Do you keep track of what your characters do offstage?
In many of my stories, I follow multiple people, through multiple times. I love epics, and I've always dreamed of successfully writing one. But, one of the biggest challenges to writing an epic isn't only keeping track of my characters when I'm writing about them. I also have to keep track of my characters when I'm not writing about them.
Has Veronica been away for six months while I'm writing about Markus and Sissy? Well, what has Veronica been doing?
I'm sometimes successful at keeping track of the offstage characters, but then there's the added challenge of figuring out how that time offstage has affected them emotionally. If Veronica was fuming mad at Markus before leaving for a year-long sabbatical in Zurich, is she still fuming mad when she returns? Or, has the time away made her forget her anger, or at least push it down into the pit of her belly so that she can seek her revenge more systematically?
For me, the best epic writers (ahem, Tolstoy) are able to account for offstage characters and their continued emotional journeys, even though we as readers don't experience it directly. This skill not only makes the characters seem more believable, but it also helps to make the world of your fiction more believable.
Oddly enough, the time when your character isn't on the stage is also an opportunity to develop them.
I'm currently dealing with a similar situation in my current book. I'm trying to portray seven characters that are much wiser than I am, and to do that, I'm making claims that their wisdom has shown through during times that I don't actually write about. I support this by having other characters chime in about their wisdom, a technique that helps to support many character details.
We may jump through time to keep from having to include unimportant details that happen between important scenes, but that doesn't mean we can't make those spaces work for us.
Do you have an example of great things your characters did offstage? What do you do to keep track of it all?