Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Character Tracking Made Easy

Keeping Up with the Jones, the Smiths, the Partridges, and Everyone Else

I’ve had quite a few people tell me this was one of the best worksheets they ever received from the perspective of series writing. Either way, I hope you find it helpful.

First let’s talk about four different kinds of characters; primary, secondary, incidental and tertiary. I track all of them. You may not feel the need to do so, but I have my reasons. Mainly, it drives be zany to read a sequel from a favorite author that was written five books behind the first of the two and read the baby with green eyes grew to be a man with blue eyes like his mother. Then later to read the eyes were green like his father’s again. The changes went back and forth six times in the sequel for one character. I may mess everything else up, I’ll never error with eye color, especially if I write a sequel or series, because I save all my tracking sheets. It also saves a lot of time because it prevents you having to flip back through your book(s) to see what features you gave the character before.

Primary characters are the protagonist and/or antagonist, or hero, heroine, and villain.

Secondary characters are sidekicks, best friends, companions, mentors and other people who appear in many or several scenes.

Incidental people are those needed at least once to move the story along. They may appear briefly later, but they are really a plot device to progress forward. For example the seer in Julius Caesar, The turnkey in Pedals on the Water, the pizza delivery guy in Home Alone. Sometime, incidental characters are used to move a series along. For example in a four book series, the same fortune teller can make predictions for four sisters or best friends at a fair in 2007, then the first sister’s fortune comes true in the first book, etc. I think Jane Feather wrote the first series I ever read in which each book began with the same monologue, using the same incidental character. I’m not a big modern horror fan, but for some reason, the Final Destination series intrigued me. I did close my eyes a lot, but I watched them all. The guy who worked in the morgue and explained Death’s grand design to the teens is an example of an incidental character that appeared at least once in several of the films. The value of repeating an incidental character in more than one work is significant. It helps tie and sequel/series together thus, draws in a reader or watcher to new characters going through what they have emotionally connected with in the past.

Tertiary characters do not generally appear in the final work as anything other than a mention to let us know why a character acts the way s/he does. For example, while writing about an alcoholic woman, it may be mentioned that the father was a drunk. Or while writing about a sociopath it may be mentioned that he was a loner because his parents were never around and he developed a habit for tearing wings off insects because no one was around to parent him. Or a woman developed a borderline personality disorder because she was always in the background watching her excelling elder sister get praised. Whatever the reason, if I identify them on a characters profile as having caused a certain type of development in a character, I write them onto the tracking sheet in case I need to mention them or turn them into incidental characters.

Depending upon the type of character, I may fill in every blank or I may put NA in some. But from the moment I know about them, I put them on the tracking sheet. If they are strong secondary characters who are going to have their own book in the future, I may start a full character profile on them, but they still go on the tracking sheet. And by the way, the main character does too.

The sections are Name, Role/Age, GMC, Build, Hair, Eyes, Identifying Marks, Vocal Patterns, Affectations/Comments. You may not need the GMC column and may want to change it to something else. No problem. Make it as user friendly as possible for you.

I generally keep tracking for the hero, heroine and villain on separate sheets for organizational purposes. As I complete a character profile, I often write in the name, role and age and then fill in other blanks later.

Assignment:  write in names on the character tracking worksheet as they come up in your character profile lessons. You might want to put in a circled P, S I or T to identify the type of character.

Ask any questions as they come up.

The character tracking worksheet is in a .rtf file. If you have any trouble opening the profile, let me know and I’ll try to email to you. I’ll try to copy it below. Let me know if it doesn’t work.

CHARACTER TRACKING SHEET/Project Title:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Page:



 Tell the truth. Aren't you impressed? I was semi-serious this time.
Happy reading and writing!



© Mary McCall, 2013


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Really neat. I cut and pasted.

Liz Fountain said...

Great tool. Eye color always gets me. Sooner or later I mix it up. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Wow, very thorough. Thanks.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Mary McCall said...

I'm running waaaaay behind, Julie, but thanks for stopping by. I was fortunate to join RCRW in early years. Between Debra Dixon (the GMC queen) and Martha Shields, I learned many"keep up with your characters secrets. This is one of my favorites.

Mary McCall said...

Hi Liz, love your name, BTW. When I was in the third grade, so many students were named Mary that I told Sister Mary Bernard that she could call me Liz since my middle name was Elizabeth. The name Liz didn't stick so I had to be a plain Mary.
But on to the tracking sheet ot has been a saving factor for me. I seem to be writing between medical issues and darn if I wasn't the first car in a six car collision on 9/23. So the tracking sheet truly keeps me sane sometimes. And I love passing on anything that can help ease the writing process for others.

Mary McCall said...

Hi Mike,
I was worried that I might have been too long-winded, since I'm soooo good at that. But I thought this might be helpful to some of our fellow scribes. As much as I depend on my long, in depth character profile for H/h/V, this sheet saves me from wasting time.
Happy writing!

Mary McCall said...

PS: Mike, I'll come up with a fun story post with a great point for time next one. Maybe I'll tell the story of the Little Engine that Couldn't.:D