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Writing Tip #7: I Should Probably Write That Down

Thursday, June 10, 2010

As you all know, I work as a freelance editor to support my career as a full-time writer. One of my most recent jobs was a copy- and content edit of the first novel in a trilogy. The editor asked me, in addition to the in-document edits and comments, to create a “series guide” for the trilogy—because whether I edit the other two books in the series or not, whoever does it is going to need to know what was established in the first book about the characters (their physical attributes, ages, likes/dislikes, backstories, quirks, etc.), the setting (geography, town names, store names, area layout, who lives where, and so on), the timeline of the story (if someone says in book 1, in May, she’s six weeks pregnant, she can’t have the baby in book 3, which takes place from August to October), and so on.

Which brings me to today’s writing tip.

Writing Tip #7. Make lists.
Something every successful con artist or pathological liar knows—you have to keep track of the details; you have to know whom you told what and when. Since those of us who call ourselves writers know that what we’re doing is basically telling lies for fun and fortune (okay, maybe not so much fortune as farthings), we need to remember what we’ve made up.

But there are a lot of other things we want to remember also. For example:
Potential Character Names (some of mine are: Elaine, Stephen, Montgomery, Elisa, Joycelyn, Brandon, Kyle, Dacia, Liane, Neal, Ryan, Shaun (F), Alexander, Deborah, Grace)

Interesting Words (synonyms for loud: forte, fortissimo, sonorous, deafening, ear-rending, thunderous, crashing, booming, full-throated, trumpet-voiced, clangorous, clamorous, blaring; synonyms for do act, serve, practice, take action, proceed, go ahead, run with it, make it so, get on with it, have a go, effect, bring about, deliver)

Possible Titles (The Wooing of Mrs. Paroo, House Mother, The Thirty-Five Guarantee, There Is Nothing Lost, Your Right to Remain Wrong, The Very Thought of You)

Interesting Things Overheard (At a restaurant: “As soon as we get back to the office, we need to put a kill order in on McCall.” Guy on the phone at Panera: “How do you feel about widows?” Heard on ESPN: “Cooler than the flip side of the pillow.”)

There are also business/industry things we need to keep track of:
Networking Contacts (Agents/editors met at conferences; authors met at conferences; authors, publicists, book sellers met at book signings; librarians, book buyers, writing teachers)

Blogs (those to read daily, weekly, or occasionally—Google Reader is great for this)

Reading Lists (books to read for fun; books in my genre for critical reading/study; research books; craft books; nonfiction; devotionals)

Research Resources (contacts for interviews, websites, books, museums)

And so on.

These can be kept hand-written in notebooks or you can use my old method of various sizes and colors of Post-it Notes stuck to the sides of the computer and the wall. Or you can type them in and keep them electronically.

But even more important than these are continuity lists and style sheets.

Continuity Tracking
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of the main components I have to edit for, especially with the series (a series with continuing characters and storylines written by several different authors) I edit each month is continuity. To try to keep these multiple authors up to date with what all the other authors have done in the volumes they’ve written is to have created a Series Guide—a way of trying to ensure continuity from book to book to book.

But it isn’t just from book to book that we need to ensure continuity. It’s within the same book. Because we’re writing them over an extended period of time, we may not remember certain details—a character’s eye color or a minor character’s first name.

Obviously, when creating a series guide or continuity lists, that others (co-authors, editors) will be using, it’s usually done as text, with possibly a few images appended. But when you’re doing this for yourself, you can be as creative and visual as you’d like.

Microsoft has a new program that came with Office 2007 called One Note, which acts like a virtual three-ring binder. Here are some screen captures of how I used it to track continuity in Love Remains:

And, as I was writing Love Remains, I tracked details I would need for characters in The Art of Romance and Turnabout Is Fair Play:

That way, I’m not having to recreate the wheel (or the descriptions/lives of my characters). I try to write these types of details down as I’m writing, but most of the time, it’s easier to do in the revision process.

Of course, sometimes the old-fashioned way works just fine:

Style Sheets
More often than not, style sheets are kept by editors. For example, here’s the house style sheet (the decisions made amongst the editorial staff that applied to everything we worked on) that I developed when I was working at Ideals Publications.

