Concordance Importance

Everything lately seems to remind me of a Stephen King novel. Today I have been reminded of one of my favorites, Misery. When Annie Wilkes demands that Paul Sheldon bring her favorite literary character, Misery Chastain, back to life, he realizes that to do anything but obey her would mean his slow, agonizing death. Given the alternative, he complies with her demands.

He asks for all her Misery books, saying that he doesn’t have his concordance with him. Annie immediately tunes out, and Paul thinks that she is the perfect reader — someone who enjoys the stories without having the slightest interest in how they are written. Paul thinks that this was the second time that she showed not even the slightest interest in a trick of the trade that would fascinate a room of would-be writers.

I read this book originally when I was very young and didn’t know that I would actually grow up and have any pretense of wanting to be a writer. When I experienced the book later in life, then having aforementioned pretensions, I realized what a valuable tool a concordance is.

With my wolf book, I knew that there are going to be at least two more, probably three (however long it’s taking me to get around to writing them), and that I would be using the same characters. I also knew that events would change these people and kind of knew where I was going with the stories. (Here’s another piece of unsolicited advice: If you’re writing a series, know where you’re going! I know someone who is writing a series like this and has no plan. Consequently, the books seem disjointed and have no real cohesion. Additionally, some characters have to abruptly change to suit the new story when everything we knew of them before contradicts this personality alteration.)

So, I started to write a concordance, which was little more than a glossary of characters, what they did, and how they interacted with each other.

Now that I am writing something in the realm of total fantasy, the concordance will have to look a bit different. It will include the glossary, familial ties, rules of magick, a map of the area (invaluable. I’m not even kidding.), family trees, and notes on the religions and pertinent folklore of the three main cultures that will be the focus. Also, creatures that I have made up or altered will have to go in there.

It’s not a substitute for anything, but more of a reference guide. Say I forget which hero’s name is tacked on to the end of one of my characters’ names, and have made a reference to that person. I look up the information in the list of honorifics, and that triggers my memory as to why he is in tune with the human priestesses of the convent in the eastern sea cove. Shit like that.

It also helps to keep feuding families and courtly drama in check. To use a real example from history, I may wonder why everyone hates Jane Parker/Boleyn/Rochford and what family drama she was involved in. I would turn to Jane’s section and see that she was the sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn who lied about Anne and her own husband, which led them both to be beheaded. I would see that nobody trusted her afterward,and that she was involved in MORE drama that got another queen killed, and that Jane herself finally lost her head in the bargain. That’s it. A whole life and fodder for multiple books squished into a few sentences. Were she a fictional character, I would have included a description and possible family ties and any magick she might possess.

Yet, if organized properly, the concordance is an invaluable tool for certain types of writing…unless you are like a certain very dear friend of mine who has a photographic memory and has no need for the tools and tricks of the common mortals.

Some people don’t need such things. For the rest of us, a three ring binder, a Word document, etc. can be a life saver. It needs to have room for additions, and cross references are recommended. In the Jane Parker example above, I would have a note to see Anne Boleyn (sister-in-law and first beheaded queen), George Boleyn (beheaded husband), and Katherine Howard (second beheaded queen). For minor characters, those who tend to slip out of our minds easily, it’s a good, concise reminder so that we can get on with the real fun and the real business — making believe.

Truthfully, it can range from an organization of existing notes to something written just for the occasion. 3×5 cards or a color-coded index. Just experiment with what works for you.

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~ by Darren Endymion on September 28, 2015.

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