#13 “Who You Know…”

26 Pickup The Half-ton

I’ve started writing my first novel and have been having trouble keeping things straight, how do you keep everything in your head with eighteen novels?

-Arlen Roth

Hi Arlen,

You know, I haven’t had much of a problem along those lines,but I’m not sure why. I know I’ve slipped up a couple of times, but it’s been something that Walt might actually mess up, calling somebody someone’s daughter when they’re actually a niece, but that’s something we’re all capable of slipping up on in real life—at least I know I am. 

I hear tell there are writers who have great big bulletin boards on their walls to keep the continuity straight. I can see how that would be helpful, but so far, I guess I’ve just been lucky.

The way I see it, I spend at least eight hours a day with the characters in my books, which is more than I spend with my family. I mean, you generally can keep all the relatives in line, but after a few books it does start getting a little more problematic. I do base an awful lot of my characters from real people, and I’ve often said that my favorite quote about writing is the one from Wallace Stegner—“The greatest piece of fiction is the disclaimer at the beginning of each novel that says no one in this based off of anybody alive or dead…” 

One of the things that gives me an advantage in remembering is that I love circling back around drawing up characters and situations from previous books, and for that, I have a secret weapon… It’s no surprise that living in a place like Wyoming I have a lot of time to drive and think, and one of the co-pilots I take with me is my audio book maestro, George Guidall. It’s amazing how much reading you can get done in eight hours of driving, and George makes it truly painless.

As an example, I was working on the outline for Daughter of the Morning Star and decided that if I was going to head up on the Rez for the majority of this book then I was going to go back and see what I’d done previously in As the Crow Flies. It was interesting because I retained the majority of the story, but there were a lot of details and smaller characters that had slipped my mind.

One of those was a character with only a handful of scenes in As The Crow Flies whom I brought back for a page in Daughter of the Morning Star–the tribal officer who never speaks. As a matter of fact Walt teases him by asking him if he barked too much and they cut his vocal cords. It was a challenge writing a character with hardly any voice, but Charles was fun…

Or was it Bill..?

See you on the trail,



2 thoughts on “#13 “Who You Know…”

  1. As soon as I start a new book, I keep a running log naming every character who shows up on stage, even horses and dogs. I don’t want Bobby, a walk-on in Chapter Three, to reappear as Bob later on in the story. Or to have someone who rides in on a bay to ride out on a roan. Saves a lot of rummaging back through my manuscript.


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