Christmas Lists in Writing

10 Dec

I love the holidays – the lights, the music, the friendships, the magic of it all! (I’ve even written a holiday picture book text – The Sleigh Rider—for my family).  All year long I keep a mental Christmas list of the people in the family– their likes, dislikes, their needs. I have a good portion of my Christmas list shopping completed or at least decided by Thanksgiving.

 As I was reviewing my list this year, I was reminded of how important character lists are as we write our novels. Before the actual writing begins, a story idea is formed, main characters noted and for some of us, as was discussed not long ago, a title may even be given as a reminder of the main story line. Then we must come to know our characters. It’s not too unlike keeping track of a Christmas list.

I’m terrible at names. So even though I start out giving my main characters names, they often change, especially as I describe them on my character sheets. A red-headed fireball needs a fiery, peppery name. A quiet shy girl needs another type of name. But that’s only the beginning, because when you go beyond naming a character, things change. A quiet, shy girl who’s fighting for her rights, her family or her country becomes someone quite different and may deserve a different name.

It’s fun imagining who my characters are, where they come from, who their parents are, their siblings and so on. Coming from a rather small town, I like to imagine my characters in a similar setting or one so opposite it’s exciting to research.

Once you’ve established your main characters, described them, placed them in a setting and a timeline, it’s important to decide what makes them tick – conflicts, disappointments, dreams, reason for living, etc.

I keep all of this information on a Character Sheet in Word and keep it at the bottom of my screen when I’m writing so I can remember who has brown eyes or blue, what their name is, etc.

And for Christmas, I sometimes jot down things that some of the “characters” on my Christmas list mention so I can surprise them later on.

How about you? Do you keep a Christmas List? A Character List?


Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Idaho


22 responses to “Christmas Lists in Writing

  1. Peggy Staggs

    December 10, 2012 at 8:21 AM

    Since I write series, I have to have a way to keep things straight. I have notebooks for each book. I keep all kinds of notes in it about the book. Since I have not memory, I rely on those notebooks.

  2. Judith Keim

    December 10, 2012 at 8:58 AM

    It’s a great way to handle a lot of facts, especially when writing mysteries and world building.

  3. maryvine

    December 10, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    I wish I was as organized as Peggy. I like how you put a fun positive spin on preparing the characters and writing. Thanks, Judith!

  4. Judith Keim

    December 10, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    It’s interesting, but if I don’t really know my characters I can’t make them real and different from the others. A lot of it has to do with their internal and external conflicts…

  5. stephanieberget

    December 10, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    I have a dream of keeping all my character’s facts, it just hasn’t happened yet. I started on WriteWay and had a pretty good list, but I lost it in the great computer crash of 2012.

    • Judith Keim

      December 10, 2012 at 12:37 PM

      Oh, no! That’s awful, Stephanie! Hate computer crashes. I’m a compulsive saver now!!

  6. Barbara Monajem

    December 10, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    The only lists I keep are to-do lists, because it’s so satisfying to cross stuff off. 😉

    I know what you mean about character names changing. I often give my characters placeholder names, because I have no idea what their names will turn out to be in the end. One of the bad guys in a book I’m working on now is called Slagheap for the moment, because that’s how I think of him!

    • Judith Keim

      December 10, 2012 at 12:38 PM

      Funny, Barbara, love the name Slagheap. Gotta have a good story behind that one!

  7. Mary Ricksen

    December 10, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    If only I could find where I stored the lists!!!

  8. Judith Keim

    December 10, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    Oh, Mary! I know what it’s like to have so much on your computer that it’s hard to find. Good luck!

  9. Marsha R West

    December 10, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Judith, I make character lists too, but I print them out and keep them in a notebook. I like the idea of keeping the document open and at the bottom of the screen. Will try that next time. Like Barbara above, I love my To-Do lists. There’s nothing like that feeling of scratching off an item. A little like the check mark indicating that gift is purchased. I seriously don’t know how people function without lists. 🙂 Thanks for the post and the idea, Judith.

    • Judith Keim

      December 10, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      Thanks, Marsha! In a long series, a notebook is a good idea for keeping track of things. I break it down from one story to the next so I don’t have a line of notebooks around. 🙂

  10. Janis McCurry

    December 10, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    Some time ago, my CP group named any villain “Bob” if the writer couldn’t decide on a final name. It’s so much easier to have a stock name for a “type” of character. Definite placeholder. I don’t keep written lists much. Once I decide on who my character is, I pretty much know how they’d react to any given circumstance. I’m “in my head” a lot.

  11. Judith Keim

    December 10, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    It’s great you can do it that way, Janis. By writing it down it helps me to keep focused on conflicts. I’m a pantser so I need all the help I can get on the characters.

  12. Mary Marvella

    December 10, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Good blog, Judy! I often store everything on the main doc so I can see what I need as I write. character info stays at the top before Chapter 1 and back story scenes stay at the end of the doc until I use them. If I use the scenes or refer to them I can cross them off.

  13. Judith Keim

    December 10, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    Great idea, Mary! It’s nice to have the relevant info at hand!

  14. Lynn Mapp

    December 10, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    Hey Judith, I write it all down on numerous character development sheets. There are computer programs for this, but…I keep everything in a binder.

  15. Judith Keim

    December 10, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    Sounds good, Lynn! Lots to keep track of…

  16. Clarissa Southwick

    December 11, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    You all sound so organized. I don’t keep lists, but I’m sure my writing would go faster if I did.

  17. Judith Keim

    December 11, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    Clarissa, I know you and I’m sure you have lists of some kind in your head so you can tell your stories…:>

  18. Corina Mallory

    December 11, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    I love the idea of character lists and I always start out with them, but I can’t seem to stick to them. I start out with a definite idea of who the character is I want to write, but as the book happens to them, they change in my mind. Sometimes it’s an essential characteristic that no longer seems “right” and sometimes it’s something small that I hadn’t anticipated but in writing a scene it suddenly seems to fit a character much better than my original idea. Because of this, my character lists are ever-evolving documents!

  19. Judith Keim

    December 11, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    If you’re a pantser like me, and even if you’re not, as your story develops, some of the characteristics of a character will change, evolve or disappear–from name choices to personality. It’s all okay…Amazing how we come to know the characters as we write about them…


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