If you’re writing something that includes unusual names (such as Cajun, foreign, or otherworldly/supernatural), it would be a good idea to make a style sheet so that once your manuscript is acquired and sent to copy editing, you can make things easier for the copy editor by sending along a document showing how things are spelled, punctuated, capitalized, etc. For example, I should have done this on Ransome’s Honor, because port admiralty shouldn’t have been capitalized but the Admiralty (referring to the group that oversaw the entire Royal Navy in London) should have been capitalized. And I didn’t realize how much I needed it to help out my editor when I was writing Ransome’s Crossing because I wrote things differently in RC than I did in RH (in RH I had poop deck and Aye, aye, sir; but when writing RC I wrote them as poop-deck and aye-aye, sir, so she had to go in and correct all the little details like that).

I know certain multi-published authors have personal style sheets that their publishing house gives to all of their copy editors who work on that author’s books (with instructions such as “don’t use semicolons”).

So that, little ones, is why we need to write things down.

  1. Thursday, June 10, 2010 3:32 am

    I’m the world’s worst at thinking I’ll remember something–then beating my head against the wall (figuratively) when it slips my mind. Unfortunately, it gets worse with age and stress levels . . .

    Thanks, Kaye. It makes me MORE than glad I did at least put together character sheets for my main and secondary characters, because I definitely referred back to them more than once. Actually, more so for the secondary characters than the primary ones. I mean, who can remember what color the heroine’s sidekick’s EYES were?


    • Thursday, June 10, 2010 2:45 pm

      After working in the newspaper industry for so many years, I learned that if I didn’t write something down, I was going to forget it—because there were always so many things vying for my attention and so many interruptions. If someone walked up to my desk to tell me they needed something (folders, business cards, letter head, etc.) I wouldn’t let them walk away until I had written it down (the item and the person requesting it).

      I really need to get a white-board for my office at home and every time an e-mail comes in with some kind of request or task or job, write it down on the white-board. It’s far too easy to close the pop-up reminders in Outlook without even paying attention to what they’re reminding me of. If it’s hanging on my wall and I have to look at it every time I walk into my office, I’ll be much more likely to remember.


    • Thursday, June 10, 2010 2:47 pm

      Oh, and the whole “write things down for continuity” message was driven home for me when I re-read Ransome’s Honor after it came out and realized that one of the minor secondary characters has two different first names—one name during the dinner party scene at the Witheringtons’ house and a different name during the wedding scene. Because I HADN’T WRITTEN IT DOWN when I came up with it when I originally wrote the ending, so I when I was rewriting the dinner party scene, I thought I needed to make up a first name for him.


  2. Thursday, June 10, 2010 1:52 pm

    I need to get Office 7. Kaye, you make writing look like so much fun, and of course, it can be even while it’s still hard work. My problem with these kinds of lists is organizing them in a way that they are still useful when I need them. One Note looks like a possibility.


  3. Kav permalink
    Thursday, June 10, 2010 3:41 pm

    I think my brain has fried. It’s that old left-brain/right-brain thing and my lack of all things logical. But I totally see the need for such organization and I KNOW it makes things easier, clearer and more professional in the long run…but it still makes my head hurt!


    • Friday, June 11, 2010 2:56 am

      I started a bunch of new lists for Ransome’s Quest today after pulling up some of my old stuff from RH and RC when I was writing this post. And I realized that I mentioned Charlotte being in possession of an item (her sea chest) at the end of RC that she shouldn’t have had—and that I need for her not to have had then because of the setup for a scene in RQ. So now I’m going to have to figure out how to work around that.

      Talk about fried brain!


  4. Thursday, June 10, 2010 3:44 pm

    I’ve started writing down stuff I need to research. I have a document just for that. I have limited internet access, so I’ll think of something while writing I need to find out and then when I get access, I’ve forgotten about it until I go back to the WIP and then, shoot! I forgot to look it up and now I can’t.

    So yeah. Lists are good things. My mom says she can’t live without them. 😉


    • Friday, June 11, 2010 2:58 am

      I do that when I’m writing by hand or when I’m so in the zone with writing that I know I can’t stop the flow to look something up—so I’ll make a note to look it up later. Because if I don’t make the note, by the time I get back to it, I may have forgotten what I was thinking about looking up—and lose a lot of time either trying to remember or looking up a bunch of different things hoping I’ll stumble across the original idea.


  5. Sylvia M. permalink
    Friday, June 11, 2010 11:20 am

    Wow! I love the way you have your character profiles arranged. Lists are great, but then I love writing with a good pen. Writing out lists on a piece of paper is great fun. I think I prefer that to typing.



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