Saturday, March 12, 2011

Keeping Track of What We’ve Written

DSC00843_zI’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before what a terrible memory I have.

It’s bad.  It’s always been bad, and it’s certainly not improving as I get older, either.

The bad thing is that people do expect you to remember small details about what you’ve written. :)  And they should expect that. After all, we made it up.

But for some people, it’s not that easy.  I have a hard time remembering the names of people that I see fairly regularly at my children’s extra-curriculars.

What I’ve done to serve as a crutch is to have a series bible for my series as well as sort of a cheat-sheet for each book that I’ve written.  I’m starting my 8th book now, and details start getting a little foggy for books that I’ve written a while back.

Penguin Berkley was great to supply me with a style sheet that the copyeditor compiled for my series.   I follow it to make sure I keep details the same.  There are things in there like the name of the place where a particular character goes for manicures.  One character’s sorority is mentioned there, as well as the name of a blues band, etc.

A style sheet is very helpful for reminders on how we treated recipes in the book (we left numbers as numerals in recipes—didn’t spell out 1 tablespoon as one tablespoon), as well as little reminders like this:

Sentence punctuation in italics if whole sentence is in italics; sentence punctuation in roman if only part of the sentence is in italics—quotes always in roman.

My series bible helps me keep track of character ages, traits, habits, hobbies; setting details;  and any details of recurring subplots. I know a couple of writers who keep track of these things on an Excel sheet, but I use Word.  I type out each character’s name, how old they are, where they live in the town, what they look like, where they’re originally from, etc.

Finally, I have a detailed cheat sheet for each book.  This is, basically, a long synopsis.  Sometimes I can’t remember the ins and outs of all the plots (and mysteries can get convoluted with clues, red herrings, and alibis.)  These cheat sheets are lifesavers.

I have a meeting with a book club next month and they picked Pretty is as Pretty Dies to read.  That’s fantastic, but I wrote that book back in 2005-2006ish.  It was edited after that, but written 5-6years ago.  A refresher is necessary. :) 

How do you keep track of your story details and what program do you use to do it (or do you keep track in a notebook?)