Character Dossier Lies

When speaking to fellow writers, I’ve always said I don’t use character dossiers. I used to, with the first couple novels (that are still hidden in boxes). I’d carefully fill out every question and then never go back and look at it again. Once I got into actual writing, the characters answered all those questions for me and the answers were usually far different from what I’d initially imagined.

No dog dossier needed for this character (in our hotel room)

No dog dossier needed for this character (in our hotel room)

I recently finished the first pass through editing book three. In doing so I realized that I needed a detailed timeline, list of characters in the series, a list of places, etc. It’s okay not to have one for the first book, maybe it’s okay for the second, but for continuity, it’s needed by the third. It was time to get serious. So with this revision process I started jotting down notes.

I made a page for each character and when reading the story, any time I came across a character description, I jotted it down. I’m now doing the same thing for the first two books. And it dawned on me (I’m a bit slow, I admit) that I’m creating a character dossier after the fact.

Why does it work to have one when the story is written and done, but not at the beginning when you don’t know the character at all? I have no idea. I think it ties into my style of writing, that I don’t outline either. Once the story is done though, I need the dossier in order to not forget who this person is that I just spent so much time with. Especially for the minor characters who might decide to step forward in a later book for a more major part. I’ll be able to go back to my post-dossier and find out what color eyes they have.

So the dossier works for me at the end of a story as a reminder in case I need it in the future.

All this time of declaring adamantly that I don’t use character dossiers, I’ve been lying. Well, okay, deceiving myself is probably more appropriate.

Oh, and the line above about not outlining? Another self-deception. Because by creating a timeline after the story is done, I’ve just…made an outline! Dang it. I’m going to have to change my whole speech the next time I talk to an audience of writers.

Another character following me at the beach this Christmas. Helping me look for agates I believe.

Another character following me at the beach this Christmas. Helping me look for agates I believe.

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