Casting the Novel: Herding Your Characters

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies!
Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies!

I always knew that at some point I would need to create some system for tracking characters in my Lexy Cooper series. I just didn’t know it would happen this soon–by the third book. Actually if I’m honest, it would have been helpful to have something in place while I was writing Pwned, the second book in the series. What was that intern’s last name? Was that marketing chick married? Most often though, I couldn’t remember exactly what flavor of 1337 that Lexy’s hacker friend used for his Skype name and had to search frantically through the Word doc of the first book.*

It was while I was working on the third book that I stumbled across the style guide that my fantastic editor Marti had put together during the editing of Schooled and added to during Pwned editing. It was a great resource for her and for my equally excellent proofreader Stacie. As it turned out, it was pretty awesome for me as well. For the life of me I couldn’t remember a character’s last name–or if I’d given her one. Sadly there are a couple of recurring characters (Mandy the marketing “Barbie” and Kim’s boyfriend Thomas) that still have no surnames. Maybe they’ll get lucky in Lexy #3.

Well, seeing Marti’s list of characters complete with nicknames, Twitter, and Skype handles made the lightbulb come on for me. Durrr, here was the perfect place to keep track of who was who. And keeping it in Google docs means that when it comes time for Marti and Stacie to work their magic they can access it as well.  There is one little spoiler, so don’t look too closely if you haven’t read Schooled yet…

Tucked into little boxes like good characters.
Tucked into little boxes like good characters.

So I went about filling in the details, including new characters as I add them. One of the perks for my Indiegogo campaign is to have a character named after funders, so I make note of that (because at some point I may not remember that Luther the freelance cameraman is named after a real person and not a name I pulled out of my ass. Sorry, Luther!) . At first I only added a notation if a character was important in the book. For example, I had Xenon CTO Jimmie Vath as appearing in 1, 2.5, and 3, but not 2. He do anything vital to the action in the second book but he WAS in it. He gave a speech at the Helium launch party at the Garage in Seattle. That’s enough to count.

Some characters are only last names. Barnes, the forensic tech at the crime scene in Pwned. Swanson and Hicks, security muscle in I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa Claus (aka 2.5). Is it silly to put them on the list? Maybe, but what if I want to flesh them out later? What if No-First-Name Barnes goes on a killing spree in a later book? Or dates Officer Yi? Or loses some vital evidence and takes an ass beating from Detective Malick? Hmmm, I’m giving myself ideas here….

My planned story arc for Lexy continues for six books. After that, there could be more–or not. But it seems like a good idea to herd my cast of characters into little corrals where I can keep track of them. Because who knows? Maybe the series will be Grafton or Evanovich-length (Sue Grafton just released her 23rd Kinsey Milhone mystery, and Janet Evanovich’s 20th Stephanie Plum mystery comes out November 19). Or maybe Cricket Yi will get a spin-off series. Who knows?

But I mean to be prepared, and this low-tech, simple method is working for me so far.

* Kemp, no, and Vi0L8r

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