Continuity is King   6 comments

When writing a sequel or series with the same characters, do you ever have to refer back to your first book because you forgot what you wrote about a certain character?

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I Don’t Trust My Memory

I write series and I love characters — lots of personalities. In the real world, we are all interconnected with one another and the same holds true in believable fiction.

The downside to that is there’s a lot to remember. Clem Burroughs is the town vet and I mention him very briefly in Objects in View. He euthanizes some radiation poisoning victims. And, when he can’t finish the job, Shane finishes it for him.

I never really intended to revisit the character. He was a “non-player character” when I wrote OIV, but my characters have a way to asserting themselves and telling me their stories. Later while writing the later parts of the story, “Clem” told me he had a wife Abigail who was a nurse at the Emmaus Medical Center. He told me enough that I wanted to include him in scene in Winter’s Reckoning. There was one problem. I couldn’t remember his name.

Occupational Hazard

Daermad Cycle is a fat fantasy series and there’s lots of characters in The Willow Branch that show up in Mirklin Wood or will show up in Fount of Wraiths. They have Celtic names we don’t necessarily hear everyday. Because it’s a medieval setting, people tend to stay in their villages or towns, except my characters travel. Whenever they return to a community, I try to remember who lives there and what they are like.

And my memory is untrustworthy.

Continuity is King

I’ve discovered through Kindle Reads that people apparently read Transformation Project as a series. They read Life As We Knew It and, it appears, they start reading Objects in View the same day. It’s a pretty consistent reading pattern that has as many full-book reads of every book in the series. They’re a little slower to read Daermad Cycle because it’s a fat fantasy, but the same pattern exists if I look at a month of reads. While that’s ego-gratifying, it’s also a burden because continuity is king when someone reads the whole series in a week. They WILL notice.

Do I Re-Read the First Book?

Yes, but…

I keep a continuity notebook for Daermad Cycle. It’s broken up into communities to make it easier to find the characters, their names and their characteristics. I do sometimes need to read the earlier books to remember things like their height or weight, the condition of their teeth. That’s largely because I decide what the characters look like based on the story they tell me. They won’t often describe themselves. The continuity notebook helps a lot, but it’s not comprehensive. It fills up most of a spiral-bound school notebook and I should put it on the computer, but … yeah, I’m still old-school.

Transformation Project doesn’t have a continuity notebook. I generally only forget minor characters’ names and I can read through a book that isn’t a fat fantasy in an evening or scan through about three in that amount of time.

For example, in Winter’s Reckoning I described Rob as he was doing something and I wanted to mention his eye color. I went blank. Then all this heredity information starts floating through my brain. Rob’s father Jacob had blue eyes and his mother Vi had green-gray eyes. She was a Greyeyes and green-gray eyes are a feature of that family. (My mother’s Rez cousins are Greyeyes and I used some of the family stories for the Greyeyes family of Emmaus.) Blue eyes are recessive to green eyes, but it’s not that simple because they’re both recessive to brown. Rob’s wife Jill has green eyes (I think), his eldest son Cai has blue eyes, his middle child Shane definitely has green eyes, and his daughter Keri has (my husband’s) rare blue-green eyes.

You see how my mind was circling and spinning? Yeah, I wasn’t going to work this out logically by figuring out the genetics because for five books the reader has probably known Rob’s eyes are….

I went back and read the scene in Life As We Knew It where I said Rob has BLUE eyes, which is consistent with the eye color of his children. If he’d had green eyes, Cai would probably not be his biological son.

Good Authorial Technique

I definitely need to reread the earlier books to keep things on track. And frankly, that sometimes help me to get into the mood to restart writing a series. I typically take a break after publishing a book in one series by writing an unrelated book, but sometimes when I shift back, I need a little bit to get back in the mood and reading the earlier books can help me get into the series’ world again and generally the characters will start talking to me. In fact, I’m going to read through the entire Transformation Project series during a cross-country flight in November because what else should I do in a metal tube while wearing a mask? The rough-rough draft of “A Death in Jericho” should be finished by then and that’ll get me into the mood for finishing the book.

I’ve noticed that sometimes when authors write series, they change subtle things over the length of the series and it completely changes who the characters are over time. I think they might benefit from read the series before each book and that’s one of the reasons I do periodically take my own advice.

Posted October 5, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “Continuity is King

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  1. I leave a good deal of characterization detail to the readers, that way I don’t have to remember eye color and hair and all that. In fact, my bit players get more than the leads. We know who the leads are by what they say and do. A drop in badguy needs to be known in a line a la MacDonald or Hammett or Leonard. “Pink, blonde and rubbery.”
    However, for intricate reads, I can see the issue. And damn straight if their eyes change color or their truck changes color you’re in for it.

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    • Especially now that they can read the entire series in a week. They’re in the Zone. I have to be too. And, generally, I leave details light. I thread them through the narrative. Every time I get a new beta reader I get the question “What does this character look like?” I always want to say “Read the series and you draw your own conclusion.”

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  2. I’ve always tried to create future and alternative worlds that are unique but based on the present. Maybe using familiar things gives me an advantage when it comes to getting consistency, maybe I’ve just got lucky. I remember one famous (and very long) book that hinged on the possible colour of a child’s eyes, based on its parentage. I must admit that I try to avoid potential pitfalls like that where I can.

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    • Yes. When I chose eye colors, it was a deliberate thing. Shane feels like an outsider in his own family. He’s a “throwback”. His father and two siblings took their looks from their “white” ancestors. His uncle Eric (who committed suicide, so there’s a complication) looked like his mother – a Wyandot Indian. Shane looks like Eric and Grandma Vi. It’s a point of friction for Shane and I know the genetics are good because they’re patterned after the coloring of people in my mother’s family (who had a “white” father and an Indian mother who also had some “white” ancestry. But every now and then, I second-guess myself and then I just go back and read what I wrote before. I knew what I was doing then — I just need not second-guess myself.

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  3. The search feature is a wonderful thing. If I remember one part of a character’s description, I can use the keywords to easily get to the rest.

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