This is the ninth in a series of posts about the redrafting process of THE LONG ROAD which will be composed and published as I rewrite the book. The other posts in this series are here.
To recap, my goal from last week was:
So. For next week, I’m planning to have character sheets written out for all the characters on the timeline and hopefully have then mapped out on the web.
What actually happened:
Well, not that much, actually. I took a break The Long Road to work on a short story, and I took a little break from writing to deal with a sick kid and get sick myself. So it’s only been the last couple of days that I could make much progress on this front. But, you know me: I have fancy graphics for you anyway!
I’ve got about half of the major characters’ bios mapped out. Actually the Aerdh Bible overall is coming along quite well. Check it out:
This gives you a sense of how much I’ve done already, which is a pretty substantial amount of pre-writing. The Aerdh Bible in total has now surpassed 10,000 words of worldbarfy goodness, and half of it is devoted to character outlines.
The length and level of detail of these character outlines has varied a lot so far. some are short because it’s actually a fairly minor character and there’s not much to say. Some are short because the character is straightforward. Some are way longer than I expected, and some are shorter than I thought they would be because the character meets an abrupt and untimely end. As someone who tends to understand plot in terms of character arcs, building out these character bios is a particularly useful way to nail down the overarching story.
The bios are somewhat standardized. In each, I’m trying to nail down the following:
- the lifespan of the character, which I need to know in order to know if it makes sense that they would be around at X event of appear in Y book
- Names the character goes by. I have a few characters (the pirates are especially bad about this) who change names like other people change socks, so tracking that it useful.
- notable skills and abilities. Since this is a heavily elvish book the bios i’ve been working on currently mostly have to do with magic (both what they can do and what sort of training, if any, they’ve gotten for it), but also things like musical talent, medical training, etc., go here.
- physical description. self-explanatory but MAN am I bad about changing eye color and height across drafts and books.
- personal history. tracking the character from early childhood to death, which helps me formulate the whys and hows of a given character – personal history plays pretty deeply into motivations and elements of marginalization and privilege.
- important relationships with other chracters. I think, actually, that when I say I think of plot in terms of characters what I really mean is I think of plot in terms of characters’ relationships. All my writing is super-grounded in relationships, and I tend to understand one character based in their relation to another, so marking out who the important people are in a person’s life is central to my understanding of that person.
Writing up these character sheets has become a strangely emotional experience for me. I think it’s natural and common for a writer to get attached to characters. I think you need a certain amount of investment in your characters to write them well. The thing with these character outlines, though, is that I am explicitly nailing down the good and bad things that happen, the death and the losses and abuse suffered and survived along with marriages and children and peaceful endings. At one point yesterday, it got to me:
That’s me g chatting with my partner, who very patiently let me bemoan the state of a fictional character’s life. I presume there will be more of the above to come as I finish writing all these other characters up.
By this time next week I should have a bunch more character outlines in the can. And maybe this weekend – barring a terrible toddler flu resurgence – I will get a chance to draw some maps.