Raise your hand if you’re writing a series, or a set of linked novels. Keeping everything organized for one book can be hard enough, but how can you possibly organize information for multiple books?
You don’t even know what you’ll need to reference again! It’s hard to choose what’s important, so it’s best to assume you’ll need everything. Still, it needs to be laid out in a way that makes each detail easy to find.
I work in Scrivener, an awesome program that used to be available only for Mac, but has recently become available for PCs as well. Because Scrivener uses a tree-type organizational system, always visible down the left side of the monitor, it’s easy to move around within the program to find Jack’s sister’s name, then shift back to what you were doing . (If you want a tutorial on how I use Scrivener, that’s a different post. Let me know!)
But, what to save and organize for future reference?
1. Maps of your story world, whether its a fantasy world, a real city, or a fictional Earth town. Include high level stuff as well as details such as turning left out the driveway to go downtown.
2. Sketches of the settings/blueprints of buildings that you could conceivably use again. If in doubt, leave it in.
3. Sketches or jpg images of previous characters who may or may not return for a visit (or notes as to what they look like).
4. Mind-maps that you’ve done for characters, plot, whatever.
5. Personality info on all previous characters, whether major characters or walk-throughs. Who knows when a random waitress or taxi driver may turn out to be important in a future story?
6. Complete list of Every Single Named Character, pet, street, town, college, etc. Everything you’ve bothered to name in a previous book needs to be recorded. Maybe you won’t use that character or place again, but having the list will help ensure you don’t give the same name to someone/someplace else.
7. Any research you’ve done, whether you currently see a further use for it or not.
Have I left anything out? I hope not. What I want to get at is this: If you needed it for one book, assume you’ll keep needing it. If your organizational system is set up appropriately, the things you end up not needing won’t be in your way.
While brainstorming/ plotting/ writing, when I come across any specific information (Mr. Graysen arrived in a white pickup), I jot it down. No detail is too small to note, too insignificant to save.
Why is this all coming to mind right now? My agent has Domino’s Game, first book in a proposed series tentatively called Green Acres. I wrote and polished Domino’s Game last year, and had made some notes (in my Scrivener file) with ideas for the second and third books in the series. The past few days I’ve been gleaning all the information I’d filed, as noted above, as I brainstorm the second book–with occasional thoughts on the third book, which I’ve put in the proper place in the series folder.
I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am with how detailed and organized I kept the over all folder in 2010! A few things changed completely during writing and revision, so I’ve revised the filed notes appropriately.
I’m having so much fun revisiting my characters and seeing what all I can put in the way of them reaching their goals in the upcoming stories as well!
Vivian Arend says
You know, I’ve heard great things about Scrivener, but with my chaotic writing style, it’s always seemed too much work, tracking all those details. While I totally see the use? -especially as in your example coming back cold as it were? I still have troubles taking such detailed notes.
But now that I have a multi-book series starting, I’m gathering all the ideas I can. I might just modify and keep an excel spread sheet with a list of character names and id information.
Thanks for the ideas/reminders!
Viv, it’s the writers with chaotic style who get the most out of Scrivener. If you write out of order, or bounce all over in other ways, S makes it super easy to move things around, even entire scenes or chapters. It’s impossible for me to speak highly enough of the program. I know writers who bought a Mac for the express purpose of using Scrivener.
Excel spreadsheets freeze my mind with those little spaces. There are so many things I can’t squeeze in. Yes, I know I can make them bigger, but I still can’t arrange them how I want on a whim.
Try the trial download and watch their video. Seriously.
Carol J. Garvin says
Valerie, I’ve had Scrivener for almost two years and still haven’t used it, despite being impressed by the reviews and videos. I think I need someone to walk me through it because taking the time to learn a new app and transfer everything to it seems like too much effort. I work with MSWord (on a Mac) with a 3-ring binder dedicated to each novel. I keep details on a spreadsheet and later do a printout to add to the binder. It works for me, but people keep telling me Scrivener would make it work a lot easier.
I think your “If in doubt, leave it in” admonition should be tacked on every writer’s wall! The other thing I learned the hard way is when I find something online and print it out, make sure the source URL is included. I hate looking back and wondering what website some brilliant bit of background info came from! 🙂
Carol, I’ve done some one-on-one training with Scrivener. I’m no pro, but I’ve learned to make it work for me. The best time for you to learn Scrivener would be when starting a new project. I agree that it would be a pain to transfer tons of research in (though they make it easy–ish.)
And YES on noting the source URL! Absolutely. When I copy info into Scrivener, I always put the URL at the top, in case I need to go back and find something else.
Wow – what a great list! And all those things are useful for ANY book you start, since you never really know when you might decide to go back to that world and write another story in it. (And I use and love Scrivener, too).
It’s true! But coming back cold a year later, the concise, well-organized info is very important. Thanks for coming by!