your blog. I hope she reads it because your suggestions make so much sense. These are guides that would really help her without inhibiting her creative process.

Anna Maria Junus said...

Great tip! I'm going to have to remember that!

violetlady said...

Tristi, I always enjoy your suggestions. Do you ever go to writer workshops? If you are not already, you should be an instructor at one.

Melissa said...

Hey - thanks for stopping by my blog! I had read that some authors kept notebooks (J.K. Rowling is one) to keep everything straight. It sounds like you have some great insights :)

Tristi Pinkston said...

Violet Lady --

Why, yes! I am a regular presenter at the LDStorymaker Writers Conference here in Utah every spring. It's a whale of a lot of fun to do. I also do editing and plot-honing for other authors.

Melissa --

Good to meet you!

Lynne -- I know exactly how you feel. I find myself editing while I read and it really frustrates me!

Framed -- I would love to see your niece over here. Tell her to say howdy so I know who she is.

Anna Maria -- thanks for your comment!

Karen said...

Your writing tips make so much sense. Even though I'm not in a place to do any writing, it makes reading a story even more interesting, thinking how the author pulled it all together.

Thanks for my book -- it came in the mail a couple days ago. Can't wait to crack it open as soon as I'm finished with Mitford #7!

Annette Lyon said...

Great tip, Tristi. Another idea: I've had to keep notes for my characters on other topics, too, such as their ages at major events in the past or in the future in relation to the main plot. (such as when the epilogue takes place). It's saved me boatloads of time. That is, *after* I figuring out their ages about 86 times and finally cluing in that I should put it all in one place so I can refer to it any time!

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