Keeping Track of Details

If you’ve been writing books for long, you may have come across the challenge of keeping the details straight so that you can be consistent throughout the book. If the hero has blue eyes in chapter 1, he shouldn’t have green eyes in chapter 14. If your characters live on 5th Street in one chapter, they shouldn’t later live on Fifth Street. But how do you keep track of these things without having to simply rely on your memory?

You could create an Editorial Style Sheet. This is what editors do when they line-edit and/or copyedit your book. It’s ultimately their responsibility to see that everything is as correct and consistent as possible throughout your book, so as they’re editing, they write down details; names of people, places, businesses and all proper nouns; strange spellings; and style rules that will apply to your manuscript.

Your style sheet doesn’t need to be too detailed, but a simple one that you create as you write or revise could help you define and keep track of the elements that are important to you.

When editors create style sheets, they usually include the following elements:

1) A list of some important style rules that will be followed throughout the manuscript. Whether or not they conform to CMS or AP, the important thing is consistency and a pleasant reading experience. So this section will address things like whether or not the serial comma is used; under what circumstances kinship or pet names (“mama” or “sweetheart”) are capitalized or lowercased; whether inner thoughts are set in italics or roman type; rules for whether to spell out numbers or use numerals; and countless other issues that come up in editing.

2) The book’s setting—time frame and location on the map.

3) A list of all the places and street names, to insure consistency in spelling and capitalization. For instance, is it Babies ‘R’ Us… or Babies R Us? Is it Wal-Mart? WalMart? Walmart?

4) A list of all the characters with the correct spellings of their names. (You’d be amazed how often a writer spells their own hero’s name three different ways dozens of times throughout a book.) For the main characters, this list also includes pertinent details like age, relationship to another character (i.e. “wife of John”), hair color, eye color, height and any other available information.

5) Names of any animals in the book.

6) A long list of words whose spellings could be easily mistaken or challenged. For example, “blonde” and “blond” are typically confused and the rules for usage have evolved over the years. A nicely edited manuscript requires a rule so the word is spelled consistently, i.e. blonde for female and blond for male; or blonde for noun and blond for adjective. Sometimes a word is only used once, but is included in the style sheet to show that an intentional decision has been made to go with a certain spelling; or to show that the spelling has been verified through an external source (i.e. “Walmart” is verified by the company’s website.)

Obviously you don’t have to go to all this work—the editor will do it later, and most likely you’ll never even see it. But there are a couple of reasons you may want to keep a style sheet for your book:
→ You want to keep track of details that are important to you so you’ll be consistent.
→ You want to deliver it to your publisher along with your manuscript so that the editor doesn’t change things for which you’ve already made intentional decisions.

Even if you never use a formal style sheet, hopefully this opens your eyes to the detailed scrutiny your manuscript will someday undergo.

Q4U: Do you have any system for keeping track of details in your manuscript?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  6. Beth Ann Rowland on September 13, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    > This is a great post.

    I have a number of ‘helpers’ that I use to keep track of all the details which would otherwise cause me a LOT of headaches.

    I’ve created an entire world consisting of things never before written. I’m not using things like elves, dwarves, dragons, etc… All of the races in my world, creatures/animals, places, history, many of the plants, some languages …Most things are unique. So I have a LOT of details which I need to be able to keep straight.

    The following is a list of the editorial ‘helpers’ which I use to keep track of everything as I write:

    1: A timeline not only for the MS I’m currently working on, but also a broad historical timeline for my world.

    2: 3X5 cards containing information on all my characters on which I list their basic traits such as race, hair, eyes, skin, height, build, style of clothing they may prefer, any personality traits that I might find important, etc…

    3: A list with general racial descriptions to make sure I keep things within the boundaries I’ve decided upon for each one, including any general racial aversions, blood-fueds, etc…

    4: A list of all the creatures/animals I’ve created (one for plants as well) where I not only describe my creation, but also what climate or specific area of my world they can be found in, any ‘uses’ the creation might have to any of the world races, any special traits the creation might possess (like chameleon-like abilities), etc…

    5: Maps, maps and more maps… I’ve been a Dungeons and Dragons fan and player since the age of 10 and I’ve always been a big fan of the ‘art of mapping’. I’ve not only mapped the layout of my world, but also cities and any large/important buildings which have a reoccuring role.

