There’s a lot going on in For the Birds, my novel in progress. There’s the chemistry between former lovers Cricket and Sonny. There’s her friendship with former fling Blake. There’s a mystery involving Cricket’s twin sister Meadow. There are all the ways Cricket’s assistant Taye has come to the rescue. And then, of course, there are the animals that steal the show – Cricket’s surprise pet macaw and Sonny’s golden retriever Buoy.
So how do I keep them straight?
Whenever I write a novel, one of the most helpful things I do is to write a backstory for each character. I talked a little bit about this in this blog about Cricket. I figure out their likes and dislikes, how they were raised, events that shaped who they are, what they do for a living, what kind of clothes they wear, etc. I get to know them really well.
I also assign an actor to them. Cricket and Meadow’s looks are based on the actress Molly Quinn. Sonny is based on Gerard Butler (yum!). Blake is Jude Law. And so on. This helps me to remember if their eyes are blue or brown, which cheek their one dimple is on, if they have freckles, how they look when they laugh….
Some of their backstory or physical details won’t make it in the story, but it helps me to see them as three dimensional people and connect with them as I write.
In the photo above, you’ll notice what looks like index cards on my computer screen. The first draft of my novel is written in a program called Scrivener. This program allows me to keep notes on setting, characters, and scenes in the same space where I write the story. If I ever need to check certain details as I write, it’s a click away. Scrivener has made it really easy to keep my timelines and details consistent, which can be hard to do when you’re working on a story for months.
But I don’t just use technology to keep my story straight. I go old school and use an old fashioned cork board and index cards.
Each index card is a sentence or two about the scene. You’ll also see a few familiar faces at the bottom of the cork board – the actors who won the roles of each character. The top right corner includes one quote Meadow uses in an Instagram post (she’s a travel influencer on the gram) and a real Yelp review of Joshua Tree (where Cricket and Meadow visit at one point in the story, and where Shawn and I are going next month – can’t wait to walk around the desert!!!!).
And in the center of the board is my friendly little merman ornament holding his…rooster.
Side note: I first wanted to buy it because I live in Petaluma, the “egg basket of the world” (it’s a thing), and this hilarious sexy merman was holding a rooster, and dang if that ain’t Petaluma. But then my daughter pointed out it was a sexy merman holding his c*ck.
Omg. I was sold. Find your own here.
Okay, on with the serious stuff (lol).
Where were we? Oh yeah, the cork board. So, I not only group the scenes by chapter, but I also make note of the date.
I chose to set the story in 2017 (not told in the book, but it helps me to keep the days of the week straight, plus I keep track of the lunar calendar, holidays, etc). If I didn’t do this, one week would end up being four days, and the next would be twelve, etc.
Think this isn’t an issue? Buzzfeed just released an article of different TV shows that totally flubbed their timelines, and it’s hysterical.
Using real time is tricky in a novel because you don’t want to be numbers driven (boring!) but you do want to be realistic about the passing of time. Basically, you want time to be unnoticed by the reader, which means a fine balance between not mentioning specifics too much but being precise in the background.
Make sense? Yeah, I feel the same way. But trust me, it works.
So there you have it. I have other tricks I’ve learned over the years, like how I get my ideas, schedule my blog posts and social media, and so on, but I’ll save that for another post. If there’s anything you’ve wondered about, or maybe something you’ve learned through writing, drop a line in the comments!
P.S. I use a few affiliate links in this post, which offer me a small kickback at no additional cost to you.