by Doug Lewars
It’s easy isn’t it? You wrote it so naturally you remember it. Such is not always the case. I’m reminded of a book I wrote some years ago. It’s a fantasy and a woman is killed and moved into something I refer to as the Midworld. Anyway, not knowing her way around, she wanders aimlessly for a while and happens to board a subway. A hundred or so pages and perhaps three months in story time I remembered I’d left her on the subway and quickly needed a way to get her off and account for the time lapse.
Major oopsies like that are uncommon but small ones are always a risk. If he murdered the victim with a knife and suddenly he’s in a shoot-out with the police, where did he suddenly acquire the gun and if he had it all the time, why didn’t he simply shoot the deceased? Did I spell ‘Mellissa’ consistently with two ‘l’s or did I refer to her as ‘Melissa’ from time to time?
Those are the easy ones. I’m currently working on book number nine of a fantasy series. My protagonist is an apprentice witch. She’s meeting with her teacher for a lesson in magic. What doesn’t she already know? What spells did she learn in books one through eight? These are much more frustrating questions and difficult to answer.
The trick, of course, is to keep notes. I have one Excel workbook for each series and one for any additional books I write. In the workbook is one sheet for regular characters, another for transient characters I may need or want to bring back in the future – or even just reference. I have a sheet for each plot and often another cross referencing my characters and how they relate to one another.
I’ve learned a few things through trial and error.
- Yes it may become large, but keep each series in a single spreadsheet, not one per book as I started out doing. Otherwise you’ll find yourself digging out old spreadsheets trying to figure out who did what to whom some number of books ago.
- Have a separate sheet for each plot outline. I generally shrink Column ‘A’ and fill it with numbers from 1 through 70. Before writing I like to have seventy scenes. They may be very sketchy but they provide an idea where I’m going. So for example, ‘Meeting at the school’ could be one entry.
- Have at least one and possibly two sheets for characters. For main characters I like name, possibly date of birth for younger characters and any relationships I need to remember. I don’t provide much detail. These are just to twig my memory. So for example, ‘Jack Stone – Jane’s boss is enough. Since I like writing in series format, some characters won’t likely be referenced after the book in which they play a role. I might move these to the second worksheet because I’ve found, on occasion, a character I thought I was finished with has reappeared for some reason.
- Sometimes I’ll have a sheet reserved for relationships in a particular story. It will look like a line for character name, a line for what they want, etc.
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By laying out the agendas, I can see where I want to drive the story and how various characters will react to one another and to any number of situations. I don’t always use this technique but it comes in handy from time to time.
I also generally keep a work sheet. In it is information I worked out or found via research. For example, let’s say a business plan yields 10% ROI over a year. I’ll generate returns for several years and store them. When whichever character owns the business needs to make a decision I can refer to the sheet. Plus if I’m using that general idea in the future I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Various bits of research I’ve pulled from the internet go in this sheet such as how far could one travel by horse in a day? How far could an army travel? How much in terms of supplies would they need? Having these facts stored saves digging in the future.
While I use a spreadsheet, just about any data repository will work. The key is to keep all the stuff in one place to make finding it easy.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published thirteen books on Smashwords.com.
Thanks for sharing the writing Tips. but if you could explain in more detail how I link the relationship of different characters in the story.
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As I think in pictures, going back fifteen years to when I was a design engineer, keeping track of my dozen novels is pretty easy. Where it falls apart is names; while I know the secondary and tertiary characters traits, I lose track of names. And, exactly as you said, that’s where the spreadsheets come out. There is no way I could recall the fifteen orphans under Lily’s care in “The Fourth Law” much less the seven cohort centurions over five legions in Faustina’s army!
Speaking of which, I have discovered that writing a military campaign is much like planning one: my Crusade trilogy folder (physical and computer) has dozens of maps with notes of dates and times. It’s one of the reasons in my Creative Writing talks I always say, “writing is a job, not a hobby. treat it as such.”
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You guys prolly don’t write software, but there’s a thing called GIT and DEVOPS and I’m wondering, now that I read your technique of using Excel as a management tool, that creating a repository of story, branching into characters, merging into plots and sub plots, all managed by source control — might be just the ticket for managing a complex story or series time line, plot and character hierarchy. Such a thing is fully searchable, and separate projects would be created to store separate story stacks. I may have to try this out.
There’s also Slack, which is similar but not really built to maintain contiguous development. There’s Monday too.
You got me thinking, thanks.
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Gosh, spreadsheets! I write the whole story in bullet point type sentences:
ie ‘Jane (blond, green eyes, short, curvy) meets Ryan (skinny, bit of a nerd, brown eyes, almost black hair) at school. They find secret portal when hiding from bully (Chad: muscles, not much brain, dirty blond hair, cold grey eyes – abused as kid by father*)
They go through and meet elf who is annoyed that humans have stumbled back into his world, the paperwork is ridiculous. Elf (Dragmir, tall, slim, greenish-sliver skin, makes rude comments about pink people blundering in where not wanted) takes them to Elf Palace, where king orders them locked up until he has time to deal with them. A war is coming and he must prepare.
Jane asks how long it will take, he says three years, Jane and Ryan manage to escape and run away. Ryan grabs a navigation device from the king’s desk to help them get back to the portal, but doesn’t realise it is so much more than that: it is a device of tremendous power and without it the kingdom will fall to the dark elves who are daily drawing closer…. ‘
(Okay, i’m stopping there because I’m getting into this and am going to write it for real now! 😛 ) But from this skeleton, I’ll flesh it out, each sentence coming up to several pages with proper dialogue etc. I keep the notes at the bottom of the page, so any time I’m mentioning hair or eye colour, etc, I can just scroll down and see it straight away, then right back into the story. That’s my method, anyway 🙂
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Personally, I’m finding Scrivener great for this issue as I pick up writing again. Lots of note taking options built into it. 🙂
Reblogged this on Kim's Musings.