    6: I also keep a 3-ring binder which I have divided into various sections such as “history”, “plot/scene notes”, “characters”, “maps”, “ideas for future novels”, “general world notes”, etc…

    Any time I can’t remember what color I made a character’s eyes or what climate a creature can usually be found in or its uses all I have to do is flip to its section in my binder. To help me further I arrange information in each section in alphabetical order as much as possible and rearrange the sections as I add more. Finally I keep an ever growing word list as a lot of the spellings for things in my world are unique and are NOT found in any spell-check dictionary.

    When I get “on a roll” while writing I find it helpful to literally create a fill-in-the-blank space for myself if I can’t remember a detail right away. That way I can go back later, look up the detail I omitted because I suffer from ‘some-timers’ and keep things consistent rather than write something down which is wrong and then have difficulty spotting it in a later edit.

  7. Mechelle Fogelsong on July 10, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    >In a spiral notebook, I drew a diagram of the trailer court where my story is set. Within the diagram, I made notes: #17 is where Ivan Dubreta lives, a Croatian man who wears an Uncle Sam costume in the 4th of July parade.

    Each time I brought in a new character, I made notes on the trailer court diagram, so I could remember which characters did/said/owned what. Dog names, habits, who has problems with their sprinklers, etc…

    But you said a writer can actually submit this along with the manuscript? What if it's just a page of scribbly writing? Wouldn't that make you seem unprofessional?

  8. Lynette Eason on July 10, 2010 at 5:54 AM

    >Thanks for this great information. I'm always looking for way to keep track of the details. I write suspense, so I usually have quite a few details to keep track of! I have recently discovered the software Scrivener and have decided I love it! If you have a Mac, I highly recommend this great writing tool. It's for screenwriting too! Thanks again, Lynette

  9. Keidi Keating on July 10, 2010 at 4:36 AM

    >The idea for an editorial style sheet is great. I usually ask a few friends and relatives to read my manuscripts when they're finished. They love picking out any inconsistencies which I've missed during editing.

    However, I do find that a story board works well. I section it into boxes (each box representing a chapter) and write a word or two at the top of each box to indicate what happens in that chapter. Then I write details below. This is quite effective too!

  10. Heather Sunseri on July 9, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    >This is great information, Rachelle. My critique partner noticed the other day that I spell one of my characters two different ways. I felt like a big idiot, but one search and replace later, problem solved.

    To keep track of timing, dates and the order of things, I keep a master spreadsheet that lists chapter, scene, whose POV scene is written in, date or day of week on which scene occurs, a brief summary of scene and word count of scene. The spreadsheet is full of colors and it keeps a running total of my word count by chapter and for the entire manuscript. Wow! I had no idea how Type A I was until I wrote this comment.

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  12. Carol J. Garvin on July 8, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    >A spreadsheet didn't work for me. Now I keep a document open and paste in details with the page number where they first appear. I also have a binder for each novel and keep a printout of the style sheet and a collage of related pictures in the front for easy reference. It's handy when I want to do some hard copy editing or proofreading. With my notebook zipped inside the binder I have everything I need to continue working at the beach or other place where I might not want to take my laptop.

  13. Jil on July 8, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    >How very sensible and a good lesson for me who keeps everything on scraps of paper lost among other scraps. Thanks, Rachelle!

  14. Heidi Main on July 8, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    >I use an excel spreadsheet . . . so helpful when you take time off from a project!

  15. Linda Adams on July 8, 2010 at 5:08 AM

    >I use an idea map to keep track of everything. Just keywords for the appropriate thing.

    But other systems–I've tried everything mentioned here–don't work for me because of how I organize. I'm very visual and don't play with notebooks, spreadsheets, or anything that has tabs. Often they fall by the wayside, forgotten until I need to track something else, and then I start something new!

