One of my favorite stories as a child was about a large family living in an old Victorian mansion with pets, a dozen children, a cook, a maid, and a driver/caretaker. I've forgotten most of the book but remember it for its humor, including the moment when the father looks down at one of the boys rolling around on the rug and says, "Which one are you?"
I sometimes feel like that father. I'm deep into a scene with one character taking over and doing wonderful things to complicate the plot, and out of nowhere enters the protagonist's half-brother or long lost cousin or the neighbor who shows up at every barbecue without anything to contribute. I look at what I've typed and wonder, "Which one are you?"
In my current work-in-progress, Chief Joe Silva must deal with a death ruled a suicide in one of Mellingham's better neighborhoods (okay, I admit it, they're all better neighborhoods). The house sits near the inner harbor, which of course means lots of activity involving boats and sailing, and into this comes Joe's stepson, Philip. So far, so good. But I've forgotten what I knew about Philip. Who is he?
I keep three-by-five inch notecards on each character and certain aspects of Mellingham. All I have to do is pull Philip's card and note what I've written about him in previous books. Seems easy enough. He came into Joe's world in Family Album, as a nine-year-old boy, and stayed when Joe fell in love with the boy's mother, Gwen McDuffy. I read the notes I've made on Philip and once again see the young boy. But I know there's more, so I pull out the two previous books in which he has appeared and read every section, gleaning crucial details and nuances of expression that I should be mindful of as I write.
Philip is older, by two years, since his last foray into Joe's world of crime and misbehavior typical of a small town, but he's not an ordinary teenager. I have given him certain qualities and quirks, and I have to continue these. It wouldn't do to have him turn into an avid soccer player or a hard-core junkie when his character in A Murderous Innocence promised an entirely different future.
Any writer who has written at least two books in a series recognizes this problem. Sir Arthur Conan
My job as a writer is to tell a good story while being observant of the way people behave and expressing that honestly. I want readers to recognize in the teenage Philip the nine-year-old boy introduced in the third book in the Mellingham series.
I have learned that no matter how careful or detailed my notes are, nothing can convey the full sense of a character better than going back to the earlier passages and getting to know him or her all over again. I've been doing this with Philip, a teenage boy who discovers that he loves sailing, thanks to Joe deciding that anyone who lives on the water should know how to manage it. And fortunately for everyone, Philip manages very well.
Come About for Murder is Philip's book, despite all the other characters sailing through it. He's still a teenager, but a maturing one, and I love getting to know him again.