Writing a Character History

This morning I wrote a scene in which my character thinks about his dead parents, and I had to stop and figure out whether I had mentioned in previous books what happened to them. It was real “duh” moment. My solution—to prevent readers from e-mailing me about “character mistakes”—is to go back and write a character development history. Then keep it updated as I go along.

I already have a character database in which I list every character who might possibly come up again, along with any pertinent details. But this project is specifically about Detective Jackson, his issues, his backstory, and his growth in each book. I should have done this from the beginning, but I wasn’t sure with the first book that it would be a series. And I freely admit that plotting and pace are my strengths and character development is something I have to work harder for.

Keeping an ongoing history of Jackson’s issues with his daughter, his ex-wife, his lover, his mysteriously dead parents—and his overall perspective—will help me with character development. It’s will also be interesting to re-read the series back-to-back, with characterization in mind. Will inconsistencies jump off the page? The whole process is making me more aware of character, which is great for my writing.

A related issue is the risk of developing character story lines that continue through several books. What if an editor doesn’t like the direction I’ve taken Jackson in the third book, which isn’t published yet? What if she insists I take it out? Then much of the work I’ve done with Jackson in the fourth book will also have to be scrapped. So I’m being careful about what and how much I include. I’m also afraid to make the new character issues central to the plot.

Am I the only one having these issues? Writers: How do you keep track of your character development? Have you ever had an editor kill a character direction?

1 Comment
  1. When I wrote my 700-page rough draft, I wrote straight through with concern for a half-dozen top level characters. A lot of minor characters came and went without any treatment or fully realized names. Now that I’m revising the manuscript for length and consistency with what I got, all the questions I postponed are now haunting me.

    Who are these people?
    Where do they come from?
    Why are they here?
    When should they appear in the story?
    What about all the other unknowns?

    I’m going to give each character a page or two for notes. Typed them all up and see if any of it makes sense for the next draft. My longest manuscript before this was 120 pages. I’m still learning myself about the best way of doing anything with something this big..

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