Friday, August 30, 2013


Please don't tell me I'm the only one who does this--forget the color of my hero's eyes or the color of my heroine's hair. Any number of details in a novel can be skewed or mixed up or completely changed during the writing.

I should know better by now. After nine novels and numerous novellas, I still work my way into the same quandary.

When I taught high school students, I was always ready and organized. In fact, over the years, I earned the nickname of  "Miss Organization" as if it were tattooed across my forehead, along with "Teacher."

Now? I don't know what happened to me once I left teaching and later began writing stories. Why can I not use those same skills of organization with writing?

My friend Cheryl Pierson teaches a writing class in Oklahoma, and she shared handouts with me. This was a very generous act, and I do read through them on occasion. However, if I took her class now, she'd give me a failing grade because of my slap-hazard writing.

But I cannot break the pattern.

One handout was Characterization Traits. This is one of the most important, and if I had any sense, I'd sit down and write out my hero's physical traits first.
It's not complicated.

Height-6 ft. (Aren't all heroes tall? They don't have to be.)
Build--broad shoulders and narrow hips. (Aren't all heroes...never mind.)

Added to these traits are:
Color of his horse--was it a red roan or a black stallion?
Age--is he twenty-five or thirty?

Some time ago, I read how an author tackled this problem. All her heroes were just alike, and all her heroines were, too--according to color of hair and eyes, especially. I recall her writing, "All my heroes have brown eyes, and all my heroines have blue eyes."

There you go! Problem solved!

Except that doesn't always work. A character has a way of presenting himself/herself exactly as he/she is. Sometimes we just don't have control over this. When the character appears, he's fully fleshed out and who am I to change the color of his eyes?

As of this moment, TEXAS DREAMER is 3/4 complete. And as of this moment I have no idea what color are his eyes or his hair. No, wait, his hair is black because he is a descendent of The Camerons of Texas. They're all dark-haired. Eyes. Nope, can't remember.

I'll need a half day to sit down with all my scribbled notes that are in a spiral, on note cards, and on sticky notes to determine the physical characteristics of my characters. Then, I'll need to do a Find and Highlight in order to correct all my errors.

I swear, this is the last time I do this. From now on--Organize is my middle name.


  1. Celia,
    I do the same thing. In my regular life I'm highly organized, but when I write I've got notes and scraps of paper everywhere. I've learned to just collect them in a folder and go with it. And those notes often contradict each other, even with the physical traits. Usually at the end of the story, when I've gotten to know the characters better, everything makes sense. Or sometimes it doesn't. That's what editing is for!

  2. Kristy-we must be twins. I don't know why I can't keep one notebook or document with everything I need. I waste time re-reading backward to find a particular item. However, so far, it's all worked out in the end.
    Thanks for visiting!

  3. Celia, I take about 2-3 weeks before I write to "organize" and do my research. I'm just now finishing my prep work for "A Lady Never Lies." I've cast my characters and put together my character sheets and re-read A Gentleman and a Rogue. If I don't do this, then I find myself stopping in the middle of my writing and working out those issues. I can honestly say a little organization goes a long way.


  4. Steph--you are very smart to do this. If only I could. I try--I do begin writing down things, but then when I write I forget those and write whatever comes out. Instead of playing around on the computer this afternoon, I should organize my notes.
    I do believe that working women have a better grasp on organization--like you do--otherwise, your household, writing, and kids would be in turmoil. I'm sure that's why I did it when I worked.
    The brain gets lazy as we get older. But I'll try to follow your example.

  5. I have tried various systems of organization and can't quite settle on one. Some authors purchase an electronic software program that they can access with a click of a finger. I've never bought a program like that, but I have electronic files for most of my book characters now. But for books that are continuations, like my Cleopatra Jones series, I am stuck with my index card system. And you know what? The index cards work fine - if you remember to use them. I think that's my problem. I want the answer to pop spontaneously into my head like I'm a robot or something. Not happening anytime soon. Heck, most days I'm lucky to remember my name.

    Celia, I think anyone who's managed to write 9 books and a number of novellas is plenty organized. Whatever non-system you're using, it must work for you!

  6. Maggie--whatever I'm doing does work...but not as efficiently as I want. I hate getting down to 60,000 words and needing to recall a character from 30,000 words..his name mainly.
    My notes are a real mess. I need to sit down and sort those out and make shorter notes. I'm closing in on the finale on this book, and I can't waste much time. The publisher will have a window open for a short time coming up, and I must have this ready to submit.
    Sometimes I work well under pressure..sometimes. not.

    Thanks, my friend.

  7. I used to be so organised when I was teaching, too, Celia. Now - oh dear!
    Having said that, I don't usually have problems with my characters physical attributes, as I have a picture of them firmly fixed in my mind. It's the smaller details where I can easily slip up. Once I get to the editing stage, I'm forever writing 'check' on sticky notes - check how long Guy had been dating Suzie, check name of Tom's daughter, check whether Guy was wearing jeans or chinos ... etc etc etc!

  8. This is why God invented sticky notes. I have them everywhere. I have composition books in which I keep the details of the characters...and their horses, too. I have the plot line there, too just in case I forget where I was going. I'm a plotter and a planner--about my writing anyway. My household is another matter.
    Great blog, Celia. I loved Truckstop Paradise.

  9. Hi Celia, I enjoyed this blog. My only thoughts on this subject tonight after a long drive is that organization and creativity don't blend very well. As a teacher you were into the former and as a writer you are functioning in the latter. So let go and let the muse have its way. It has worked so far and it will continue to do so.

  10. Paula--you sound like me with the sticky notes.
    I've learned that I don't get my characters in my head firmly enough at the beginning. That's one of the big things.
    Thanks for visiting.

  11. Sarah--I suppose that's the different. Your system is organized from the beginning. I being writing, and the go back and start scribbling down details of my characters.
    The plot--oh, I can confuse, that, too. In my last novella, the Editor said, "The housekeeper left two chapters ago to be gone a week. Now, the next day, she's in the kitchen cooking." That's embarrassing.
    I'm glad you liked Truck Stop Paradise. And I will confess there's one big error in there, and I bet you didn't catch it. So, far, no one has. It's not a punctuation error or an omitted word.

  12. Linda--I'm so glad you came along and pointed that out. I'd never thought about why I have this problem. But you have made it clear, and so...I don't think I'll spend much more time worrying about it.
    You know I always want and need your advice and input. Thanks