The old saying says that the devil is in the details, meaning that problems in the details can ruin the whole project. When applied to novel-writing, it can refer to the following type of mistakes:
– He’s wearing jeans and a Cardinals t-shirt when they leave the house, but camo pants and an Army t-shirt when they arrive at the paintball field.
– A character has blue eyes at the beginning of the book and green eyes in the last quarter of the book.
– A character puts a diary away, then on the next page is still holding the diary.
None of these mistakes are huge, but readers notice them. If you have too many, readers may decide that if you (or your publisher)don’t have time to review the book carefully enough to find these types of errors, they might decide they don’t have time to read your books.
The tragedy of that is that these are preventable mistakes. Careful editing will catch the vast majority of them, but you can help yourself as well as your future publisher by catching as many as possible before you even submit the manuscript by keeping one or more of the following “cheat sheets.”
For each major character and minor character who shows up at least semi-regularly, create a file to include the following information:
– all of the basic physical characteristics: name, height, body figure (stocky, slender, buff, etc.), hair and eye color, skin tone, any illnesses or other physical problems like a limp or a facial scar
– pertinent backstory basics mentioned in the story: street/city/subdivision, church, jobs held, hometown, etc.
– personal relationships mentioned: father, sister, cousin, neighbors, hair dresser, pastor, etc.
If it’s mentioned in the story, list it in the character file. These details can be easy to forget, but with a character file, you won’t have any trouble finding the detail you need.
Create a file (maybe one for each character) to keep track of details as they come up in the story.
– the type of dishware used: china, stoneware, plastic plates, etc.
– she wore a pink pants suit to church
– the neighbor across the street has a yippy Pomeranian
– the artwork on the character’s office walls
– the master bedroom has a huge walk-in closet
– the hero’s house has a one-car garage
List anything that might possibly come up again.
While some of the details might still slip past you, they will considerably cut back the likelihood that any will make it to the final, published version.