DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS—AACCKK!

When writing a book series the problem of details soon arises. How do you keep everyone’s names straight from book to book? How do you keep track of where your plot went so it makes sense as to where it will go? What tools are effective in keeping your sanity as you try to remember who did what, where, how, when and why, two books ago? Not to mention remembering the changes your agent or editor may have made along the way!

For my first writing project I envisioned a trilogy. When I began book two I found myself spending valuable time referencing book one for details so that I could stay consistent. It wouldn’t do to have people changing their names, ages or jobs between books. The timing details were the hardest: who did what when, and who else was around at the time. Future conversations would have lost their ring of truth if I didn’t have my own facts straight.

I finally got smart and started making lists. I listed all the characters from book one, their ages, occupations and etc. Then I made the list for book two and as I added new characters, down they went. I ripped a couple of pages out of an old calendar to jot down the action for a two month period in my story. Getting the timing confused was too easy and I constantly referenced those pages for half of my second book. I had other pages with future plot developments that I wanted to include for books two and three. (Some would call that plotting but I just call it keeping my brain intact.) I also listed the page number for each chapter beginning and a brief description of what was in it. That way I could quickly re-read whatever scene I was looking for. And then I got real smart and dumped them all in a file folder instead of digging through the piles on my desk. Now I pull it out and have everything I need in one place. Whew, what a relief!

This may not be what works for you and that’s ok. We all have different styles and preferences. But, if you are going to write a series, make life easier and start tracking your series details from the get go. You’ll be thankful later!

19 comments:

Reese Mobley said...

I think it's so cool how we all have different methods to our madness. My theory is use whatever works to get to the end of the manuscript. Thanks for sharing yours.

Pat Davids said...

Becky,
I agree that it's really hard to keep characters and timeline straight in a series. Any method that works for you is great. Like you, I make lists. Lot's of lists.

Roxann Delaney said...

I agree, Reese and Becky. We each have to find what works best. Sometimes we make it up as we go along, sometimes we find something someone else does works, but with changes. And it can take time to find whichever way. A drop of patience can help. Tweaking now and then can, too. :)

Becky A said...

Reese,
I hear some of the intricate methods that others have and get embarassed at how basic my system is. It would be nice to be so organized but it just ain't me! I think it's the same for the actual writing, what works for one won't necessarily work for the other. We all have our own styles that come out in our work. Which is great, or we'd all be bored to tears.
Thanks for stopping by, Becky

Becky A said...

Pat,
I'm glad there's another list maker out there. Have you noticed though that the older we get, the more lists we need to make???!!! Can we blame it on being so incredibly busy that we can't possibly remember everything or are we stuck with the age thing?
Uh, don't answer that, I don't think I want to know!
Thanks, Becky

Becky A said...

Hi Roxann,
Patience, what's that?
And what needs tweaked, me or the system?
(evil laughter-ha, ha, ha, ha!)
Thanks, I think, Becky

Nina Sipes said...

Except to keep my made up, animals, plants, and technology straight, I'm using piles and folders. Then I dump the piles every once in a while into a folder. I don't know as I can say it works for me, because maybe I've forgotten!

About lists. I live by many of them, so many, I have them categorized by location, person involved, and even purpose. It is my feeling that our minds are like harddrives--they get overwritten in bits which is why our recall can get a bit spotty. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. Others might say it is my OCD (obsessive compulsive) combined with my ADD (attention deficit). I'm still sticking to my theory! But I do have a confession. I used to use my piano to sort papers. However, whenever the furnace turned on priorities shifted. Once my desk, the area surrounding it, AND the piano was so covered, that I had to open a file drawer to find another flat spot to use while I paid bills. I was so stressed out by having to balance things on my lap, that I phoned an organizer person for my free 30 minute consultation. She was marvelous. I went ahead and signed up for 3 hours. I've used two of them over the last year and am reserving the last for emergencies. I no longer have the piano. I can see my desk top and the floor is clear. Sometimes, it pays to find a professional. My sanity was worth it. So, I say, do what works, but don't be afraid to ask for help.

Roxann Delaney said...

Oh, goodness, Nina! Are we twins?

I tell my kids that it's genetic. Their dad is worse than me. At least I can find things in the piles.

Here's our motto: If our heads were flat, we'd pile things on them, too.

P.S. Yes, a piano works great for sorting, filing, and piling!! Luckily, I no longer have one.

Becky A said...

Hello Miss Nina,
Nice to hear from you on the old blog spot. I like the piano idea; my desk, printer and floor don't give it quite the same pizazz! It's probably a lot harder to keep track of fantasy/sci-fi when you are inventing entire planets, races and cultures. I admire that much intestinal fortitude. I like your thoughts on our memory lapses. It sounds a lot better than old age!
Thanks for your input, Becky

Nina Sipes said...

