Sunday, August 8, 2010

An innovation in technology.

So, it's finally happened. You sit down to write that perfect story. You have the characters worked out in your mind (Or on loose pieces of paper. Or on files on your computer. Or on randomly-placed post-it notes) and your setting vaguely happening. You've worked out the reason your character is going to meet Godheris the Gangly on page 27, and precisely when the action is going to start (page 204, paragraph c, sentence 2).

So, you sit down, your papers surrounding you (or, alternatively, your files open on your computer) and get ready to write. This is it, you think, starting to type feverishly. You type and type and type and, before you know it, you've knocked off 10k and six chapters.

Then, the snag. Did you write your character in blue eyes, or green? Was her dress purple, or was it that rather devilish blue you saw on the bus last week?

You look at the mountains of papers in front of you, thinking. There's no way you're going to be able to find the info quickly and easily in there! There's a system, sure, but in your haste to get to the coffee, you've sent a pile flying, and now you can't remember whether Alfonse comes before or after Zachariah!

Luckily, I have the solution for you. It came out of writing my (ongoing) historical/fantasy series (Trilogy? Quartet? Duo? I still haven’t decided, and all of them have been written!). In the first 5,000 words of the 110,000 word story, I'd already introduced 450+ characters (plus six settings) to the story line, some of which it would be obvious of any discrepancies, some not so much.

Although a computer file system seemed easy (After all, Alt+F allowed an easy search), the space all these files took up slowed my computer horribly. Paper has a habit of being thrown away, and post-its fall apart after a while and refuse to stick. How to organise these characters, settings and rules (laws of my universe?) without ending up with a dead computer!

I was browsing a stationary superstore (alongside bookstores, they're where I go to spend my time) and came across the solution.

Index/System cards.

On each card, you write your characters' name at the top, then fill in any info you know about them. It can be as organised as you want, or just random notes when you think of them. I started with organised, and it all went downhill from there. I have Realms, countries, maps, characters, creatures, species, hierarchies, sketches and all kinds of things in my index systems.

I have two now, one containing the info of every one of my main characters, from all my stories (yellow for female, blue for male, white for unknown). In the other, bigger, fuller one, I have every character even mentioned only by name through to the main character of all four (Three? Two? Six?) books, with them divided by colour into: Pink [human], Blue [creature], Yellow [god], Green [elemental], and White [Head God/Realm]).

The thing about index cards is that you can scribble away, rewrite and replace them as needed. If you file them in alphabetical order, they'll only ever go astray if you lose them (or can't spell – happened a few times to me).

So the next time you forget the colour of your comic relief's eyes... index it.


Diana Ilinca said...

Oh lordy, I feel for you! I have a big binder/notebook full of characters and species and places and ideas but they're jumbled up even in there. I may actually give index cards a go. I have a trip to Staples planned soon anyway ;) Good luck!

Ciara Gold said...

I actually started just writing donw info like that at the front of my ms so all I do is scroll to the top when I need certain info. But the file card system sounds good. May have to try that sometime.