    Instead, I started by minimizing the details. I'm so not detail-oriented, and I wondered why I needed details like a character's eye color in a story, so out that came. What I ended up tracking were things that were important to the story.

  16. Lynda Young on July 7, 2010 at 10:43 PM

    >I always make up a list of every single character's name.

    And I always make a list of descriptions that detail my main characters.

    Oh, and I sometimes have to list of who knows what (when many secrets are being kept)

    I once read a popular book that changed the main character's eye colour halfway through. It was so distracting.

  17. Sue Harrison on July 7, 2010 at 7:49 PM

    >I love this post and the comments. I'm learning lots. Here's something I include in my character sketches – the use, or not, of contractions:

    1. In a character's dialog.
    2. In the narrative sections which are written from that character's POV.
    3. In his/her thoughts.

    A laid-back character – contractions in all 3 areas. An up-tight character – no contractions. For the spectrum in between, permutations and variations. Consistency? That's the bugaboo!

  18. T. Anne on July 7, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    >For each new novel I keep a spiral bound notebook for details and outlines. It becomes my story bible. In fact when the back-to-school sales start up, I plan on stocking up for myself and the kids.

  19. joanq6 on July 7, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    >I use a spreadsheet format for a timeline, with the decades/years in the lefthand column and then a column of key events. I create separate columns for each major character and plot their birth, graduation, previous jobs and other milestones. That way, I can calculate time references and context.

    Of course, that doesn't replace the need for a style sheet!

  20. Brother Cysa Dime on July 7, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    >I understand that Agatha Christie has a box of index cards with interesting fictional characters and their characteristics. She would pull out a bunch to populate her next novel. She also designed the plot from start to finish before starting to write.

  21. Krista on July 7, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    >I kept a timeline when writing my trilogy since I wanted a certain amount of it to span exactly a year. I normally have no trouble remembering details about characters or spelling, though I did once give a minor character two different last names and caught it in revision.

  22. CJ on July 7, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    >My main tool is a wiki. I set it up so that I can look up whatever piece of detail I might need. Some of the info is entered during development, the rest following each chapter so that I can maintain continuity.

    In the wiki I include all the characters, major and minor, their backstories, their development, etc. I include the major timelines, not just of the story but also of pertinent events in the past/present/future that might have an effect on characters and their settings. As I tend to write SF, I also include all of the world-building: tech, planets, aliens, language, etc.

    I also employ a spreadsheet for how characters develop through the story. I'm then able to isolate characters as well as to see how they all interact at various places in the story.

    As I mentioned, some of this is during development, and some occurs after sections of story have been written.

  23. wonderer on July 7, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    >I keep a list of "dramatis personae" – names of all major and minor characters – but it doesn't have a lot of info. I'll need to add to it in revisions.

    For tracking scenes, I'm more organized. I keep a spreadsheet that lists scenes (broken into chapters), each with its word count, POV, location, and time of the month (I'm writing a werewolf novel). It's very helpful for pacing, even in first draft.

  24. Raquel Byrnes on July 7, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    >I like the editorial style sheet idea. What works for me is an outline/spreadsheet program that keeps things pretty organized. As for names, I learned my lesson a while ago about keeping them consistent the first time around.

    I changed the name of a character once with a find/replace program…what a disaster. Words with 'sue' in it were horribly mangled. Persue became PerJenny…nice.

  25. RosieC on July 7, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    >I have a huge spreadsheet with all of the names of people and nicknames (like keeping track of names in a Russian novel), their relationships to each other and ages. I haven't added physical characteristics, though, and I probably should. Thanks!

