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Wednesday, March 10

Get Your Facts Straight: Keeping Track of Story Details

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I'm been spending a lot of time lately looking up information from The Shifter for Darkfall. Trying to remember what someone looked like, or where exactly someone lived. The series is coming to an end (which is so weird to say since to readers, it just started) and I need to tie up all the loose ends and wrap up all the subplots. And while I'm not technically rewriting, I'm talking about this in RWW because I think it's something even first drafts edits can benefit from.

The story bible.

We make up so many details and reference so many things, that it's not always easy to remember them when we need them. What color were Bob's eyes again? Was that scar on his left or right cheek? Did he grow up by Rockville Park or Rockville Creek? Then we have to stop what we're doing and flip through the pages until we find the answer. And we lose our train of thought and have to get back into the groove of the scene.

Having a file where all this information is stored is a great idea. You can easily access it when you need it and you'll stand a better chance at not falling out of the writing zone.

I use Word, and its document map feature is great for this. Simply tag the names of your characters as headers and they appear in a neat list on the side of your document (you have to turn this layout feature on). You can click on the name and it instantly takes you to the character and all their info. Make headers for whatever common info you need to look up, and you'll always have a handy reference guide at your fingertips.

This is also great for your continuity, because as you revise, you can check facts as you come across them. Is that the first time they met? What were the first words they said to each other? When did they first learn a critical piece of information?

If you're writing mysteries, you can set up your time line so you know when key clues happened and who was around to find them.

If you're writing thrillers, you can track the bad guys actions so they line up correctly with what the good guys are doing.

If you're writing science fiction or fantasy, you can keep your world building details handy.

You can track whatever you need to.

It's also handy when you need small details, like what people in that region eat if they go out, or what major historical events were going on during the era your story is set. Even non-genre writers have research they refer to, and having the basics handy can save you a lot of time.

And having it handy can even help you flesh out a better world, because if you have a list of local foods, when you edit that dinner scene, you'll add a real detail and not just say "he ordered the chicken" or something equally generic.

Chances are you took the time to create backgrounds and world details (genre or real world ones), so why not take a little extra time to organize them in a way that makes them easy to use? It can help make your revisions go a lot smoother.


  1. Great tip. I also use index cards and keep them separated by topic, ie, characters, foods, spells, etc. Though I do still need to search through my prior manuscript to remember certain items. Your idea would be a timesaver.

  2. Blogger just ate my comment! Argh!

    Okay, I've started doing this WELL into writing my novels, which makes it both easier and harder. Easier, because Scrivener has a handy append-selection-to-document... feature that I'm making use of; but also harder, because I'm already frustrated from NOT having it and I'm having to go back and reread everything to make it, without accomplishing much of anything in the way of revision.

    Something I also find handy is a GRAMMAR guide, a style sheet detailing the author's preferred spellings, grammar choices, nicknames (especially when there's a narrator nickname that's ONLY used by one character), etc.

    In one story, an elf speaks elvish and is elfin, but her blouse is elvin--and then there are the two subcultures dependent on her magic's foundation, which adds prefixes to all that. (And I just realized that I need to review the grammar again, because I might've given a felf a telvin/telvish name. (I haven't yet decided if the language as an adjective uses the standard adjective form or the language noun as an adjective.))

    As a punctuation example, I ONLY put things in double quotation marks if it's actually spoken aloud. I get annoyed in books when I can't tell if something was actually spoken or not. If something would usually be in double quotes but isn't spoken aloud, I use single.

    I also include meanings for foreign words and phrases I'm using, so when/if they get checked, there's something detailing what I intended to say in case I didn't actually say that. Or if I made the language myself, the editor can make sure the context gets the gist across.

    Yeah, making a grammar guide is probably a good idea. For me, at least. I suspect most writers aren't this, er, likely to bewilder a copyeditor until s/he figures out what they do on purpose.

  3. Thank you Janice! Hope its not too bold for me to ask but are you going to post teasers of book 2? :O

  4. That's a good idea, Carradee, especially for those doing alien languages or other made up races.

    Mahesh, there will be teasers for book two :)

  5. In an excel sheet, I have a detailed history and names of characters and even family members - people that shape who they are, insights into why they are they way they are, and other little things. Even things that may never make it into my book. I just keep this stuff cos I always knew it'd need to refer to them, and I was right.

    I also have sheets for products (brands I created), places, and also cos I created a University as well - faculties, and so on. Deep stuff. I'm loving it.