This past week I read a friend’s blog, and she mentioned whiles going through her story she found she’d changed the eye color of her character. I laughed. Then I found I’d changed a secondary character’s name after the first few chapters of my own WIP. It’s easy to do when you’re a panster. Your writing is more organic, and you can forget some details in the creative moment. I’ve started writing out character lists in a notebook and recently, after this recent name faux pas I rewrote it in Excel. Because there are times my notebook is on my desk and I’m writing sitting at the kitchen table.
Making the list
I know some of you out their chewing your nails at the thought of using Excel.
It’s so simple.
Open the template and add headings at the top.
Then fill in the column.
My columns headings:
Hair hair and eye color
distinguishing physical feature
Their relationship to other characters i.e.. Someone’s mother or love interest.
A few friends keep more extensive lists based on backstory such as education and habits.
Make the list as detailed as you need to keep everything straight as you write.
I keep the excel sheet open on my laptop when I’m writing for easy reference.
If the idea of Excel still sounds too geeky for you organic types, you can create your own Word doc and categorize the characters to your liking.
If you prefer, create a hand-written page for your character that sits beside your computer or for those who are into retro—your typewriter.
Keep it handy
However you choose to create your character list keep it handy. You don’t want to kill off Jared in chapter 15 and he returns to deliver a message in chapter 32. (Unless of course it’s a ghost story.) You want to be sure Serena’s blue eyes that glisten like sapphires when Juan first meets her don’t transform into chocolate orbs after he kisses her.
Note the different hair colors of my beautiful daughter. Make sure there is a reason your character has a hair color change.
If Juan has a scar, check your notes to be sure it doesn’t switch sides of his face. Having the list handy will keep Serena’s waist length raven hair from morphing to blond for no logical reason by the books end.
I’ve found these very errors in published work. A character named John was Joel. It was only one time, but it took me out of the story and nettled me for the rest of it. For the sake of future readers and to make your editor’s life easier and show the publisher you’re a professional keep a character sheet.
Do you have a character list? What do you put on it?