Keeping Track of Characters

LBI don’t often do character profiles before writing a novel except to decide on basic information — gender, a couple of physical traits and maybe general idea of personality type. I prefer to let the needs of the story dictate who the character is. I mean, if I have created a caring, nurturing character, and the story demands a wisecracking sharpshooter, then the story starts out with problems from the beginning. (Unless, of course, the wisecracking hides a caring, nurturing side of the character, which could make for an interesting character, though I’m sure it’s been done thousands of times before.)

Each book, of course, has its own demands, and Light Bringer had more demands than most. It was the only book I did a storyboard for. Halfway through, I got lost in all the points of view, the various stories that needed to be intertwined, the special needs of the novel, so I wrote a brief description of each scene on a card and played with them, dealing them out in various arrangements until I found the best way to fit all the pieces together.

Light Bringer was also the only book I did a character chart for. The story was based on both modern and ancient conspiracy theories (though ancient conspiracy theories fall under the category of “myth”). Instead of having one erudite character lecture a clueless character on the theories, I created a discussion group where each character believed and vociferously defended his or her pet theory. One unexpected benefit of the group was that I had ready-made pool of characters to draw from for bit parts.

Group dialogue causes problems for readers in that it’s hard sometimes to keep track of who is talking and what their purpose is in the story. It’s also hard for writers to keep track, so I made a chart of all the characters, their beliefs, style, food needs, and various other aspects to make sure that each was different.

For example, Scott Newman, a retired banker, believed that the international bankers were controlling the world to gain total wealth and power. He was lean, sharp-featured, contemptuous, didn’t eat “corporate foods” (things like chips and frozen dinners that were created by corporations) because as a loan officer, he’d already done enough to further the aims of the international bankers.

Faye Pozinski was almost his direct opposite. She believed that the British oligarchy (London bankers, the London School of Economics, the Fabian Society, the Rhodes Round Table) were controlling the world to create a neoBritish empire ruled by a theocratic world king. An ample woman in her fifties still working as a grocery clerk, Faye was hearty with a braying voice, a vegetarian, and delighted in wearing wildly colored clothes.

And then there was Chester, a wizened, jeans-wearing diabetic fruit grower who overdramatized everything. He’d once seen a UFO over his orchard, and he believes we are ripe for an alien takeover because he’s convinced these otherworldly creatures want to keep us from blowing up the earth.

These are only three of my discussion group characters but you can see why I needed a chart. So much to keep track of!


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “Keeping Track of Characters”

  1. digitalhegemon Says:

    I love the imagery of characters as bringers of light. It gives the story a very holistic feel to it. Excellent post!!!

  2. digitalhegemon Says:

    Reblogged this on d|gI+Al hEGeM0n …..d|g|Z|nE and commented:
    An incredible example of Rule 42. Finally!!!

  3. rami ungar the writer Says:

    When I outline my novels, I usually let the characters do their shtick in the story before I write anything down about them personally. It’s served me well so far.

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