  26. Jesse on July 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    >I keep a notebook on my desk for exactly that reason–each book gets one. Every character has its own page and the details are listed there. The plot information is in another section, which includes place and time frame. And I have another section for any research that I've had to do. It keeps me organized. I never thought about the style rules but now that you've mentioned that, it makes perfect sense. Hmm, I shall have to add that section to my notebooks. 🙂

  27. Sarah on July 7, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    >Evernote is the best tool I've found for my writing. I keep all my story details there, which are easily searchable when I need to access them. I keep all my new story ideas there, so I have a list of ideas to work on when I want to start a new story. I keep all my research notes there with links to websites (if researching on the internet). The best part is that it stores it on the web and synchronizes with my iPhone, and any computer it is installed on. Since I work from multiple computers, this comes in handy. Or, if I'm sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office and a great idea comes into my head, I use my iPhone to add a new note. You can also take pictures of things and send them to evernote, and actually search on the content. So, if you have a handwritten page, you can take a picture of it and then search on the words in your page (beats typing it in).

    There is also a free app called StoryBook that has some great tools for storyboarding your book, and you can enter in details about each character, place, etc. I've found that useful when building my characters and settings.

  28. Mesmerix on July 7, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    >I have a "Series Bible," which is a document loaded with the information about my setting and characters. Each character than has their own character synopsis sheet, which tells me everything on that person from their hair color down to their blood type.

    It's ridiculous, but I may need to know that information some day!

  29. CFD Trade on July 7, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    >Do you have any system for keeping track of details in your manuscript? Now, I do…thank you for the post.

  30. lauradroege on July 7, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    >My book has a pregnancy involved, and it was necessary to know exactly when the woman conceived, etc. So I printed out a year long calendar (the 12 months on 1 page type), and figured out when she conceived, how far along she was at thus-and-such plot points, when she gave birth prematurely, etc.

    For characters, I cut-and-paste into a Word Document all the initial descriptions and later details. Each character got his/her own page. Very helpful.

  31. Mindy on July 7, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    >i have a pretty terrible memory as it is so I basically do what you suggested Rachelle. Most of the time I just write characters names and little plot points I want to have solved much later in the story. I usually write them on paper but lately I'm finding it easier to use a whiteboard as I can erase/replace.

  32. Katherine Hyde on July 7, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    >As a copyeditor, I have a pretty good eye and memory for detail, so up till now I haven't found it necessary to track things like this. But now I'm working on a fantasy set in a different world, and I have to keep track of the names I make up for things in that world. I use Scrivener for writing, so I've made a separate file in the Notes section just to keep track of these made-up words. Some of them are pretty long, so I can also just copy and paste them from the Notes file into the story.

  33. Stephanie McGee on July 7, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    >Great post. This is something I'll have to be doing in revisions. Maybe with the next book I'll do it as I go along in the first draft. If I can remember to do it. I do have some little notes here and there of things that I've decided on as I went. But I do have to do a lot of backtracking and so forth when I'm writing to make sure I'm being somewhat consistent.

    Thanks for this.

  34. Timothy Fish on July 7, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    >I believe that blonde for female and blond for male is a carryover from the French. Since we don’t really deal with gender in English words, I don’t see that it would be wrong to use one or switch based on gender, but we should be consistent.
    Durango Writer’s comment about what that critique group did reminds me why I avoided outlines for so long. Before I ever wrote a book, I found some software that claimed to make it easy to write a book. I went through their process of coming up with characters, which involved filling in information about age, hair color, likes, dislikes, etc. After several hours of work, I had all kinds of information about the characters and I’m looking for the button I can hit that will generate a story. There was no such button and I began to realize that it was a waste of effort because I wasn’t going to wade through that information looking for details and there was no way I could remember it all. My concept was that I had to fill in all that detail before I could move on to actually writing the story. If I’d stayed with that software, I think I still be trying to decide which books Sara should have on her bookshelf.

  35. Loree H on July 7, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    >I do keep a sheet but you gave me some extra tips. Thanks.

  36. Lyla on July 7, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    >I'd heard about making notes for plot, but for some reason this (style sheet) never occurred to me! I love this idea! I'll definitely use it next time I edit.

  37. Bruce H. Johnson on July 7, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    >Spreadsheets and Word files. Can search and sort really fast.

    Note that with characters, the more important (story-wise) they are, usually the more detail you'll want to have. They can go on the spreadsheet with a note to look in the "big" character sheet in Word.

