Saturday, July 26, 2014

Guest: Jan Christensen with TRICKS OF THE TRADE

I'm delighted to host my old friend, Jan Christensen today! She not OLD, we've just known each other in cyberspace for quite a few years now. She's an excellent writer and she's revealing how she does some of her magic for us today. Pay close attention! (Links and bio are below.)

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

No, not that trade. The writing trade. I have a few tricks about writing novels to help you keep track of those pesky details. And some in particular for those who write series. Some of these hints can even work very well for short stories. Since Kaye and I write so many of those, I don’t want to leave them out. These tricks help me both save time and feel organized. I hope you’ll find at least some of them helpful for you, too.


The second thing I do after starting a new story, short or long, is to open another document for notes about that story. This has become a catchall for me. Here are some of the things I include, after first naming the document: “Title of Story notes.doc.” (I put my titles in caps for the story itself, and the notes document in small letters to tell them apart easily.) Here’s what I include in the notes doc:

·         If I don’t have what I consider a good title yet, I list as many as I can think of, adding to it until I’m done with the story unless something seems perfect before then.
·         I make a table for character names. The first column is for simple number. As I introduce a character, I put it in the table in order of when the character showed up in the manuscript so I can find it more easily later, if I’ve resorted the table. The other headers include First Name, Last Name, Age, Description, Car (but I don’t bother with that column for short stories), and Notes. When I first introduce a character, I take a minutes to fill in the info in the character table. That way I don’t have to look for it when I need it again and don’t remember what page it was on in the document. Also I can sort by when introduced, and by first or last name to make sure I don’t have a lot of characters whose names begin with the same letter.
·         Next, for novels, I have another table that I use as an outline after I write each chapter. Obviously, this won’t be needed for a short story unless it’s very long and involved. In this table the headers are: Chapter #, Day (of week) (if exact date is needed, can put that here), Time, Where, and Events. When I finish each chapter, I fill this out. This way I never get caught up with timeline problems. I’ve had timeline problems in the past, and it can be horrible to fix.
·         Underneath that table, I put in research. Often, I find something on-line I can just copy and paste there. I admit, I don’t do a lot of research, so this might not work for everyone. I make big, bolded headers for each piece of research so I can find it easily in the document. Of course, I can use the search feature to find it, too.
·         Last, I put in ideas for plot points after I’m about a quarter of the way through a novel. I don’t plot before starting to write, so by the time I’ve reached that point, I need to take a break and lay out some ideas of what can happen from that point on. I add to these as I think of them, and when I start to feel blocked, I go to that list and see if there’s something I can use.

So, that takes care of the notes file when I’m writing the story. After it’s finished, though, I continue to use that file. I now list all kinds of things at the top of it. Date of publication, where pubbed, if it’s a short story, ISBN numbers, links to it for on-line bookstores, the zine where it was published, and so forth. Anything I think will come in handy down the road.

For short stories I have yet another table to input where I sent the story. The headers for that form are: Where, Date Sent, Date Back, Time Frame, and Comments. In comments I note accepted or rejected. If I get a personal rejection, I might copy and paste the comments right in the table, if they’re not too long. If they are long, I put them underneath.

All this works tremendously for writing series. You can go back to any notes file to find out details about a character you’ve used before, or some research you did, or to jog your memory about exactly what happened when in an earlier book. If you’re more comfortable with printed material, you can make a notebook with each note’s file to flip through when you need it.

It can be odd what turns up. For example, I use a character in the Tina Tales, Professional Organizer books, who loves to use odd, funny words and clich├ęs. I have two pages of funny words in my note file. For that one, I copy and paste it for each new note file so can quickly find one when needed. Words like cattywampus, gobbledygook, higgledy-piggledy, and kerfuffle. Words that even spell checker doesn’t like.

I think if you’re an author who does a lot of research you might find a better way than my way of dumping it all into the notes file. But I do think it’s great to have everything else in that one file. Easy to find, all available with the click of a key or two on your keyboard.

That said, I’m always open to other systems, and would love to read any hints anyone has in the comments. Happy writing! And organizing.


BIO: Jan Christensen’s published novels are: Sara’s Search, Revelations, Organized to Death, Perfect Victim, Blackout, and most recently, Buried Under Clutter. She's had over sixty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years, two of which were nominated for a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society, where she was just elected President. She also writes a series of short stories about Artie, a NY burglar who gets into some very strange situations while on the job.

CONTACTS:





25 comments:

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post, Jan! It's nice to "meet" another author who has an "intricate" writing process. I too keep files for the things you mentioned and I don't write a word until I've completed my chapter-by-chapter outline. Of course, everything is subject to change when I begin to write.

