Edith here, delighted to welcome Liz Milliron back to the blog. Liz and I “sprint” online together every day, and I love her writing. Her second Laurel Highlands Mystery, Heaven Has No Rage, comes out from Level Best Books next week!
State Trooper Jim Duncan’s quiet overnight shift turns deadly when fire destroys a ski lodge. The body inside is not the man who rented the cabin. Assistant Public Defender Sally Castle, still reeling after the events of several months ago, receives missives, each one darker than the last, at her office as well as her home. As the questions multiply, Jim and Sally are thrown into a race to find a murderer as well as a stalker…before Sally ends up facing more than an unwanted pen pal.
Writer, Read Thy Bible
First, thanks to the Wickeds for hosting me today. It’s always fun to chat with you all!
From the title of this post, you might think I’m going to get all religious on you. But that’s not it at all. The bible I’m referring to has nothing to do with holy scripture.
It’s a story bible.
You might ask, “What’s a story bible?” Well, if you write a series (or multiple series, like some of the Wickeds), the story bible is where you keep track of all the details. You might know your protagonist’s features cold, but what is her step-sister’s first name? That woman she didn’t like at her last job? Does her ex have brown eyes or green eyes? What kind of car did she drive in 1997? What was her first job out of college? Was the first house she lived in blue with white shutters or white with blue shutters?
You get the drift.
All of this might be in past books. But when you’re drafting book seven, say (or even book two), you can’t go back and read six other books to find the answer. And what if you’ve written short stories with your character? You see the problem.
Enter the story bible. It can be paper or digital, but it’s where you keep all these details so when the moment comes, you can put your hands on the answer. Since I write in Scrivener, I keep a detailed Character Sheet for each character and put them in a special binder. When I start a new book, I pull the relevant character sheets over – folks like Jim, Sally, Tom Burns, and Aislyn McAllister. The original gang, as it were.
Sometimes I find out that I need a minor character from a previous book. If so, I can do that, too.
As I write the current book, new information is put in the bible. If Sally sells her tan Camry for a red Porsche, that would go into the bible. I can’t see her doing something like that, but you never know.
I thought I had been smart. Jim and Sally had a year of history thanks to the short stories that were published before Root of All Evil (the stories in Murder Most Scenic). But apparently I hadn’t been as thorough as I thought. While drafting that book, I had an argument with Jim about whether he had hazel eyes or green eyes (yes, I argued with a fictional character). I whipped out my series bible to prove he had green eyes…and that detail wasn’t there.
As I prepped for the blog tour for Heaven Has No Rage, the question was raised, how old was Jim? Well…he was in his mid-thirties. But he was in his mid-thirties in the first short story. I’d never included his age in the bible.
Then I realized I needed to be able to age these characters appropriately as the series progressed. When were their birthdates? Add that to the bible.
Yeah, not as thorough as I thought.
But it was worse. After I gave a minor character in Heaven Has No Rage not two, but three different cars, I realized my series bible had to expand. I hadn’t given my minor characters – the ones who only appear in one book – the same level of attention as the recurring characters. My bad.
All of this necessitated a day of going back through everything that existed and figuring out things like birthdays, ages, and family relationships. Just how old are Jim’s niece and nephew, anyway? Turns out that’s going to be important in the next book.
I won’t pretend I’ve got it all written down at this point. I know better. But hopefully the next time someone asks, “Just when is Sally Castle’s birthday, anyway?” I’ll be able to look up the answer.
Readers, does it bother you when small details are inconsistent? Writers, how do you keep track of the minutiae?
Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series about a Pennsylvania State Trooper and a Fayette County assistant public defender in the scenic Laurel Highlands. The first in the series, Root of All Evil, was released in August, 2018. Liz’s short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, including Murder Most Historical and the Anthony-award-winning Blood on the Bayou. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as a member of Pennwriters and International Thriller Writers. She lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband, two teens, and a retired-racer greyhound.