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 clichés. 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.
Amazon author pages: http://www.amazon.com/Jan-Christensen/e/B004XTXSYO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1