by Carole Brown
Have you ever read a book that has the details wrong? And I’m not just talking about historical details, but mundane details that you didn’t catch when writing–even editing–your manuscript. Examples:
- You wrote that an event happened on Wednesday, but a couple chapters later, on that same Wednesday, you wrote a totally, and unusable, event happening at the same time?
- Or what about forgetting to finish a subplot detail by not following through with a satisfactory solution?
- Did you ever change a name and find out you missed a time or two where he/she’s referred to as the previous name? Ouch!
- Or start out with the main character’s eyes blue and finish up with a green-eyed protagonist?
If you’ve ever read about this happening and don’t want it to happen to you, or you know you’ve missed a few things in your manuscript, then may I suggest a couple ideas:
1. Choose a paid-for program that works for you. There are different ones that are available that can give you guidance and steer you in the direction needed to keep all your manuscripts details clear and in order. Depending on the money you want to invest, it can go from inexpensive to very expensive.
To those who like having it all set up for you in advance and have the money to spend, this is the way to go. There are all kinds of apps out there with varying prices. Google or ask other writers to find out what would work best for you.
I’ve heard good things about Evernote (basic is free; premium costs a decent price). Use it to keep track of your characters by using tags and keywords: eye and hair colors, photos of possible character look-alikes, clothes, styles, etc., and articles of research that you want to keep and refer to later in your work.
Scrivener: a writing software where you write without worrying about formatting. You also have the ability to use tags and keywords, clip websites, store photos and other research material. It can outline with text or a simulated cork board with index cards. You also have the added benefit of it tracking your daily quota of writing.
2. Create your own “program” where you keep a detailed list of what’s happening, when, where and who. This is the one I want to focus on today.
First: you’ll need to decide what you’ll use for your Details List: post it notes, whiteboard, index cards, spreadsheet, physical notebook, etc. Use these to help you:
- Keep track of all characters, including minor characters who may appear only as a mention or very little in your book. List their names, ages, looks, habits, character traits, quirks, relationships (past and present) and anything else you might want to attribute to them and that helps you understand them better. You may not use everything, but it’s valuable for you to determine why and how your character acts the way he/she does.
Example: It’s easier than some realize to forget a minor character’s name, what color of eyes you first used, etc. I changed a minor character’s name in one book and couldn’t remember what it was. Another time, I changed a pretty important character from one position to another, from one name to another, then back again. Details like this are so much easier to remember when you have your handy, detailed lists.
- Keep track of what happens in each chapter. Some events or thoughts or actions may need follow up in later chapters. This helps you to not miss anything that needs to be visited again.
Example: this saves tons of time when you need to double check something to make sure what you previously wrote vibes with what you’re ready to write (rather than having to scroll through pages trying to find that particular scene).
- Keep track of all major scenes in your book. This is a more specific listing that keeps you right in line to where you’re headed. You can follow the scenes and know whether you’ve left out any vital action, thought or words that would help clarify it or make it even more realistic.
Example: Recently, I wrote a scene of which I had that vague sense it wasn’t quite what I wanted. But in the push to finish the book, I went on writing. When the first draft was finished, I realized details weren’t as they should be in that one scene. I went back through and rewrote it twice before I came close to being satisfied with it.
- Keep track of timeline. Obviously, this is a biggie. Writers have to keep track of the time events happen, whether it’s minor or major. Readers are sharp. They can pick up a major error like this easily if they’re detail-oriented. It’s an author’s obligation to make sure their story’s timeline is “time-right.”
Example: Is it on Sunday morning before church or after an evening meal when the bad guy is taken to jail? Sometimes, especially when you switch viewpoints, you can overlap actions and times from various characters, but when it comes to certain actions or the same character, you have to consider that he just might not be able to scale Mount Everest the same time he’s eating luncheon with his girlfriend. Keep it straight with your list!
- Keep track of your plot. Make sure you’re headed in the right direction. There will be changes and sidelines that create an even better story, but you want to remember that by keeping track of your plot, it will help keep you in line for a satisfactory ending. Every line, every scene, every chapter should lead to the ending of your plot.
Example: In a couple of my books, I realized, the closer I got to the end, that the bad guy wasn’t the one I’d planned for when I first commenced writing the book. Because I kept track of my plot–which didn’t change–changing the character worked fine.
There are many other things that can be added to your lists, but the main thing is, keep track, however you decide to do it. I like simple and easy, so going my own way (preparing my own lists–usually with physical notebooks or cards) works for me.
However you decide to go, I think you’ll find this a great idea. Many times writers want to write and not be bothered or “distracted” with lists and such. But I encourage you to give it a try. I had the same mentality once I seriously began writing novels. It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed help…and lists was the way to go.
Questions? Ask. If I know the answer, I’ll be glad to respond. If I don’t I’ll try to find the answer. Best to you as you work on your manuscript!