As I write No Bodies, the second Kent Fisher mystery, I find myself backtracking to the first story with increasing regularity.
Did Niamh have dark hair? Was it short or long? What kind of clothes does she wear? How many bedrooms are there in Kent’s home? Does he have a dishwasher? What does his office look like? Though I only went through a copy edit of the story a few weeks ago, I can’t remember. I finished the final draft of No Accident nearly five months ago and immediately started thinking about the second story. While I have notes about characters and places, they’re usually handwritten notes. Things change, characters develop, revisions are made.
These details are often mundane and may not affect the plot, but they have to be correct and consistent if I’m going to write a series of books. I’m sure readers will soon notice if a character’s eyes change colour, or if the office moves two floors and changes appearance. If I’m not diligent, I won’t find out about my mistake until after the next book is published.
“It’s a little late then,” I remind myself when I don’t want to trawl through the first manuscript in search of small details.
I need a list of all the things that don’t or won’t change, like the names of minor characters, their relationships to each other, birthdays and anniversaries, physical appearance, nicknames, the cars they drive, favourite film stars, music and foods. Then there are settings in the stories that don’t change – locations, rivers, roads, buildings, the distances between them, what they look like. There are offices, businesses, restaurants, peoples’ homes and gardens, places of significance to characters.
And it’s more than just facts and measurements. How did Kent describe these people and places? Does he think his office is cramped, noisy, a mess? Does he yearn for a new computer? Does the photocopier keep breaking down?
I need a spreadsheet to tame these details and bring them under control.
There’s a lot more to writing than writing.