I felt like I’d just had a ride on the cyclone. Midway through writing the second book of the Fina Fitzgibbons mystery series, I started to mix up character ages in my head. I began flipping through scenes of the first book, and finally resorted to writing a cast of characters AND a timeline complete with names, DOBs, noting how old each major character was when important stuff happened. I included world events, like 9/11, included the date of Fina’s mother’s death, her father’s leaving, the birth of Cookie, her best friend, and Denny, her boyfriend.
“Your characters must have a past,” I remember one teacher saying. We’ve all heard it many times. “It’s part of what makes them memorable.” Their past may be mentioned (backstory) or not, but as the author, the place where characters live, what they eat for breakfast, their favorite books, what happened to them ten years ago—their total character history is important. For me, a timeline functions as a sort of graph of a character’s past.
So now I have a timeline for the Fina Fitzgibbons mysteries. I refer to it as I’m writing. It will grow with the addition of each character. I created one, too, for the Serafina Florio mystery series and add them to the research files of each book, tucked it away in the research section.
Photo: The Cyclone, Coney Island. Credit: whiskeygonebad (Flickr), Creative Commons.