Ye-Gods Rox, maybe we are. My husband has what I call the 'sacred piles'. (He does not know that I refer to them this way.)I am not allowed to disturb them. I once made the mistake of stacking them to move furniture around. BIG MISTAKE! After the explosion, I developed another method. I now label each of the sacred piles with their sacred location and orientation. That way I can return them to their exact location and turned the same way, so that nothing has been disturbed except the not-so-sacred dust they normally sit in. We have five of these sacred locations. Becky pointed out things I hadn't thought about yet. Keeping track of the people!! in a series book. Dang it all. I hope my piles and files are up to it!

Becky A said...

Nina,
No need to panic, you still have one hour of help left to get organized. However, all those characters you left in limbo just might come back to haunt you once they find their way out of all those piles!
Becky

Roxann Delaney said...

My addiction to self-help books netted me an entire shelf on How to Organize books. I can't find but one or two of them, and couldn't put my hands on those at the moment.

Nina Sipes said...

Yup, I thought the piano kinda cool too. But I'd rather write than play it. It was a gift from my inlaws and they had to be gone first. (they passed of natural causes--honest) And I only knew one song. I used the piano to decorate. I had a lovely pair of size four vintage high heels. They are darlin'. I wear a size 9, vintage or not. So, when my husband said he needed some space, I swapped him the piano space for something I wanted. Then I hung a shelf for my tiny high heels. They look pretty snappy in their new location (I gaze upon them now.) I'd rather write than play piano and though my heart wrenched (I gave it to a family of music makers), I haven't missed it. Note: the heels are featured in a Work in Progress, the piano never was. Until this very second, I never realized what peculiar things I have on the walls around here.ohhhhhnooooo more self discovery....

Nina Sipes said...

Becky,
Sometimes I remind myself of that hour as a mantra and comparison. I ask myself, "is it that bad yet? Do you need to touch your hour?" So far, I've been able to hold off.
But it does calm me to remember it is there. I've written it down to set aside some time for thinking about my 'lost' characters. Maybe I should do something about organizing them before I get too far along....

Rox,
I have to laugh at your mention of a shelf of self-help organizing books. Just before I called the organizing woman, I had turned my head and read the titles on my shelf--over five books neatly shelved of self-help organizing books. I had read them. I thought to myself--"you guys aren't doing your job and one of you is getting fired before the day is out!" And I dug one off the shelf, read on it for an hour while I cooled off, and then put it in a bag for the library. It felt soooo goood to FIRE it! I ended up keeping two of them for review. They were a bit helpful.

Joan Vincent said...

You hit the nail on the head with "lists," Becky. I'm just soooo glad mine are mainly in searchable excel or word files! Without "Find" I'd be lost.
My eight book series, or is it nine now--I keep having these characters who insist _they_ are worth a book--makes keeping timelines and details mandatory expecially as it's all tied to a factual historical time line. I even purchased a family tree maker to keep all the families straight--ages, births, deaths, marriage dates can get tangled with so mannnny people running around in my head. I have to use Yahoo calender to remember real family birthdays and anniversarys so you know how badly I need help with dates etc! Don't feel bad if others have more complicated systems--that just means they've wasted more time creating more places to hunt through for the info they've forgotten. Stay with what works for you!

Becky A said...

Joan,
I must confess. Even though I have a computer with Excel and all that fancy stuff, I still prefer paper. It wouldn't even occur to me to put my files on this contraption! I guess that's another personal preference that shows how unique we are.
Do you really have birth, death and marriage dates for all your characters? I'm awed and humbled, most of mine don't even have middle names!
I think you're right though because I have a BD in book one and a marriage in book two. AACCKK! More details, more lists!
Thanks, Joan :-)
Becky

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for sharing, Becky. I'm a list maker, too. And a piler. I love paper. I even do my first drafts longhand.

Rox, once when Kathy was little, we were in my room and I was braiding her hair. She looked at my bookcases and said, "You have a lot of books about getting organized." Then next thing out of her mouth: "Guess you haven't had time to use them yet." (ouch!)

I love how everyone is so generous about sharing how they do things. Thanks!

Becky A said...

Hey Penny,
It's nice to find another paper-o-holic out there. So many people like everything on the computer but I like to have that paper in my hot little hands. Maybe I'm just stubborn but it's easier for me to shuffle papers than to shuffle computer files/windows or whatevers.
Thanks for stopping by and isn't it wonderful how our kids keep us humble???
Becky

Penny Rader said...

Yup. Paperholic. That's me. Every time my boss mentions going paperless at the office, I panic. =:O

Grandkids keep you humble, too.