Writing is a lot of hard work… it’s also a crazy amount of words. At a minimum of 60,000, creeping up to a potential amount of 120,000 words if you write epic fantasy sagas. It’s a lot of information to remember. Especially if your story then becomes a series. Now obviously there are notes that you will have already made – basic plot points; your original ideas for character looks; that one sentence that you just had to write down because it was too good to miss.
But even with those notes there’s a lot that can go missing when you’ve got a completed manuscript in front of you. I’ve got a completed manuscript & there are numerous things I’ve had to go searching for because I didn’t make note of it somewhere outside the actual story.
If you want to make sure that you novel is consistent in it’s information; if you want to make sure that when you mention your protagonist’s flowing dress in chapter seven… there’s got to be mention of her changing out of the trousers she was previously wearing in chapter five. Now some of the tips I’ve got here for you are from personal experience, other’s are from sources such as Kami Garcia’s vlog on creating the perfect series bible.
- Keep a Characterisation Sheet: whether you’re writing a standalone or a series, there will come a time where you need to remind yourself of your characters looks. Obviously you have a picture of them in your head, but you’ll need the exact words at some point whether it’s to make sure you’ve mentioned all of their features in the story without repetition or you’re talking to an artist about producing character artwork for your author site. Now not only do you need to keep examples of your characters looks on this document, you also want to keep samples of your characters speech. Consistency in characterisation is so key – you don’t want your character speaking in a prim & proper accent in one scene & like a cowboy in the next. Not to mention your characters should each have distinct voices within the story. We don’t want them all sounding the same.
- Clear Notes on Timelines: now you’re probably looking at this, thinking ‘duh!’ But I don’t just mean whether the story spans a day or a decade. If your novel takes place in the spring & only covers a week, you can’t then go on to talk about autumnal weather. In the same sense… if you start a chapter in early morning, you need to mention it shifting into afternoon or evening otherwise your readers will be sat there scratching their heads. If you’re writing an adventure story you’re also going to need to know timelines for travel. For example my novel The Bloody Maiden is a pirate adventure – I have to note down how long it would take my characters to sail from one island to another, otherwise my prose won’t be consistent… & readers will notice.
- Clothing, Possessions, & Knowledge: Some of you will write your stories out of order, like myself, others will have this problem during rewrites & editing. It’s so easy to forget what clothing your characters are wearing in each scene, unless they literally only wear one outfit for the whole story. The same goes for possessions your character owns & knowledge they gain during the story. It’s handy to keep notes so you don’t forget that they only buy the necklace in chapter three… therefore they can’t possibly wear it during chapter two. In the same sense… you can’t write that your protagonist knows who the antagonist is in chapter six, if they only find out in chapter ten. Keeps notes on which chapter & page they change clothes or find out some new information so it doesn’t trip you up later on.
The easiest way to keep track of all these notes is, as mentioned in Kami Garcia’s vlog, to keep a story bible. She goes into some details about story bibles & how to make one during the video. I’ll be writing a blog post on the subject soon with lots of tips & tricks to help you make one that’s right for your story!