Thursday, April 4, 2013

Keep Extensive Notes ... Please!

One thing I have learned during my lengthy (attempts) but brief (success) writing career, it is extremely important to keep detailed notes. Let me explain.

I am not one who makes extensive plans before starting to write. Sometimes I just have an idea and begin writing to see what will happen. On occasion I will do research, but that is more for the background information. As far as plot goes, I have been known to begin based on a few paragraphs I have scribbled down. Sometimes I will go as far as laying out where I am going, but that may consist of chapter headings or a single sentence per. The Housetrap series often begins with just the title and I will discover the plot as I set it down.

I have learned that I can get away with this flimsy format as long as I start making notes as I go along. I begin a file of character’s names. Have you ever been well into a manuscript and then realize that somewhere you have changed the spelling of one of the player’s names? How about descriptions? It could become embarrassing if the lovely heroine starts out as a blue-eyed blonde but changes to brown eyes half-way through the book. As I describe the characters, whether it is physical or just their favorite sayings, I add that information to the file. I was part way through writing the Dark Lady when I realized that I had to go back and check on where the neighboring countries were located, and I had forgotten some other important details. I sketched out a crude map that helped me, not only with the location of things and places, but as a reminder of the spelling that I was using. That map later appeared, cleaned up, as a download on my website for the readers.

You don’t think you need to set all this down because you have a great memory. Just wait until you discover you are going to be writing a sequel. That happened to me after I had completed "Housetrap." At that time I was a bit careless with my note-making. Now I was faced with having to almost completely re-read my earlier story to check on details. By the time I wrote Dark Lady I was making good use of notes. I still had to refer to the original story while I laid out two sequels, but it was not nearly as onerous as it might have been without my several pages of notes. DL has a large cast of characters. My notes contained an extensive bio of who was from where and related to whom. An abbreviated version of the bio appears in my website, again as a downloadable aid for the readers.

I create my note file separate from the manuscript. That way I can call them both up and work with them side-by-side if need be.

The bottom line is, unless you draw up an extensive back-story and stick to it before you begin, you had better be prepared to make a lot of notes as you go along! It will save you much time and embarrassment later on. I speak from experience.


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013


Big Mike said...

Yeah, I used to carry everything in my mind, then I told chemo and the gray cells turned to crap. Now I have to write down everything.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Allison Knight said...

I learned that same lesson with Heartsong. Now I keep a notebook for each novel and all the research items and the sites and dates. If anyone questions my research I have the url's of the internet sites I used. (I always use at least two and more often than not, three, that agree with each other.)

Nikki said...

I started keeping notes after the racecar started out red and white, but turned black and silver by turn three. Argh. Mike, I haven't been through chemo, but menopause did a number on my memory cells!

Liz Fountain said...

I use Scrivener for first drafts - and second, third, and fourth drafts - and I set up a section for notes on characters, places, plot twists, etc that I fill up as I go.

I also save cut scenes there - just in case I want to pull a line or two back, or I need to remember something from them.

Good advice, Ron, thanks!