  38. Susanne on July 7, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    >I'm afraid I'm woefully disorganized! I rely heavily on search and replace, and at least in the first draft more concerned with getting the story on the page. This is particularly disturbing since I write historical fiction…I do sometimes rely on timelines, however, to get the historical details correct.

    Terrible to admit this, isn't it? Thanks for posting this about style sheets. I'm going to link to this on Facebook.

  39. Richard Waskiewicz on July 7, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    >I’m about 75% done with the draft of my current MS. I have a couple of primary tools:

    One is a list of characters that includes (at minimum) the following about each: height, weight, age, occupation, residence, hair color/style, and when appropriate parents’ names (with occupation, residence, and age). I also use this to track my character’s driving motivation, goals, internal conflict, and eventual epiphany. This is the only way I can keep straight the two dozen major and minor characters, unless they are one-scene players, or extremely unique — so easy to remember.

    On a spreadsheet, I keep track of my story world’s historical timeline. Dates of important events to the story and a general description of what happened and why.

    Lastly, I keep several maps handy. Since I’m not from and have never been to the location I’m writing about, this is invaluable (along with photos from the Internet).

    One thing I never considered is a word style sheet. I may have to try that, especially when my critique partners point out easily misspelled/misused words (blonde and blond for example… I didn’t know there was a difference in usage). For me I’m using unusual words for an American author: gery instead of gray for example. I might need to consider putting something like that for the editor’s use, so they understand it’s intentional.

  40. Liberty Speidel on July 7, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    >Since I intend my novel to be part of a series, I know I need to keep things consistent between books, so I have a character guide that I intend to update between books for major developments between characters either in books or between books. It includes things like a basic physical description, cars that are driven, where people work or have worked, children, birthdays, etc.

    I've never considered using a "style sheet" as it were to keep track of how I punctuate, but it's not a bad idea. Of course, digging out my AP Stylebook from college and using it might actually work as well. 😉

  41. Linda Godfrey on July 7, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    >I'm a hand-written notebook person, and have learned the hard way that keeping some sort of track sheet (I call it my story bible) is MANDATORY unless you are a writing-app-cyborg of some sort. My notebook notes include sections on each character with descriptions, facts and sometimes sketches of them, timetable graphs, faux equations that sort of graph story arcs, events and artifacts I intend to pay off later, plus doodles, coffee dribbles and grease spots. It's almost as much fun as writing. Sometimes more!

  42. Jessica Peter on July 7, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    >I just finished my first novel and had made a "style sheet" throughout before I knew what a style sheet was. Since it took me a couple years to finish, I found myself forgetting things like eye colour, or what the one character's office looked like. So I made a list of characters and locations and their physical and "personality" features (in the case of the characters). It seems to have worked well!

  43. Monica on July 7, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    >I am currently writing a book…. ( and I keep track of things I need to look up, words that I am not sure of, I have list of all the characters I have in my book so far, I write down who is dead, who is wounded, who is captured, who is under arrest, all about the character too. (Hair, eyes, relationship etc.) I have it all in a little notebook. I had to get another one. lol =]


  44. MZMackay on July 7, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    >I create a Character sheet for each main character in my story. This lists their physical attributes, parents, friends, where they went to school, etc. I even include certain things like what they might be willing to die for, etc, just to get into the mindset of the character.

    Not all the information I develop necessarily gets used in the story, but it helps me keep in mind who the character is.

    I have yet to develop something for my settings, and locations where the story occurs.

    I've picked up some great tips from your post and the comments.

    Of course, I have to remind myself that while I do implement these tips, I can't let it consume my actual writing time.

    Loved the blond v. blonde rules. I can't wait to implement those changes.

  45. Billy Coffey on July 7, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    >God bless my dry erase board.

  46. Mary Aalgaard on July 7, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    >Thank you for this important advice. I keep a notebook on characters. This helps. I'll include spellings of names, etc. as you suggested. It's easy to lose track of those things as you plow throw the writing of that longer work.

