Inventory (DOG EAR)

Inventory (DOG EAR)

’m reading Don Quixote right now (which is  long, slow novel, which means any guest reviews in the interim are welcome). It’s a great book, and for those who don’t know it, it’s about a threadbare Spanish nobleman (more of a country nobleman) who, having read far too many books on knights and chivalry, saddles up his bony horse, slaps on his corroding, mismatched armor, and with the help of Sancho, his squire, rides about looking for adventure and excitement. Of course, he gets the crap beat out of him by everything from indignant peasants to ignorant windmills. It’s quite a good story, but you need good footnotes and clear translation for this one.

But one thing I did notice was Miguel de Cervantes’ lack of inventory. It seemed fine, at first. There was an issue about multiplication (I’ll mention that in a later DOG EAR). But in one part, Sancho loses his possessions, including all their food and moneys. And then a prisoner that Don Quixote saves comes back to steal Sancho’s burro. And that’s fine. But then, only a page or two later, Sancho is digging into his pack for food. And without explanation, he’s back on his burro again. But only a couple of pages later, the burro is again stolen. Great confusion.

Writing is more than just sitting down for the day and tapping out your dreams. It’s also being meticulous – keeping notes about what your characters possess (including what information they hold) and not screwing that up. You need to keep an idea, chapter by chapter, how many items a character has (including number of bullets in their gun). Nothing looks worse (not even a typo) than having a character pull out a phone he’d earlier forgot, or know something that was told to someone else.

I do remember that while writing Fire and Bronze I had to do a great deal of record keeping to get the Phoenician colonization effort (to settle Carthage) figured out. I actually figured out how many ships they would need, how many people, how much food, supplies and all that. And as Elisha built her fleet and assembled her supplies, I had to keep track of what she’d achieved and what she still critically needed.

You certainly don’t want to write chapters in your novel, go on vacation to clear your head, then come back and quite forget that your character did not have that paperclip so critical to picking the lock and releasing the girl before the bomb went off. Keep track of what your characters have and when they have it. That way, if you need to go back and edit some of your story (yes, editors might even ask you to drop or swap chapters), you’ll know what you need to do to maintain your inventories.

Think about it.