by Dietrich Kalteis
I have to go along with Robin, a story bible and spreadsheets sound a bit too organized for me. I don’t write a story outline, but I do create a reference sheet for my characters. I keep track of details like backstory, physicality, age, where and how they live, things like that. At the start of a story, I drop a character in the scene, and at that point they’re still pretty wooden. And as I work through the first draft, the characters get fleshed out and develop. Once I get to know them, then I don’t need to refer to the sheet that much.
And I have a habit of rethinking scenes and details as I go, and I often change a character’s name until I feel I’ve got it right, and the character sheet helps me keep these things straight. Nothing worse than attributing something to a character that just doesn’t fit and getting a note from an editor pointing it out.
When I’m away from my desk and I think of something I want to work into the story, I write myself notes. Bits of paper usually litter my desk until I work them into the story, then they get balled onto the floor where they provide entertainment for my cats.
Other than that, I write a one-page timeline toward the end of the story just to check the sequence of events. And I keep a folder for scenes or chapters that get cut. I used to think I might use the discarded scenes somewhere else, but I never have, so now I just toss it all out when the story’s done.
House of Blazes is set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. For this one, a lot more research was needed than the three previous stories which are set in present time on the West Coast. At first, it was a bit daunting, knowing Google wasn’t going to be like one-stop shopping, but I really enjoyed doing the research. I learned a lot about some interesting times and places as I worked my way through and organized a mountain of archives, period maps and photos, and endless personal accounts. Aside from keeping what I needed in a file, I expanded on the one-page timeline to keep the story events running true to the path of the real events.
The next couple of stories I wrote are historical as well but didn’t need as much research. The timelines are back to being simple, and I just used them to check the sequence of events: Zero Avenue is set during the early punk rock scene in Vancouver and will be released later this year, and Poughkeepsie Shuffle is set in the mid-eighties and revolves around gun smuggling between Toronto and upstate New York. It will be out sometime next year.