Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Keeping Up with the Story Bible

Peggy Webb

Starting a new book is like going somewhere I’ve never been and meeting new people. In the beginning, I have a sketchy idea of who my characters are; but as the story unfolds, I get to know them as well I as I know my best friends.
Some would call that kind of writing organic. Others would call it seat of the pants. I simply call it having fun. I love it when my characters surprise me, and they do that with a regularity that keeps me eager to sit down and write.
When I wrote the first Southern Cousins Mystery, I turned Elvis, Callie, Lovie and the whole Valentine gang loose and let them surprise my socks off. And I kept notes. In a spiral bound, leather journal. A page for each character, a page for each recurring setting, a page for Fayrene’s malapropisms.
I knew that in subsequent books I’d be revisiting these characters, these places. And I wanted to get it right. I wanted Callie’s eyes to be brown in every book and Elvis’ ears to be mismatched and Lovie’s house to be pink.
I finished book one and wrote book two. So far, so good.
Then new characters started popping in, and old ones kept surprising me. In book one I didn’t know Mama had a 1930s cigarette holder and that she smoked when she wanted to aggravate her family. I didn’t know Uncle Charlie was going to hire an assistant who had one blue eye and one green. I didn’t know Bobby’s blue eye would be psychic.
I kept the journal - now known as the story bible - beside my computer so I could take notes. The characters outgrew their pages. Since I was jotting notes in long hand, I drew arrows and wrote things such as cont’d, see back page, go to other section.
I’m now on book four, and my characters continue to be feisty and unpredictable. It takes combined acts of Congress and God to decipher the story bible. What does Leonora, tart w/Shih Tzu mean? What about first boiled peanuts then pickled pigs’ lips? Was Bobby’s psychic eye the left one or the right?
Okay. So writing a series with continuing characters requires a bit more discipline than I’m accustomed to. Even with a story bible (especially my story bible), it’s still possible to miss some of the details. Maybe Bobby’s psychic eye will move around. Maybe Leonora is not important and who can spell Shih Tzu anyhow?
The main thing is this: I’m having fun with the series and I hope my readers are, too.
What is your series reading/writing experience. Do you send an author Godiva chocolates for keeping all the details straight? (Now, that would inspire me!) I’d love to hear from you.

Visit Peggy at Her lastet novel Elvis and the Grateful Dead will be out Oct. 1.


Vicki Hinze said...

Peggy, totally enjoyed your post, and couldn't agree more on the challenges of series writing in keeping everything straight from one book to the next.

I'm now working on my fourth published series, and I can't imagine doing any of them (especially flipping from series to series) without my cheat sheets!

I do confess that even with them I have had a character from another series integrate himself. I had to insist he stay in his own stories!

I also find it helps to reread the previous books before writing a new one in the series. That's getting a little harder to do in the series that have gone on for a while--and it makes it easier for me to understand why some authors write one series and stay with it their entire careers. :)

Chocolates. Godiva, no less. Now why didn't I think of that???



Peggy Webb said...

Vicki, I loved your comment about the character who wouldn't stay in his own story. Isn't that just the way the best characters are? Pushy. Insistent. And usually wonderful.

I'll let you know if Godiva chocolates start coming my way.

Anonymous said...

Hey Peggy. I got my dates for the blog mixed up...sorry to be a couple of days late but I am still excited to get my hands on the next installment of the Southern Cousins series...Really want to know what Elvis is getting into and If he is having any luck reuniting Callie and Jack OR is someone new in the mix...inquiring minds DO want to know. What I do know, is that it will be an exceptionally funny trip with these crazy characters that I see so much of my family in. Keep them coming and we will keep reading and laughing out loud.

Shellie Tomlinson said...

Peggy, honey-- I got your wonderful galley and I've tried to contact you but perhaps our computers aren't speaking? Forgive the public smoke signal, here, but email me please that's tomtom at