My Lawman series is going well. Even though 75% of it is based on real people, real places, and real events, the challenge is keeping it straight.
An example here is playing with your characters. I’m finishing up book two and the sudden thought that it might be interesting to make Marshal Pam Harmon a single mother crossed my mind. This would work out in a number of ways because when she takes the bullet in Dead Friends, she’s confronted with the horror of leaving her son alone in the world
That sent me scrambling through the first book, The Cross and the Badge. Did I ever mention anything in there about Pam not being a single mother or having children? I never did. But then she’s only in two chapters, and the only one where she’s really deeply embedded is very tactical and there wouldn’t be much of a discussion of children.
One way I keep the characters straight is I wrote an autobiography of each (it can be added to of course). I built a form that tells me their name, spouse’s name, approximate age, some physical characteristics, education, etc. Of course children are mentioned. I even keep track of how they talk, phrases they habitually use, their favorite foods and drinks, and the weapons they carry.
Another thing I keep track of is military service if any. I record down into their information such as what branch they served in. (In case you’re wondering, I made Pam a Marine, and she’d been an MP in the Corps.) I mention the rank they mustered out with, where they served, and in most cases, even units. This helps me build up a picture of how they think, their strengths and weaknesses, and helps to build a real character since I’ve done my homework on them.
Another example is RJ. I mention he’s an out of work teacher. It’s a passion of his, but it seems fate has dictated that he wear the badge for a while. He’s also friends with Pam. While neither will admit they’re dating, or anything more than friends, there’s an attraction and ties there beyond being friends.
Something I established for both is their religious backgrounds. RJ is a staunch Catholic. Pam is a staunch Mormon. The question becomes is that enough to keep them apart.
Part of the research is talking with couples from mixed faith backgrounds. How does it work for them? What issues get generated and how do they overcome them? How about when children are tossed into the mix?
All this gets put into their biographies and on occasion anything said while talking to folks, finds itself coming out their mouths or actions.
Changes need to be logically explained. Will Diaz’s weapon of choice is the Colt 1911, chambered in .45 ACP. It’s a good, effective weapon. The problem is, it has some issues as far as a law enforcement weapon is concerned. First, he has to keep a round in the chamber at all times. This means the thumb safety has to be engaged. He’s taught himself to draw and as part of the process to flip the safety off.
The biggest problem for Will is he’s the only one in six counties that carries that weapon. If he were to be in a situation where he was running low on Ammo, he couldn’t get a magazine from another officer, or even just take their bullets and use them. Everyone else carries 9mms or .357s.
He knows he’s going to have change weapons, and he says so often. Dead Friends will be the last mission with the 1911 for him. In Family Secrets, he’ll move over to the 9mm, but not before he goes through the whole thing in his mind about why he should.
Locations are also places you need to keep straight. I routinely change the name of most of the businesses or establishments my characters frequent. An example is the Golden Spur Saloon. It’s a honky-tonk Jewell’s band, The Boys Plus One, plays at often. I actually sat down and drew out a diagram of the interior. This helps me to visualize the scene, but also if I use it as a setting again, I know what it looks like and I can maintain description.
All that goes in this folder I keep on my desk.
It’s called a series bible and has kept me from making big mistakes with my characters, and locations.