Character Organization Tips from Rebecca Sacks

How to Keep Track of Your Characters With Index Cards, String, and a Lot of Clothes Pins

Rebecca Sacks on Managing a Cast of Dozens of Imaginary People

By Rebecca Sacks

My first novel, City of A Thousand Gates follows the intersecting lives of dozens of characters in the wake of ethnic violence in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Following multiple points of view wasn’t just a narrative tactic but an ethical imperative. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is one that has bred deeply contradictory truths that should, I suppose, cancel each other out, but instead create a paradox that feels truer than any one narrative.

Keeping track of a cast of over 29 characters, dozens of points of view, intertwined narratives, and competing versions of the same events was complicated and demanding. How to keep all the narratives clear in my own head? How to ensure the various timelines were consistent? How to detect places where characters’ stories might overlap? How to submerge fully into each point of view while keeping track of these larger-order concerns? The answer: it required a lot of clothespins and index cards.

To attend to the logistical demands of this undertaking, while also finding joy in the intensity of it all, I made the process as physical as possible. My goal as a writer is to spend as little time as possible in front of my computer. I try to compose initial drafts longhand; I print typed drafts and edit with a pen. I want the work to feel beautiful and idiosyncratic; I want to be overwhelmed, because for me, that’s the greatest pleasure of all. Read the full piece at LitHub.

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