21 November 2018

Meeting Some Old Friends

I had an odd and interesting experience today.

I am working on the seventeenth story in my series about mystery writer Leopold Longshanks.  This one will include several characters who have been mentioned before and I realized I needed a scorecard, so to speak. So I skimmed through all the previous stories to see what I have already mentioned about any characters who have, or are likely to, appear more than once.

And am I glad I did.  It turns out that the woman I have been referring to in my draft as Meghan McDonough is really Megan McKenzie.  Oops.

More annoying is the fact that another character I wanted to bring back is Fiona Makem.  It is an absolute grudge of mine about authors who confuse their readers by giving characters similar names.  If you have five people in your story why name them Pete, Pat, Paul, Polly, and Thusnelda?  There are so  many initial letters to choose from!

But in my case Makem and McKenzie had appeared in separate stories so I hadn't noticed the similarity before.  So in my current tale I got them on a first name basis immediately.

Another reason to make careful notes is that Fiona is attempting to write a mystery novel set in each county in Ireland.  I need to remember that she has already covered Death in Donegal, Whacked in Wicklow, and (my favorite) Plugged in Cork.  God only knows how she is going to handle Fermanagh and Laios.

My list of characters also set my fevered brain to work. What if straight-laced Officer Dereske met eccentric philanthropist Dixie Traynor?  That might provide some fun.

I always make character lists before starting a novel (for one reason, to avoid multiple use of the same initial, of course).  But this is the first time I have had to do it with a series of stories.

And I guess that's a good thing.  I like a series with a large supporting cast.  Think of Nero Wolfe or Amelia Peabody.

Now I had better get back to story #17.  Our hero is just about to reveal the solution...


  1. Rob, this is one of the pitfalls of being a writer. I often forget details from previous stories involving the same character/s. And I often tell myself I'm going to create "bibles" for all my stuff so that all those little details are in one place. And I often (meaning haven't yet for anything) don't get around to making those bibles. But they're on my list!

  2. I am glad to know I am not the only writer who discovers inadvertent name changes- I must confess I do that in the midst of novels, however.

  3. For me, keeping track of characters in series stories isn't my only problem. I also lose track of the stories. I recently did an interview where I said that all of my Nathaniel Rose stories were collected in Tequila Sunrise, and a few months later I discovered another Rose story. Now, several months after that, I can neither remember the name of the stray Rose story, nor even where it was published. So, like Paul, I need a series Bible and I need a series database!

  4. Great post. I've written five separate series (short stories, not novels), and what I probably need is a database showing character names, town names, county names, even diner names--but I've just never gotten a round tuit. By the way, Rob, congratulations on all those Shanks installments--I love every one of 'em.

    One thing that's interesting is when an author like the late Robert B. Parker has characters from some of his different series refer to each other, or even meet each other, in stories. My characters aren't recognizable enough for me to do that, but I bet it's fun.

  5. I have a list of citizens, drifters, and places in Laskin, SD. But God help everywhere else.
    How about "Finished (or Fried) in Fermanagh" and "Laid Out in Laios"?

  6. Thanks, all. Misery loves company and all that. John, twice Donald Westlake's characters met characters from Joe Gores' novels, and the same scene appeared in books by both of the authors!

  7. Interesting post. I once changed the eye color of an important character inthe middle of a short story and the story was published in a big time anthology with the error. The story has been reprinted four times, including a Best Of anthology and I never fixed the error and no one has still noticed, including some excellent editors. Keeping up with the multitude of characters in my series books is a nightmare. Hell, just remembering which character has which of my cats is a pain.

  8. Megon (or Megan) McDonough is, in fact, a real person, a singer-songwriter based in Chicago. I've seen her several times, first as the opener for John Denver at a concert in Morgantown, WV (grad school), and it was a mismatch. Her voice was so much better than his. Unfortunately her songwriting was not all that good. She has been active in Chicago with a (relatively fluid) group of singers calling themselves Four Bitchin' Babes, and has also worked fairly steadily in musical theater.


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