  47. Patrice Kavanaugh on July 7, 2010 at 8:49 AM

    >I must say I had NO idea that blonde vs. blond designates gender differences. I feel the need to double check this, but when I do, I may need to go back into my manuscript and "fix" all the "blonde" hair references to my hero. Thanks for the tip.

  48. karenranney on July 7, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    >I use OneNote for all my books. Each book gets a separate section, with a page for Characters, Settings, Research, and other information specific for that book. I can't tell you how many times it's saved me. Plus, if you use OneNote, it copies the hyperlinks, so you can easily find the source document.

  49. Durango Writer on July 7, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    >In my writing critique group, we also went through an exercise to describe the main characters even if we didn't use those details. For example — Cissy Pickering is the type of person who:
    1. eats a hamburger with a knife and fork.
    2. uses a night light.
    3. gets motion sickness.

    Also, we've done an "adverb round-up" with our manuscripts. Search for 'ly' and you'll find you can get rid of almost every word that ends in ly.

  50. Durango Writer on July 7, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    >In my writing critique group, we also went through an exercise to describe the main characters even if we didn't use those details. For example — Cissy Pickering is the type of person who:
    1. eats a hamburger with a knife and fork.
    2. uses a night light.
    3. gets motion sickness.

    Also, we've done an "adverb round-up" with our manuscripts. Search for 'ly' and you'll find you can get rid of almost every word that ends in ly.

  51. Jill Domschot aka Arabella on July 7, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    >Right now, my brain does it all, which is really, really bad. But I did buy a stack of 3X5 cards in a well-meaning manner and plan to use them someday.

  52. ella144 on July 7, 2010 at 8:09 AM

    >I've been creating one of these for my WIP because I have several minor characters with old and unusual names and I keep forgetting which is which.

    Also, about blonde and blond. I was always taught that "blonde" is used when describing women and "blond" is used when describing men. Has that changed?

  53. Noelle Pierce on July 7, 2010 at 7:49 AM

    >I love this idea! I've been using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of dates, events, names, relationships (even for minor, walk-on characters), and in which chapter the events occur. Since I write historical romance, this is especially important because you have first names, surnames, titles, and those people in the Regency even named their homes! (different names for town homes and country homes and…ugh!). As far as character details, I also have a family tree with important years on it, like birth and death, and reasons for deaths of minor, but important characters. In MS OneNote, I keep a page for each character, which includes a photo of whichever celebrity was the inspiration for the character, as well as the details of eye and hair color, personality quirks, and habits/hobbies/worldview. I used to be a therapist and am now a psych professor, so motivations and characterization are important to me (hence the detail).

    When it takes me a while to write a book, it's really nice to have this to look back to when I need to remember a name or place or major event/date. My next edit is going to include writing down a timeline so I can make sure I left enough time for them all to travel-by carriage-across the country. (If it only takes them one day to go from London to Gretna Green, the historians will jump all over me…y'all know how that is. *g*)

  54. Sharon A. Lavy on July 7, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    >Thanks for the tip about the style sheet.

  55. Sharon A. Lavy on July 7, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    >I keep a Character chart for each manuscript. I list the main characters and their immediate family members (who may or may not be used in the book) and when I add another character to the book, whether minor or major, I add that person to the chart.

    I also keep a journal for each manuscript that I jot ideas and logistics.

    My third chart is a running list of chapters, what is happening,what day it is,(time line) who's pov, and word count, last page of that chapter. This chart really helps me when I get to the editing stage and realize I need to swap scenes.

    For me it takes a lot of pre-writing and then keeping up these charts as I go.

  56. Katy McKenna on July 7, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    >"Bingo! We have a winner!" Add this under Katy's character on the style sheet, with note: "Cliches she uses." 🙂

    Thanks, Rachelle. I have tended to go back through a manuscript late in the game, trying to find my bits of info and correct inconsistencies, instead of keeping track of things from the beginning. My method has not worked!

  57. Krista Phillips on July 7, 2010 at 6:42 AM

    >What a great idea!

    I don't use a style sheet, however I do try to always have a timeline to make sure all my dates are in order, I don't skip holidays, and that time is flowing naturally.

