Here I go again, getting all organized about things. Writing things, that is. But even for you organizational skeptics, you must admit that to write a series, you gotta keep track of stuff.
During the writing of my first series, The Entire and The Rose, I found that no matter how blindingly clear story elements were as I wrote, I got fuzzy on, or outright forgot many of them while writing subsequent books. With my next series, The Dark Talents novels, I was forewarned. I employed some tracking tools that I had used on stand-alone novels, but which proved to be even more critical with a series.
When I recommend these tools to my writing students, sometimes they give me pitying looks, as if to say, Really? If we did this stuff, we’d never get any work done!
But I maintain you’ll save a ton of time if you keep track of your series with a few handy documents. For instance, you won’t go chasing through your document trying to find a term or place name, a character’s name, and expressions.
So below please find my top two-three tracking documents.
- STYLE SHEET. This critical document is nearly impossible to create after the fact, but built up day by day, week by week, it’s a life-saver. So, as you start the first novel in the series, create categories to dump special terms in and then–dump them in. Which special terms? Here are some of mine:
- Characters names, those who come on stage and those merely referred to, such as political figures, family members living and dead. People’s titles, if any. Named pets.
- For epic novels, I have subcategories of characters by region, organization or for SFF, sentient species.
- Place names used in scenes or just referred to. Create subcategories by region for complex or epic works.
The style sheet not only reminds me what people and things are called but specifies case and spelling. Now, you might have these things in your planning notebook, but if you rely on notes, you’ll hate yourself by page 182. Or you’ll hate the story, and we can’t have that!
For the style sheet for science fiction or fantasy novels you’ll need further lists:
- Terms of technology, culture, politics, religion, geographic regions, flora, fauna, clothes, food.
- Sayings. Expressions, oaths, homilies and vernacular terms.
- Literature. Important books, documents, and texts referred to.
The discipline is that after every writing session, list the latest terms and names. Don’t obsess over finding each one, but quickly check your draft and add to your Style Sheet. Edit the ones you’ve decided to change.
Do this and you will save endless combings, searches, misspellings and other housekeeping duties that waste time. And you will thank me. (Donations accepted.)
2. SCENE LIST. A very brief description of every scene.
- Whose point of view.
- What happened.
- What very important things you revealed to the reader.
- If you’re a teensy bit obsessive–you know who you are–jot down any mysteries you introduced, such as things brought up that are intriguing but that you don’t yet explain.
I like to bold characters’ names when they’re first introduced. Call me picky.
For science fiction and fantasy, a third tracking tool.
3. WORLD BUILDING NOTEBOOK. This becomes your bible for series continuity. Use a three ring binder so you can easily replace pages with new and improved concepts.
- Science and magic
- Religions and superstitions
- Social and religious hierarchy
- Calendar and time-keeping
- Money, economics, employment
- Characteristics of sentient species
- Historical dates and events
- Plus all the rest: Medicine, fashion, gender roles, cool things about flora and fauna.
But won’t creating these documents and updating them slow you down? OK, here’s my last word. Go ahead and start writing without these tools. For a limited time. Like 30 pages. When you see the error of your ways, hustle up the documents and start recording things!
Because if you’re anything like me: You. Will. Forget. But if you truly hate to record things, at least do the style sheet. That one will save you infinite trouble, I promise!