As I begin editing my fourth book, “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone” it is painfully obvious I will not get a chance to catch my breath from just completing the third book, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” available within the next two weeks. After completing the edit on the third book I am now very much aware of the difficulty of maintaining consistency and continuity in a book series. I am far enough into the fourth book (and planning the fifth book) that I now cannot remember exactly what I have already revealed in the first three!
In fact, my book series is much, much BIGGER ON THE INSIDE! I am a Whovian (a fan of the science fiction series, Doctor Who) and if you have been paying attention at all to events going on in the world, then you may have been aware of a certain 50th anniversary of a certain science fiction television show that debuted the day after President Kennedy was assassinated. What? No – who?
Doctor Who, for the uninformed is about a space alien with two hearts who travels through time and space in his spaceship, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) camouflaged as a 1950’s British police call box. The box may seem small on the outside, about the size of a porta-potty (and, it is sad that the porta-potty is the only American object to compare with a blue police box!) but due to extra dimensions, it is BIGGER ON THE INSIDE. Sort of like those stretchy pants I buy with an extra bit of elastic hidden in the belt line!
Today as I watched the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, I was thinking about the “bigger on the inside” line, always uttered by the Doctor’s newest companion. (Yes, I am writing this on Nov. 23rd and I am dressed as the War Doctor, sonic screw driver and all!) The metaphor is apt to also describe the storytelling that goes into a television show that has lasted 50 years. Imagine trying to keep all of those story lines straight!
World building is an important part of every story. Sometimes, world building is made easier by the setting. I placed my books in a familiar city, at least familiar to me. But, there are other “dimensions” to my story that play very much outside the lines of ordinary reality. And, this is the challenge to every novelist. How do you keep your characters consistent? How do you maintain their “voice”, their actions, their personality? How do you keep their history and their plot lines straight? Here are four “dimensions” I access in order to keep my books from losing continuity (you know, all the timey wimey, wibbedly wobbledy stuff):
1. Character sketches. I outline each major character before I begin writing. This is an exhaustive sketch if they are major characters. I usually identify an individual whose physical appearance is the model for my main character, whether ordinary friends and relatives or an actor. For instance, my original concept for my main character was a very strong, physically imposing and aggressive person. I have a good friend named John Steele. At one time, John and I worked out at the gym together before the demands of my second child ended my workout career but maintained the sanity of my wife! I decided to name my character closely after John Steele and each time I wrote about him, I would visualize my friend pumping iron or smashing a racquet ball. Thus, Jonathan Steel was born. And, I stayed with the name.
More than just this physical aspect, I outline each character’s history, personal experiences, flaws, strengths, etc. For my third book, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”, I chose to write each scene from the first person point of view of each one of my six main characters. This forced me to develop their “voice” and to describe their physical movements and actions.
2. Storylines. I choose a simple piece of legal paper turned in the portrait orientation and I begin to sketch out plot lines. Each line is a single plot development. Sometimes these plot lines do not extend to the end of the story. At other times, they intersect, merge, or diverge. By plotting these lines against a timeline, I can make sure that multiple story lines are occurring in the right pace, the right order, and I can make sure that bits and pieces of parallel story lines are foreshadowed in the others. There is nothing worse than putting a character in a dangerous situation and leaving him or her there for days and not giving the reader some hint as to what is going on behind the scenes. I know there are software programs that give you the tools to accomplish both #1 and #2, but I like to sketch it all out by hand. And, if I have to use, I pull out my sonic screwdriver to keep it all straight!
3. Physical mapping. I sketch out the layout of buildings, rooms, outdoor locations, and cities. My fifth book in my series, tentatively titled, “The 9th Demon: A Wicked Numinosity” is set in London, England. While on vacation there in 2009, I specifically sought out locations for the scenes in my story. I took exhaustive pictures of them and marked locations on physical maps. I made copious notes of the sights, sounds, smells, and other references for future writing. Some sights inspired entire passages in the story. I know that this seems to be an awful lot of trouble. William Hartnell, the actor who played the first Doctor (And recently chronicled in the excellent movie, “An Adventure in Time and Space”) insisted on labeling every switch and every button on the huge TARDIS console. When told who would know the difference if he used different switches for the same function in multiple episodes, he replied, “The children will notice!”. Details may not seem to be important but in a book series, the readers WILL NOTICE!
4. Write About What You Know. I make sure I do my research on my subject matter. You can’t write a story set in a city if you know nothing about that city! Fortunately, the Internet has revolutionized our ability to research information and location. For instance, in my second book, “The Twelfth Demon” I wanted to set a scene on a lake in Romania at the foot of a mountain that looked like a fang. Did such a thing exist? I couldn’t just jet off to Romania for a weekend. (And, I don’t have a TARDIS!) I found video footage set on a lake near Transylvania. While watching the video of a boat cruising along the shore of that lake, what should show up in the background but the perfect mountain setting for my finale! I was able to pull up topographical maps from that region and satellite images from Google maps. Using the video footage I was able to describe the appearance of the mountain from the lake accurately and realistically!
I am working on a legal thriller, “Death By Darwin”. I am a doctor, not a lawyer! (Sorry, that came from another science fiction television show nearing its 50th anniversary!). One of my best friends is an attorney and he was willing to sit down with me over lunch and review my courtroom scenes to make sure they were authentic. Authenticity is important in todays culture. Readers demand it! Do your homework especially if you are going to write about something you are unfamiliar with.
These are just four suggestions on world building. By paying attention to these details and maintaining continuity and consistency through the narrative, a writer is able to create a book, AND a book series that is truly, BIGGER ON THE INSIDE!
What secrets can you share about building the worlds in which your stories are set?
Bruce Hennigan is a radiologist, a church dramatist, and a certified apologist. He co-authored “Conquering Depression” with B & H Publishing and an update will release in 2014. He is the author of three novels, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon” published by Realms Books and the upcoming “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”.