Kaye George said...

I'm taking notes! Thanks for going into detail today, Jan!

Jan Christensen said...

Hi, Patricia, great to see you here and to know there's another writer who pretty much does what I do. One clarification--I don't outline ahead of time. I make one after I write each chapter so I don't mess up the timeline, and in case I'm away from the manuscript for a period of time and need to refresh my memory without reading every word of what's already on the page. I'm a "panster."

Jan Christensen said...

Kaye, I can't thank you enough for hosting me here. Hope you found some good tips.

Kait said...

Great tips, Jan. I do much the same, but I use Scrivener. I have recently learned the importance of keeping notes as you go. One of my stand-alones turned itself into a series, I had to go back and recreate the character wheel from book one so a blue eyed character didn't end up with brown in book 2.

Michele Drier said...

Hi Jan,

Great tips, even for a pantser like me! Thank you and thanks to Kaye.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Jan,
Thanks for the tips. I can see where some of them will save me the time I spend going through my ms looking for a name or a date.

Polly Iyer said...

Terrific post, Jan. Wish I had made notes about my series. In book 3, I needed a character to be named a certain name, but I'd already referred to him in book 1 by another name. Tap danced around that one. Don't know if a log would have helped because I didn't know there would be a book 3, but I'm sure doing it now for future reference.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Jan,

You're wonderfully organized and your suggestions are useful for all of us.

jrlindermuth said...

This information should be helpful to many, Jan. Like you, I don't do much outlining before I start to write. But I definitely see value in keeping a notes log, particularly for a novel where it's so easy to forget or misuse an important character trait.

Morgan Mandel said...

Your tables make way too much sense, Jan. I usually end up going back later on and figuring out if I got the timeline right, and what color eyes so and so has, etc, and the names of secondary characters and what they look like.

Morgan Mandel said...

Forgot to mention I love your book title and can totally relate. It seems I can never get rid of the clutter!

Jan Christensen said...

Kait, thanks for commenting. I downloaded the trial for Scriber, read the whole tutorial, and then tried to use it. By then I forgot how to use the corkboard and gave up, going back to the system I outlined here. And yes, the details are so easy to forget, especially about characters, so simply filling in a form after each is introduced can be a huge time-saver down the road.

Michele, hope this helps. Thanks for coming by.

Marilyn, this system sure save me a lot of time. And I like that—more time to write!

Jan Christensen said...

Polly, yes! When writing a series, having a method to keep tract of characters and other details is crucial. I know in the old days some writers wrote all these details out in long hand and put them in notebooks for each project. They used to call them their bibles. The only thing I wish for is an easy way to put floor plans for the main houses/buildings into my Word notes doc. I bet there is a way to do that, but I’ve never researched it. Need to go do that!

Thanks, Jacqueline. Early interest in time management has been a huge help throughout my life, and I actually enjoy using it to help my writing go more smoothly.

John, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Let me know if you use some of these ideas for future projects.

Jan Christensen said...

Morgan, I can’t emphasize enough how the system of doing the outline after writing each chapter, noting day, time of day, and place, can help keep me on track for the timeline, and also to see that settings change often enough, and even that not too many meals have been skipped. LOL I hate it when my characters get hungry. They get so grouchy.

Jan Christensen said...

Morgan, I'm glad you like the title of my latest mystery. It was actually one of the easiest ones for me to come up with. I actually have some I'm not that crazy about, but what can you do? Good luck with clutter busting. It's not easy!

Kaye George said...

Jan, about the floor plans. I draw these things out, floor plans and maps, then scan them into a document. Nobody would probably notice that I had the sun setting in the East, but I DO want it to set in the West, so I have to have maps.

Bobbi A. Chukran, Author said...

Great tips, Jan! Will keep this one.

Jan Christensen said...

Kaye, you know as soon as I sent that comment along, I thought of the scanner. I'm going to do that for my next book. Thanks!

Jan Christensen said...

Glad you found the tip helpful, Bobbi, and thanks for letting me know the post is a keeper.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm so impressed with how organized you are. I use notecards but I like the idea of having the timeline on the computer file and the ability to sort to check on names and first appearances.

Jan Christensen said...

Hi Susan, I hope you try it all out. I think it will be easier for you. You can always check for words if the note doc seems to get too large by doing a search.

earlwstaggs said...

Great stuff, Jan. I picked up a few tips, which shows I'm not to old to learn. Thanks much.

Jan Christensen said...

We're never too old to learn, Earl. One of my favorite things to do. Thanks for commenting.

NT said...

Excellent tips! I'm afraid I do it all on the Notes app on my iphone, which means finding things can be time-consuming!
Nupur