Getting the Details Right


Recently I was asked to be a speaker at a writers’ conference—the topic being character and setting description. The chairperson titled it “Getting the Details Right.” Because I have messed up on the details in a few of my books, this is the perfect topic for me.

First off, two of the biggest mistakes I’ve made:

  1. Changing the type of car someone drives. In my first Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, the car changed from a Blazer to a Bronco several times.
  2. Names of people—giving new characters in a story more than one name.
  3. Leaving out an important day of the week in a book that moved day to day through the week. (I fixed that before it got published.)

What I’ve seen in other people’s books:

  1. Giving a Japanese character a Chinese last name.
  2. Putting in details about a real city that are totally wrong. (And this is why I created my own cities even though they have a resemblance to a real place.)
  3. Setting a story in a fictional mid-west town with the wrong kind of geography and kinds of trees.
  4. Having too much happen in a much too small amount of time.
  5. Changing an important piece of description of a main character such as eye color

Let’s start with setting. I love books that clearly describe the places where the action takes place inside and out and also includes the weather (because this can be an important part of the plot), and different smells (which also can be an important part of the plot, or merely a means to evoke another sense of what the setting is like).

With characters we don’t need to know every detail of a person’s look, but enough to create a picture of the person in the reader’s mind. Along with the outward appearance, the personality is even more important. What in the person’s background would make someone do certain actions? Think about triggers to behaviors and motivations.

All of this is important, but to make sure not to get things wrong as I and many other authors have done, some means of keeping track of all these details needs to be used. Authors do this in many different ways from simply keeping written notes or an elaborate computer system. This is even more important for those of us who write series.

Anyone want to share how they keep track of the details? Or a mistake you’ve found in a book you’ve read


P.S. Though it’s been fixed now, I mixed up some character’s names in my last Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. No one noticed ahead of time–my critique group, the editor I sent it too first, or the publisher who thought it was my best book in the series.


Yep, this is the one.




6 thoughts on “Getting the Details Right

  1. I have a running list of all the characters in all my books so I don’t reuse names. I also have pages with details about the major characters. I keep all this in a 3-ring binder: I’m old school. Last year when I revised my first Sandy Fairfax book I noticed tow details about him I’d forgotten for the following books. I’ll be sure to include them in the next book. Since it takes me a long time to get from one book to the next, its easy to forget whet’s happened before., so I need lots of notes.


  2. Glad you re-blogged, Jackie. Love hearing from Marilyn and don’t always get to her blog. Marilyn, you know I share with you a love for setting and what getting it right can do to make or break. I tend to like naming characters with three names, which means even more opportunities to screw up the names! Very enjoyable post. Just like both your series!(smile)


  3. I have sticky notes, note pads, and a notebook I use to try and keep everyone, every place, and everything straight, and sometimes it still gets caught by my CPs, beta readers, editor, and final proof reader. There is so much to remember! Great post, Marilyn!


  4. I keep my settings straight by only using cities and towns I’ve lived in for major settings, and places I’ve visited if my characters are passing through. I like your point about the weather. It can be part of the plot. I started keeping a “series bible” file a few years ago, in which I’ve written characters’ ages in each book, their birth dates, family trees, details like one character’s history of injuries, a list of all minor characters in case I need to bring one back, and anything else I think I might need. I keep adding onto it. And I also keep an e-pub copy of each book in the series on my laptop so I can search in prior books to double-check details. I’m bringing back a number of characters from book one in book seven, and I’ve had to look up the first descriptions of them and some of their mannerisms. I’m keeping an ongoing set of chapter notes with the days and dates for the WIP and what happens on each day. There may be a more orderly way to do this, but it works for me for now.


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