Baggage Handling Post 1
One of the interesting things about writing a series is keeping track of what I call the series baggage. Sometimes single books gather baggage. That's all the stuff that accumulates every time you or your characters state something as a fact or opinion. Even if your character is lying or mistaken, you have to remember what was said or implied and add it to the series baggage.
If you forget, or mess up, your readers are likely to be confused. A good editor can help you catch these slips, but it's your responsibility. The best thing to do is to pay close attention to what you've written and make sure you (a) don't write something inconsistent and (b) don't forget someone or something who ought to be there. It's so easy for your character to tell someone she never drinks coffee (or for you to state it in a sentence) and later have her sipping an espresso. Or maybe she mentions Aunt Susie who brought her up, and later says she lived with her grandparents. This kind of slip makes the alert reader go- "Hey! Wait..."
Sometimes you can fix the problem by rewriting. If it's too late for that, you have to think of a way round it. Maybe Miss Treasure told John she never drank coffee because she didn't want to drink it with him. Or maybe you can clarify that she never drinks brewed coffee. Or maybe she was flat-out fibbing because she knows John disapproves of coffee.
Aunt Susie brought me up. I lived with my grandparents. These contradictory statements can be fixed by a throw-away line later saying, "My grandparents worked twelve hours a day in their business. Aunt Susie was the one who looked after me."
A fix in one book is pretty simple if you get to it before the final stages. What about a series, though? What if you made a statement in Book 2 and contradicted it in Book 4? Again, a good editor can save your bacon. I have a particularly good editor for a long series I'm writing. She queried a plural form. "Do we usually put sylvan or sylvans?" Because I handle my baggage, I was able to tell her it was sylvan but the fact that she queried it shows what a good editor she is.
I remember a save I made in the Bandinangi Books back in the day. I'd said in one book that a building was in Street A and in a later one that it was in Street B. Okay, in a still later book I said it fronted on Street A but had a back entrance from Street B. Fixed! It's more difficult to solve a problem such as having someone celebrate his 21st birthday in spring and his 25th in autumn... unless he hops hemispheres or has an official birthday like the Queen.
The easiest thing, I find, is to keep a running list of characters and facts; a series bible. I have one for each of several series-on-the-go, and amend it for each new book. Every time I bring a minor character forward into the spotlight, I add details and put them in the baggage bible. That way, I hope to avoid tripping up.
For example, one character said, out of the blue, that his sister stopped wearing pigtails when she was nine or so. What? Since when did he have a sister? Well, why not? He was twenty-eight, so he wouldn't necessarily see much of her. Note for the baggage bible. Peck has a sister. She is probably younger, because he remembers her stopping wearing pigtails. Ah, but the person he made that remark to was his fiancee. Wouldn't she know he had a sister? Okay, so she did know, though the readers didn't (and neither did I until that moment).
“One of these days I’m going to have to meet this
elusive sister of yours."
The conversation moved on, but I wrote down the scraps of information in the baggage bible. Younger sister. Stopped wearing pigtails at about nine. Doesn't keep in touch. Chloe hasn't met her. In the next book, she made a brief non-speaking appearance, which added a few more scraps.
She has black hair, and a goth-look appearance. She's very quiet, the sort of person who nods rather than responding verbally to a comment. Her cousin Tab tells Sam that she's opaque.
She got two mentions in the next book, one where her cousin Jin says she could borrow a tunic from Promise, and another when someone says she's "home, by a miracle!"
Okay, so, she's about the same size as Jin so they can swap clothes. She was home briefly in September.
When she took centre stage in the book after that, I checked what was established and then looked at what wasn't there.
Why is she so quiet? The rest of the family isn't. Why does she come and go a lot? This is a close extended family. Why does her brother remember her affectionately yet have little to do with her now? Where is she, most of the time?
All these questions get answered in "her" book. That adds a lot to her series baggage.