Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taming the Series Beast

There's a lot of information to keep track of while writing.  Characters (description, age, major life events, family, etc.) and settings (houses, towns/cities/countryside with names, buildings, even streets) and plot.  Oh, that plot! And that's a whole other animal.

When a story revolves around a character--or two when it's a romance--it's important to know as much about him and/or her as possible.  Characters, like the story itself, grow from the time we first have an inkling of the person we want to create to the end of the story.  Because all but a very few have more than one character, we have a lot of information to sort through, choose, and use.  And although those characters stay with us in our minds, it's easy to forget details, as time goes by.  There have been times when I haven't been able to remember a past character's name, so obviously there are far too many living in my head. ;)

After the first couple of books, I realized that there were so many things to remember and so many times when I had to search for a small detail that was important, even in a stand-alone book, that I needed to do something that would help.  I started looking for the best way to keep track.  It took some time, but I found it, and I still make small changes to my method when needed.

First let me say that I'm an organized disorganized person.  Or is that an unorganized organized person?  I've never figured that out.  Yes, my desk is often a mess.  I like having things near me so I know where they are and can grab them at a moment's notice.  The same is true for writing.  I need that basic information about characters and story close at hand, so I don't have to stop and hunt through pages and chapters for the name of a minor character or if it was morning or afternoon when an incident occurred.  With a series, it's needed even more.

So what has helped save my sanity and time?  3-ring notebooks.
One notebook for each book.  For a series, there's also one small notebook to hold master lists.


Each individual notebook includes:
*indicates in plastic sheet protector

  • *Photo of Hero & Heroine and child/children if applicable. 
  • *Age chart of main characters that includes major life events, especially those that pertain to the story.  This includes a column for years (2013, 2012, 2011,etc.), beginning with the year in which the story is following through to birth of character.  (spreadsheet)  This makes it easy to check their ages for high school graduation, a move or job change, or any other major event.
  • *Storyboard  Yes, I plot before I write.  (You can see a photo of my plotting boards and the printed storyboard here.)  Quite often I write the first three chapters to get to know the characters better, before I go on to plot the rest, although I usually know main turning points, the black moment and the resolution, before I start writing.
  • *List of Characters  This includes any character appearing in the story, even the grocer, parents, siblings and anyone who doesn't appear but is mentioned.  It's much easier than looking back through written chapters.
  • *Calendar  I use a blank calendar sheet template for each month in which the book take place.  Month, dates, years.  Then I add a snippet of each scene in the blank date when it happens. This helps me know what happened two weeks before, and I don't have to go back through the written chapters and scenes to find it when needed.
  • Other photos I might need, including floor plans I find online, so I can move the characters around without forgetting the master bedroom is on the first, not the second floor.  I'm working on a story that includes a sailboat, so I have photos of that.  It's also nice to have photos of the area, either from doing a quick Google search or using the Earth option on Google maps.
After the above, I have tabbed dividers for each chapter, where I keep the most recent printed copies of the story.  As a rule, I do edits and revisions on hard copy, and this keeps everything in one place.  Any other notes or information are slipped into the pockets in front and back.

Because I'm paranoid, the above files are kept on my computer.  I can always pull up a file, if I haven't added it to the notebook.


One, smaller (as in thinner) notebook holds master lists that cover all the books in the series.  These include:

  • Age chart for all main characters in the series i.e heroes and heroines. No major events noted, except year of birth and ages up through the latest book. (spreadsheet)
  • A companion age chart for the main characters, their children, some family members and, in the Desperation series, two other minor characters who appear in nearly every book. (spreadsheet)
  • Complete character list that includes character name, role, and which books in which each appeared.  Yes, that can be a lot of names, especially if townspeople are included often in the stories.  At last count, there were 16 main characters and 140 minor characters.  7 minor characters have appeared in all 8 books in the Desperation series.
  • General Timeline that includes book title, month and year of each book's setting, first name and age of main characters and their children.
  • Yearly Calendar (created with MS Publisher) that includes dates of the beginning and end of each book and dates of babies born or added to main characters.  (helps keep the ages of children at my fingertips ;))  The Desperation series at present spans 6 years, from 2008 thru 2013.
  • Character Name List, alphabetized, keeps me from using the same name twice, whether first name or last.  (MS Excel can sort and filter any way you choose.)

With a little thought, I manage to keep the series beast under control.  Please note that it isn't tamed.  Using my method keeps me from hunting for notes in odd places, such as in the cutlery drawer in the kitchen, or the unmentionable drawer in my bedroom.  Then there's the bathroom cubbyhole...  My notebook is portable, if needed, especially when writing longhand in the car while waiting on grandkids to explode from school.  It might take a little time to put together, but, hey, it's time well-spent!

Still, my way isn't THE way.  THE way is YOUR way.  To help you find it, here are a few links a writer friend posted on our writers group page.  Check them out, see what might suit, then pick and choose your favorites to create YOUR VERY OWN WAY.  Don't worry.  Nothing is set in stone and can be adjusted or thrown out.  To paraphrase Old Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra, for you youngsters), do it your way.

Now you have many different ways to tame your series.  But the fun is in writing the book(s), isn't it? ☺

Not convinced you're ready to write a series?  There are many reasons, but one of the main ones is that readers LOVE series!  I know I do. :)  We'll look at other reasons and delve deeper into why readers love them next week.  

P.S.  This blog was started around 10 a.m. on Thursday and is finally finished at 10 p.m..  Wow!  Have I learned a few things!
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” — Virginia Woolf

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