Thursday, November 13, 2014

Build Your Story

Recently I came across some old photos. I think photos can be helpful when you're trying to develop a character. You can also look at the picture and, in your mind, build a story around the people or scenery. I've recently been going through old family photos, deciding which to keep, which to throw away, which to make copies of and send to relatives.

I sent some to my nephews, including a picture of their mother, my next older sister, Cathy. It was her high school graduation picture and she was beautiful. I hung my copy up on our wall of family pictures. There are three other pictures I want to make copies of and send out. One is of my oldest sister, Gordonna, and the next sister, Cathy, and me. In one, we're all sitting on the grass. In the other, we're standing and Gordonna's holding me on her shoulder. I also have several pictures of Gordonna by herself. And then there's the youngest sister, Molly. I have pictures of her, too. I came across a picture of  Molly, Cathy and me together. OMG. Molly's hair was beautiful. She's always beautiful. Cathy and I … well, I’m not showing that picture. Where in the world did I get that hair? I know when I give Molly a copy of that picture, she's going to laugh. And laugh and laugh.

I have so many pictures that I've taken from the Grand Canyon to San Francisco to New York.

So what does this have to do with writing?

If you write characters or scenes that are true-to-life, they have to change over time. In one picture, I have a massive amount of hair, dark brown, all curly. It's now straight and blondish. I've changed. Your characters will change, too. Even ongoing characters may change from book to book. They can change hair color, or put on or take off weight. They might belong to one church, then start going to another. A character might be dating Jack, then they break up in the next book.

If it gets too complicated to keep track of who's who, what's what, names, etc., then create a "bible" for your book, especially if you're developing a series of books with the same protagonist. That way you can always refer to your "bible" when you're unsure about what happened in a past book or how a character has changed.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in Spring 2015.


  1. Thanks for reminding me that I STILL have to write a series bible. I'm working on my Mapleton book 4, and keep searching the first three for little details to make sure I'm consistent.

    1. A bible for a series really can make things easier for the writer!

  2. Small changes in characters can be used for comic relief, to build the story world, or to show change in your character. For example, in the Divergent series, Tris cuts her hair short, gets tattoos, and wears different clothes when she joins her new faction. The changes show how she sheds the meek, collective identity and adopts a bold, independent persona as the story progresses.

  3. What a great way to add realism to stories, Helen!

    Back in the 90s I created a family history book, complete with photos (some dating from the Civil War era) and stories related by elderly relatives now long gone and gleaned from old obits that were a wealth of information about the deceased one's life. The book lends so much depth to our family history and, by extension, could definitely inspire my characters. I can't believe I never thought of this. Also, my son is a great amateur photographer; his photos take me to places I've never been--and my characters have never been. Hmm. Great post, Helen.

  4. Yep ... I use the photo-bible gambit myself ... very handy tool when one has the memory span of a goldfish.

  5. I make a cheat sheet, which I refer to. That way, I can re-discover the colors of character's hair and eyes, where they live, etc., and all sorts of other stuff I can't keep track of in my head.


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