    I also keep a list of my characters and the features to keep that straight.

  58. Carradee on July 7, 2010 at 6:31 AM

    >I have one novel-in-progress where I know character appearances keep changing, so I'm gonna have to carefully go through with a red pen. To stop that, I started off with a style sheet for my second one.

    I'm working on a plan to have a complete character/location directory, but the logistics are still in the works.

    Note: technically, blonde is the female version of blond. (Example source.)

  59. Megan on July 7, 2010 at 6:17 AM

    >Great hints and tips.

    I have an excel spreadsheet where I write down general details – name, age, job, living arrangement, partner – but I need to make a more comphresenive thats for sure!

  60. Holly Bodger on July 7, 2010 at 6:04 AM

    >I also use:
    1) A scene board, organized by chapter
    2) A calendar, which shows on which date each scene takes place
    3) Inspirational photos for every character and major element of a scene (ie, a picture of a piano, a picture of someone's exact hair style…)

  61. Lance Albury on July 7, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    >I use Excel and organize the information in separate tabs.

    Rachelle, are there any templates out there so that when we do hand it in to a publisher, we don't feel silly?

  62. Timothy Fish on July 7, 2010 at 5:35 AM

    >When I write I always have two applications open. The first is MS Word, obviously, but the second is FreeMind. On the right side of the page in FreeMind I put my outline, but over on the left is a list of names and places and pretty much any other things I think I’ll need sometime later. When I introduce a character, I add the name to the mind map in FreeMind. If I describe the character with some detail, I add that description to my reference to him in FreeMind as well. I don’t spend a lot of time coming up with details about things until they become relevant to the story, but when they do I add them.

    When I’m writing about a character that occurred in a previous book, I open up the FreeMind file I used for the previous book, copy the character and past it in the file for my current book. Some things do have to be changed, such as ages, occupations and last names, depending on what happened in between books.

  63. Tessa Quin on July 7, 2010 at 4:11 AM

    >Thanks for that, Rachelle.

    Since I'm writing a trilogy, I think I may have to use such a sheet.

  64. Micah Maddox on July 7, 2010 at 3:21 AM

    >Thank you for the post. I need to review #1, and it's helpful to know consistency is the main objective.

    I began with a style sheet and couldn't operate without it, as I am in the revision stage and struggle to track everything I didn't include on the style sheet.

    Two things that may/may not help others:

    1)When I implement a trait/label I notate the chapter in which I first used it so I know during revisions everything before then is safe.

    2) I am using an older MSWord version ('03?) and have discovered that Find & Replace sometimes does not correct a small percentage of total changes (had this happen with ellipsis and names that weren't mispelled).

  65. Aimee LS on July 7, 2010 at 2:06 AM

    >I keep a list of spelling or any other inconsistencies noted by critique partners. At the end, I go through and do a 'find / replace' for the chosen spelling THEN record it.

    I also keep a "Backstory" file which can include anything from scenes to character lists (including descriptions / relationships) and so forth. That way, when I'm writing I have a single place to go to find whatever information I need.

    I guess if (WHEN!) I get line-edited I'll find out how well my system works!

  66. B.K. Jackson on July 7, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    >For my first historical manuscript, I have done a crummy job of keeping lists/sheets of this info. That was an error on my part b/c I truly have a terrible memory–worse then most so it feels. So it has made double work for me as I search the manuscript for some pertinent detail like that. About the only thing I've done is keep a timeline that lays out the time span of the novel and significant events.

    This blog post will come in handy for me as I prepare to launch into my second manuscript. I want to work smarter next go 'round.

  67. Anonymous on July 7, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    >I just completed the first draft of a novel and am about to embark on editing it. I wish I had created and used a tool such as this as I wrote the first draft. Still, it is excellent advice and will serve me (and any readers) well. Thank you for the excellent advice.

  68. Ted Cross on July 7, 2010 at 1:03 AM

    >I have a map that I drew, and I use cards for each character, and also for major things such as races/tribes.