My character information spreadsheet saved my writing life today. Some of you may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. The innocuous character information spreadsheet pictured above truly saved my life this week.
The events that necessitated this dramatic action began yesterday when my Midwestern Books editor sent the continuity and proofreading edits for See Jane Dance!. (It’s Book 3 in the West River Mystery Series in case you’re counting.) Soon I was reading through and approving the changes suggested by the proofreader. Who is amazing. Seriously amazing. All was going swimmingly until the proofreader’s note about second grader Cora Barkley. In a nutshell, the editor cited passages in See Jane Run! and See Jane Sing! that said Cora was a first grader.
Gasp! This is bad news for a fiction writer. (Yes, that would be me.)
I consider creating a consistent story world to be essential. How in the world was I going to reconcile this discrepancy and put Cora in the grade where she belongs? And how was I going to explain the shift to her teacher Jane who won’t have enough copies of first grade worksheets if that’s where Cora lands.
Oh wait. Jane is a fictional character. But still.
So what I did instead of freaking out, which I was my first reaction? First I opened my character information spreadsheet. I started this document before beginning See Jane Run! and have been updating and expanding it as new characters are added. The sheet includes basic information that helps me keep each character’s story consistent.* Not everything on the sheet ends up in the books, and that’s okay. It’s there just in case. Also, the picture above is of the beginning of the spreadsheet. It goes on for pages and pages.
A quick glance at Cora’s entry confirmed that she is supposed to be in second grade.
I also checked my composition notebook where I brainstormed character names and student grade levels long ago. Those notes also listed Cora as a second grader. Finally, I read the chapters in Run! and Sing! that were concerning to the proofreader. I used printed rather than electronic copies and discovered that those consistency errors had been caught and corrected before the books went to the printer and upheld Cora’s status as a second grader.*
Thus, thanks in part to my character information spreadsheet, I am breathing once again. My writing life has been saved, and Jane does not need to make a flying trip to Tipperary to copy more first grade worksheets for Cora. Whew!
*My character information sheet is only the tip of the character development iceberg. For each character, I have created a much longer document about their parents, immediate and extended families (very important in Little Missouri as everyone is related to everyone else), their education and employment, quirky habits and mannerisms, their homes and ranches, vehicles, motivations, faults, strengths, and more. Perhaps one day I’ll write a post about that.
**My guess is the proofreader had referred a document that hadn’t been updated to show those changes.