At the Chicago con George R R Martin was said to have spoken about writing a Dance with Dragons. One of the things that irks him was remembering the eye colour of his characters and ensuring they were consistent. Over on the Westeros forum, Lady Narcissa and Maxlongstreet give a very good summary of his talk but below I have highlighted the relevant point that Maxlongstreet talks about:
“GRRM responded that this was one of the things that was making Dance take so long, namely having to go back and check a bunch of details. He said that without search functions in documents he would have gone mad.
He gave a very funny rant about eye color - about how in the real world, we really notice anyone's eye color unless we're very close to them, but in books, everyone has their eye color described. Having to go back and check the eye color he gave for hundreds of characters was an example of a detail that could drive him batty; GRRM said he regretted mentioning the eye color of any of his characters.”
I was discussing this with my brother –in- law and his immediate reaction was to say He could easily have solved the problem about going back and looking up things by writing down a detailed description of everyone for himself, before he introduced them in the books.
Now I am not one of those people that can’t stand for anyone to criticise GRRM. I do think a lot of the anger directed at the guy is crazy, but my brother-in-law’s comment struck me as the typical view of a non-writer, ignorant about the mechanics of the craft.
Yes, in an ideal world, every character would be planned out and one could look up their description in a handy index, and for the most part I’m sure George has this. But speaking as someone that has just written a book and is currently editing it and looking for the very same consistency issues, I can tell you the reality doesn’t work like that.
When I am writing a scene and a group of characters enter my imagination and therefore the story, I might briefly toy with their background but for the most part I just want to get them into the story whilst it is flowing. There is no way I am going to stop, plan each character out and write a description of them. After I have finished writing for the day, maybe I will really start to think about their background and jot down a few things about them but then I am not going to start checking that I have been consistent.
For the simple reason, once I start doing that, I am then entering the editing phrase. I might check a character’s eye colour and then read the sentence and think, “I don’t like that” and be tempted to change it. I have then disrupted the flow of my muse.
It would make it easier if at the end of each writing day, I made a note of all the characters and locations I had introduced but in practice in doesn’t work like that. What do you think?