Tuesday, March 05, 2013


by Debra Purdy Kong, mystery author

A few years ago, a panelist at the annual Bouchercon Mystery Conference told the audience that he didn’t keep written profiles about recurring characters in his series because he knew his fans would correct him if he got it wrong. I was stunned. I’m not only an author, but an avid reader. If I find inconsistencies in a character’s eye color or height, for example, I won’t stick with a series.

Editors know that thorough substantive and copy editing is crucial. Every writer should know this too, whether self or traditionally publishing, writing nonfiction, stand-alone novels, or a series. Why put months, or even years, of work into writing a book, only to come up short by glossing over the last vital step? Publishers, editors, and writers want the process to run smoothly, but problems do arise. Adequate preparation will go a long way to prevent a difficult, time-consuming, and costly experience.

Those of you who are self-publishing will save a lot of money by doing your own preparation rather than expecting an editor to sort through key issues, and who knows your book better than you? As for you editors, with this information on hand, you’ll catch errors more easily, gain a quick, clear overview of the book, and avoid misunderstandings.

 These steps will help both writers and editors catch errors:
English: This diagram, or map, illustrates the...
 This map, illustrates the relationships between each of the main characters in the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Compile a list of all characters in the book with desired name spelling, physical descriptions, and relationship to the protagonist or other main characters.
  • Compile a list of geographical locations (also with intended spelling) indicating which locations are real or fictional
  • Prepare a list of special terms or made-up words
  • Build a timeline of major events in the book
  • Provide physical descriptions of main characters.
For those writing a series, you’ll need to describe where the book fits into the series.

There are different ways to create lists, however Excel works well for me when preparing a timeline. I head the first three columns Character, Purpose, and Relationship to Protagonist. The fourth is labeled Chapter One, sub-headed with the time and date. Below Character, I list primary and secondary characters as they appear in the book, then note something about their purpose under the chapter they appear in. The great thing about Excel is that it’s user friendly. You can easily manipulate rows and columns to insert or delete material.

Writers out there are probably groaning by now, since this preparation takes time, but it’s worth the effort. When my editor first asked for a list of characters and a timeline, I was intimidated, however it wasn’t long before I discovered three unnecessary characters and illogical timing for some events. When you’re working on a series, those lists become an invaluable resource to help you and your editor remember things.

List compiling will be easier if you start during earlier drafts. By the time your manuscript is ready for a final edit, discrepancies in eye color and height won’t be an issue. After all, who wants to be the writer who relies on readers to catch errors?

© Debra Purdy Kong 2013

Debra Purdy Kong is the author of Alex Bellamy white-collar crime mysteries Taxed to Death and Fatal Encryption. Her newest series features transit security cop, Casey Holland in The Opposite of Dark, Deadly Accusations, and upcoming Beneath the Bleak New Moon. More info about Debra can be found at www.debrapurdykong.com
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