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Keeping Plot and Character Elements Organized in Long Works (1 Viewer)

Ajoy

Senior Member
Every time I sit down to work, I am forced to wonder if I should be spending some of my time getting my notes more organized. But I always end up putting it off and using a combination of juggling way too much in my brain and navigating my very loosely unorganized notes.

I have a little hardback journal filled with character descriptions and images, hand drawn maps of rooms and settings, family trees, and other notes necessary to keep consistency in my novel. I can navigate the book fairly well, but it is really unorganized and not great for being able to add additional notes. There was a time when I started a binder and began transferring my notes to loose paper that could be moved into labeled tab sections, added to as needed, etc. Then another time, I started a word doc to house my character details, timeline notes, and pertinent plot notes that come to mind as I work. I have this idea that I'll eventually finish the binder so that all my notes are clear, organized, and easy to navigate, easy to stop the juggling in my head.

Well, I always find something more important to spend my time on (like actually writing and revising my drafts), so I continue to pull out my sloppy notebook and my word document riddled with different highlight colors and font sizes instead. I have this idea that I'll finally get fully organized while I'm working on sending out queries, but then I'm also excitedly awaiting when I finally get to start framing out the plot arcs for my next long work...which are always begging for my attention. I wonder if I'll ever get around to that beautiful binder I envision.

Anyone else manage to work in organized chaos? Anyone out there the picture of organization when it comes to novel notes? Anyone work in total chaos? Use brain power alone? How do you all keep your plot and character notes so that you have access to information when you need it?
 

LCLee

Friends of WF
I list all the particulars about my characters at the end of my doc. When I need to find out where they lived or who their family members are I right click on the scroll tab and choose bottom; and boom there I am on the reference page.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Most recently, I'll have a word doc with a few paragraphs as a synopsis, with varying levels of detail. I keep a separate word document for character names and notes. If I come up with a minor character on the fly and decide to use it later, it's a pain to pinpoint where I wrote it ... much easier if I named and defined the character in the characters doc.

My last three manuscript have gone into Scrivener, not so much because of fancy features, but because I get good word counts easily accessible for each chapter, and the separate RTF files it saves for each document work well with my backup/archiving software.

On my just finished novel, I had a workbook with separate spreadsheets for the "good guys" and the "bad guys", because there were just over 20 of each. So I kept notes in columns of the spreadsheets. I added a third spreadsheet to keep track of how long each chapter took to write, and how long it took between finishing one chapter and starting on the next one. Once I got into revision, I also used it to record the beginning and ending word counts for each chapter from first draft to finished product.

Scrivener also protects me against dangerous mistakes. I've highlighted text to get a word count (in Word) before and accidentally moved or deleted the selection. Thank goodness for my archiving backup! A backup alone can wind up writing that kind of error right into the backup, but with timestamped archives, you can always get back to a file before the lost material.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
I use excel for many things while writing:
Character data, including description, favored words/expressions, history, and arc.
World data, including locations, time, historical record, politics, and environment.
Plot points by chapter.
Word count as I write each chapter.

I like it. One document covers it all.

ETA: I write using word, and use the free Grammarly plug in for rough checking.
I also use the word ‘speak’ feature to read my story back to me.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I use excel for many things while writing:
Character data, including description, favored words/expressions, history, and arc.
World data, including locations, time, historical record, politics, and environment.
Plot points by chapter.
Word count as I write each chapter.

I like it. One document covers it all.

I have no idea why I was blocking excel from my brain. I was literally making tables in word instead (I'm guilty of this in all areas of life). :)
Since I was between sections on my draft and needing a change of pace before jumping back in, I started my excel spreadsheet last week! I got all 48 character profiles into one sheet and it's a thing of beauty - so much easier to navigate! I've started sheet tabs for other world elements too, so I'll have to tackle those on my next change of pace day.

Thanks for this!
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
My last three manuscript have gone into Scrivener, not so much because of fancy features, but because I get good word counts easily accessible for each chapter, and the separate RTF files it saves for each document work well with my backup/archiving software.


Scrivener also protects me against dangerous mistakes. I've highlighted text to get a word count (in Word) before and accidentally moved or deleted the selection. Thank goodness for my archiving backup! A backup alone can wind up writing that kind of error right into the backup, but with timestamped archives, you can always get back to a file before the lost material.

I'll have to check this out before I start my next novel (I'm in way too deep with my WIP which I keep using a few separate word docs and back up regularly.). :) It sounds like there are some super useful features with Scrivener.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I'll have to check this out before I start my next novel (I'm in way too deep with my WIP which I keep using a few separate word docs and back up regularly.). :) It sounds like there are some super useful features with Scrivener.

My backup software is ViceVersa Pro, also. It does the archiving, which I have set to go to a standalone USB hard drive.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
When I write I also keep a journal of details about the characters and setting.
The difference is that I create it as I go.
I do very little pre-documentation and just let these details come out in the telling of the story.

I have seen lots of new writers spend their entire writing budget on outlines and character sketches...and get little writing done.
Like Nike says: Just do it.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
When I right I also keep a journal of details about the characters and setting.
The difference is that I create it as I go.
I do very little pre-documentation and just let these details come out in the telling of the story.

I have seen lots of new writers spend their entire writing budget on outlines and character sketches...and get little writing done.
Like Nike says: Just do it.

I do a lot of plotting up front and have published 7 books so far, and have 2 more due out in the next year.
Nike may not say it, but I will: You do you, and I’ll do me.
 

K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
I keep a separate document where I place the main occurrences in each chapter. As well I record the changes to each character and indicate the chapter where they take place. This allows me to review the story based on plot or based on character.
 

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