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#FirstDraft Planning Day 4: Making Lists–Characters and Settings

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Today’s story-prep comes from what was Day 5 in the FirstDraft60 process: Lists. Lists. Lists..

Lists of Characters
Yes. Lists plural. I have a spreadsheet format that I set up more than twenty-five years ago for creating and keeping track of families (and the Real World Templates for them). It’s the foundation for Bonneterre, Louisiana, in the days before it was even called Bonneterre! The original file, which I started using back in the early to mid-1990s and used up through when I was working on A Case for Love in 2009, had more than 650 uniquely named characters (and about 65–70% of them were cast, too) “living” in Bonneterre.

But I digress (as I am wont to do when it comes to making lists of characters and casting them!)

Tonight, I took the lists that I made for the Ransome’s Legacy series last year when I started working on the story ideas and made a master Names list:

On the right is the original spreadsheet I made with the family groupings for the characters involved in the Ransome’s Legacy stories (at least the main families tied to the original Ransome Trilogy). On the left is the master list of names—first names, last names, place names, and “other” (for example, Childers which is Collin Yates’s earldom title—Lord Childers). [Yes, Adeline Elizabeth changed to Adeline Henrietta when I wrote out the idea for her story.]

As I work on each subsequent story in this spin-off series, I will continue adding to this list—secondary characters, cities, towns, villages, estate/house names, ship names, and so on. This is the main reason I did it in Excel instead of OneNote—because with as long as this list will become, I need an easy way to figure out if I’ve already used a name (or a similar name) or not. And being able to sort this list alphabetically is the best way I’ve found to do it.

Why go to all this work?

Because I’m really bad about remembering if I’ve used a name or not. And because I have written so many stories, it’s hard to remember whether I’ve used it in what I’m currently working on or if it was in a previous book/series.

How do you keep track of your characters’ and place names when you’re writing?

This wasn’t so much making lists as it was setting up pages in the Settings section of my OneNote notebook for the settings I know I’m going to use as well as potential settings, depending on where the story takes me.

Witherington House in Philadelphia Sea Steamer

Because my setting is historical, just about any setting I use involves some measure of research. Tonight, that centered on Michael and Serena Witherington’s grand town house in Philadelphia and the sea steamer that will take Elle from Jamaica to Philly. Yes, I used a sea steamer in Follow the Heart and still have all of that research saved in my OneNote story bible for that book. But that takes place eight years after this . . . and technology for sea-going steam engines changed drastically in that time (from side paddle-wheels to screw propellers) which means the look and layout of the ships themselves changed drastically—as did their speed and reliability. Could I have used the 1851 info and just assumed no one else would know the difference? Sure. But I would know. And it would bother me, even if no one else caught on.

As you can see, not only do I collect images, but I also collect details on these settings—even if I’m going to fictionalize them later (as I will with the Witherington house; it won’t be that exact historic home, but based on it). This list-making process gives me a good start on it. And for those pages on which I don’t really have any information yet, I at least created the page to remind myself I was thinking that the story might go in a certain direction.

How do you keep track of not just images but also details of your settings?


If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

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