The List

Outtakes 105


The List

By Cait Collins

I’m a list maker. I have shopping lists, packing lists, and even weekly lists for my Sunday school tote bag. You should see my Christmas list. It contains not only the receivers’ names; it has likes, sizes and colors. My meal assignments are there along with the recipes and the ingredients I need to buy. I know it sounds crazy, but these scraps of paper are essential to maintaining my sanity. Nothing aggravates me more than returning home from a shopping trip and realizing I forgot to buy a key ingredient.

Lists are helpful to writers. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Cunningham, suggested making a list of 20 physical characteristics of your protagonist and then writing the first paragraph of the story. It’s amazing how sharp the lines are. By focusing on the character and his surroundings, you tend to start the story in the proper place, thus avoiding the dreaded fish head,

This is not to say every character has to have a detailed study or every scene must be outlined. A few short notes will keep the narrative clean and targeted. It’s an easy way for those of us who do not outline every scene to keep track of who’s who and their relationship to the main characters. I also like short time lines. These notes help me associate historical events with the players’ lives.

I keep a small journal for each novel. The main characters have sections in the book.  By allowing the extra space I can make additions and corrections as necessary. It’s a way to make sure Handsome Prince has the same color of eyes in the beginning and ending of the book. It’s also a good way to be certain Miss A and Mr. B are the correct age when they meet and become attracted to one another. It would be a shame to have a fifty year old man falling for a teenager.

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