Sweating the Small Stuff – Keeping Track of Story Details (Penny Rader)

Had a snow day, so instead of being productive and writing, I procrastinated and worked on coming up with a way to keep track of story and series details.  

I've included snippets from several articles I found online.  I hope you’ll find something here that helps you, too.

Creating a Series Bible (Ken Hathaway)

May include:

  • The overall concept
  • Ongoing characters – main, supporting, villains
  • Powers
  • The setting
  • The rules of the world you’re creating
  • Gadgets and gizmos [if any] and how they work
  • What CAN’T happen in future storylines
  • Format
  • Series tone
  • Series theme
  • An opening story
  • Story suggestions

Creating a Story Bible: The Basics (RJ Blain)

Find a recording method that works for you.

Your story bible is like an onion.  You will build it layer by layer.

Writing down the facts

  • Every time you give a character a trait (eye color, personality type, build, skills, and so on) write it down.
  • Every time you describe a specific aspect of society, write it down.
  • Every time you introduce a religion or important culture tidbit, write it down.
  • Every time you introduce a major world event, write it down. (Include the date, what happened, and why it was that important in your ‘Legends and Lore’ type section.
  • Every time you introduce something you suspect you will need to refer to again, that is not a plot line or character development element, write it down.
  • Your story bible is a place for facts and important information, not for the story of your character’s life or your plot. If you want a journal for that, use a second one. You want facts and tangibles in this journal. This journal is to ensure consistency in your world and facts.

Creating a Story Bible [with a free template] (David Hewson)

His story bible breaks down into four different areas: Management, Characters, Locations and Research.


Easy Tips for Creating a Book or Series Bible (Angelique Armae)

  1. Gather Supplies
  2. Included ContentsCharacters
    • World
    • Clothing/Accessories
    • Research
    • Glossary

Can be a detailed as you need it to be.

Include all info on a CD and store it in your binder.

How to Keep Track of a Novel (Kay Kenyon)

Project notebook

  • Discover and develop story
  • Storyboard scenes
  • List “beats” of scenes

Scene list

  • At the end of writing day summarize what happened in scenes completed 
    • Clues dropped
    • Foreshadowing
    • New characters introduced
  • Her main method of keeping track of where she is in the story
  • Allows her to pencil in the margins – next to the right scenes – notes for changes that become necessary as the story evolves

Style sheet

  • Record every character name, place, piece of technology, special terms, odd spelling
  • Update faithfully as you write

A great big box

  • All loose-leaf things
  • End of day everything goes into box – clean office

A three-ring binder

  • Tabs for culture, language, history, religion, technology, flora/fauna, publications/books, politics, dress, military terms, rules of magic or science research points 

Keeping Track of Details (Rachelle Gardner)

Create an Editorial Stylesheet
1. A list of important style rules that will be followed throughout the manuscript.
2. The book’s setting – time frame and location on map.
3. A list of the places and street names.
4. A list of all the characters with the correct spellings of their names.
5. Names of any animals in the book.
6. A long list of words whose spellings could be easily mistaken or challenged.

Keeping Your Story on Track with Style Sheets (Marg Gilks)

  • File Box
    • Index Cards
    • Tabbed categories with individual cards
  • Notes preliminary details decided on prior to starting the novel as well as details created or discovered during writing
  • Chronologies, timelines
  • Thumbnail maps

The Story Is in the Details (Margaret Daley)

So how do you keep track of all those details?

You need to keep track of them before you write the book/series, during it and afterwards. There are a lot of ways you can do it. I use charts I've created on Excel as well as a pad of paper I have for the story. Some people use different kinds of software programs that are out there (example: Scrivener). Others use spreadsheets or hard copies of what they need (example: putting the details up on a pegboard or in a notebook).

What do you keep track of? Some of the elements you track are your characters (everything about them from their appearance to goals, conflict and motivation), plot (main and sub plots–all details), setting, point of view, timeline of story, weather, logistics in a scene, questions that need answered in the story, research and anything else pertaining to your story.

Track of Your Characters: How to Write a Story Bible (Kit Frazier)

She keeps two Story Bibles

  • One as an extensive Master List
  • A shorter one for my Work in Progress
  • Keep an open Word document and save as “WIP Story Bible”
  • Table of Contents – the reason to make yourself a Story Bible
  • Indexes
  • Major Characters Heading
  • Minor Characters
  • Recurring Groups and Organizations
  • Settings – Large
  • Settings – Small
  • Systems
    • For example: magical, physical properties of your world, political systems of government, courtly etiquette.
  • Other Resources
    • General Histories
    • Timeline
    • Outside Reference

What Do They Know?  Keeping Track of Character Knowledge (Janice Hardy)

Janice uses a spreadsheet to keep track of the following:

  • What Do They Know?
  • What Do They Think?
  • What Are They Wrong About?
  • Keeping Track of the Truth


What do you think?  Any of these appeal to you?  Do you already have a system you care to share with us?

P.S. I apologize for the weird spacing.  Blogger hasn't perfected reading my mind.


Karyn Good said...

What an excellent and informative blog post! Lots of great ideas on how to stay organized while writing a single title, trilogy or series. I use Scrivener and I love it. Thanks to your post I've found some different ways to utilize it further!

Melissa Robbins said...

