So, every writer has their strengths, and every writer has their weaknesses. As it happens, I know that one of my big weaknesses is that I’m not a very visual person. I don’t really think of my characters in terms of their appearance, and I don’t really think of places in terms of their layout, or where they are in relation to one another. Most of the time, it really isn’t that big of a problem. I don’t usually have a reason to tell the reader how long it takes to get from point a to point b, or describe a particular birthmark, or anything like that. But every once in a while I find myself tripping over myself. Especially when I’m working on a series.
For example, for effect I might have my main character looking up at one person, in one scene, and looking down at another, half a book later. If I do that, it’s going to make it hard to explain how the person he looks up at and the person he looks down at are standing nose to nose glaring into each other’s eyes a book or two later. But that is something I am completely likely to do simply because my writing is largely about emotional effect and I don’t often think about the physical limitations.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent the last few years training myself to keep a cheat sheet for my characters. I usually group them together with the people to whom they’re most closely associated, then I write a brief physical description, focusing on two or three features, and make a note of anything important about them.
Usually that’s enough. I have to admit, I would like to have photographs instead. I know that some writers will ‘cast’ their book as though it was a movie, putting actors into specific rolls so they have somebody to visualize when they’re writing. Honestly, given the kind of stuff I write about, I think I’d do better to use mug shots for my characters. Especially since you can see, right on the photograph, how tall they are. Who knows, maybe I’ll start doing that.
The thing is, that’s great for people, but it’s harder for locations. Sometimes I use places that I’m familiar with. For example, the protagonist of my current series lives in a trailer rather like the one I lived in for a year. He decorates his differently, of course, but when I’ve got an action sequence in the works, it’s helpful to imagine it happening in a place I’m intimately familiar with. But that doesn’t always work, Mostly because I’ve only lived in a few places. And the layouts of my homes don’t help when I’m trying to create a working business.
Not to mention, my stories take place in cities and while I don’t feel the need to draw out actual maps for my readers to reference, it’s not a bad idea to have something that I can reference so I’m consistent when dealing with drive times or remembering which place is nearest to which other place.
For that, I’ve found something fantastic!
Did you know that the people who make newspapers use giant rolls of paper? And when those rolls of paper get too small to be used in making more newspapers, they sell the rolls? At pretty decent prices, I might add? Right now I’ve got two rolls of unused paper, which is more than enough to completely cover the walls in my bedroom, living room, and kitchen, and I spent less than fifteen dollars on them!
These things are fantastic! I’ve got a map of my fake town, a giant timeline with a rough sketch of everything that’s going to happen in this series, blueprints for where my protagonist lives and works, and more blank paper still available than I’m likely to use in the next five years!
I’m considering taking my cheat sheet of characters and making character clouds on one of these suckers. It might help me as I try to keep track of who is connected to whom.
Well, that’s my helpful tidbit for today. Spend a few bucks on big paper and cover your walls with your ideas.