So that's what it's called. Penny, since my setting is WW2, I have binders with tabs that keep up with RAF, WAAF, 40's clothing, styles, etc.

I also have a character binder that holds all of my character bios.

With so many pilots, I also have a spreadsheet that keeps track of their appearances and ranks.

Calisa Rhose said...

For my series I keep everything in a binder sectioned off for each character and each book's details. For single titles I use word documents. Great post with some creative ideas. Looks like you made good use of the snow day!

Anonymous said...

I am nowhere that organized. I such a panster I go with the flow. I tried using yWriter and the trial version of Scrivner. I didn't get it and couldn't make them fit my story. I spent more time trying to understand how to use the software than writing. SO I went back to word and continued writing one word at a time.

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, you've seen my 3-ring notebooks, and that's just for the things I've printed...which is most of it. When dialogue pops into my head, thanks to talkative characters and even if it's for something later in the book, I type it like a play is written and save the file as 'convos.' Each book has a file on my computer that goes as far back to my oldest and worst manuscripts. I use the heroine's name as the file name. At least there won't be duplicates. Yes, I keep a running list of all characters, alive or not, for each book. And for the Desperation series, I have one 3-ring with spreadsheets of names & ages of major characters, and one with all characters & ages. Those count down from the year the book is set in to birth. There are printed storyboards and photos, plus pages of notes. Yes, I'm anal-ytical. ;)

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Karyn. I've seen Scrivener mentioned quite a bit lately. Do you have to be super computer savvy to use it?

Penny Rader said...

Hi Melissa! For Sapphire and Gold I had several binders that held research material. And I had a notebook, with pages for each major character, where I tried to jot down any new info that I put in to the story.

I want to do a contemporary series and I figured I'd see how other writers kept track of things. Rox has a great system. I think I'm going to have to bug her to let me look it over again. :D

Penny Rader said...

Melissa, I forgot to ask about your spreadsheet for your pilots. How is it set up? Just curious about the categories, how you use it, etc.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for popping in, Calisa. For you series, how do you keep track of who is in which book and what was revealed in each book that might impact other books?

Penny Rader said...

ckrcrouch, if one word at a time works for you, then I say stick with it! I was looking for a system that would work in tandem with writing. (Though I am a supreme procrastinator and can always find a way to delay writing.) I'm thinking some of these systems for keeping track of details would work for pantsers, maybe after the fact. Filling them in after a scene, chapter, etc has been written.

I worry that if I don't figure a system that works for me that I'll get the details all goofed up. I don't want someone to not read my stories because I can't keep my facts straight. :D

Penny Rader said...

Rox, I need to take a peek at your 3-ring notebooks again. I didn't take notes the last time. (And I know better than to trust that I'll remember it without writing it down.)

I'd ask you to bring them to the upcoming retreat but I kinda doubt I will be there. Tax season and all that. Yesterday's snow day didn't help any.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Penny, no you don't have to be computer savoy at all. BUT I did take an online class that helpful a lot. I think it cost $30 but it was easy and didn't require a lot of time to complete.

Joan Vincent said...

It's too bad all website programs can't read our minds. I battled with mine most of yesterday on a seemingly simple addition to a page!
You've presented some great ideas on keeping track of story details, Penny. It still amazes me how many details there are and that it is usually the smaller ones that trip us up. I needed a refresher. I bought a genealogical program to keep track of my series families and use excel spreadsheets to keep all the Peninsular War details straight. I also use Excel to track timelines through my series books since they overlap. I even draw house plans. Keeping it all the info organized is the key. You give some great ways to do that.

Rox Delaney said...

I'm sure the genealogical program helps, Joan. Even in real life, I can't always keep track of my mother's family. LOL

I've always loved house plans, even as a child. They sparked my imagination. I've gotten into the habit of searching for the right ones for my characters, too. It helps when moving people from one room to another, so I don't have someone walking into one room from the wrong direction! I had to draw my most recent, because it was based on the house of my great-aunt and great-uncle. Doing it from memory was tricky, and I'm sure I didn't get the second floor exactly right, but I'm the only one that knows that. ;)

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, whenever you want to see those notebooks, give me a shout. I'm surrounded by them.

It's amazing that people think we just jot off a book, when in fact the research and setup alone can take days or even weeks.

Joan Vincent said...

The program was the only way to keep ages etc straight with so many characters. I too love house plans and draw them for the very same reason. Can’t have a spy enter a room from a side that has no door!

Melissa Robbins said...

Penny, I just use a simple Excel spreadsheet that works for all of my characters. My categories are:

Which manuscripts the character appears in
First and last name
Rank, some get promoted
Eye Color
Any unique features - one of my pilots has a face scar
Job in the RAF (pilot, rigger basher)

One important thing I do is I only include items on my list if I included it in the story. If I never gave my Wing Commander a first name, it isn't listed.

Rox Delaney said...

Did I mention the 6" x 14" plastic bins with lids where everything goes after the book is finished? Last year, I took all the old manuscripts that never went anywhere--except under the bed with the dustbunnies--and created 3-rings for them, then put all the various notes and incarnations in bins, too. Yes, I'm a bin freak, too. ;)

Sharon N said...

Sharon doesen't she can comment here, this should be a comment - from the Computer Guru