Organize Your Writing

One of the things that can get out of hand quick when you’re writing a novel is keeping track of the details. As the story pours out beneath your fingers tapping away on the keyboard, you don’t want to have to stop and page back through the previous 10,000 words to find an important detail that’s relevant to a scene you’re currently developing. It might be things like who said what to whom, how many days have passed, does it makes sense with the way the plot is unfolding, and so forth.

I use several tools to organize my writing so as to avoid rereading the whole manuscript to find one detail. Here are a few of them:

  • Timeline spread sheet: this is essential for keeping track of the order of events. The way I do it is to decide on a date for the opening of the story, and since my books are set in present day, I usually pick a day and the date of the current year. Then for each day on which action happens, I make a brief note of the significant event. For days where nothing happens I may make an entry that reads: August 4-6 Jen waits for news from the police, or something like that.
  • Character biography database: this can be as simple as writing your character’s physical description, age, career and hobbies on an inex card. I keep mine filed on another spreadsheet. Other details that are helpful to include are personality traits. List things like he is intelligent, short tempered, bossy, meek, shy, funny, easy going, intense, artistic, serious or grumpy. You may also include events that have shaped their life so far. For example they were raised in a wealth and comfort or they were abused as a child. They lived in the city or grew up on a farm. They might have been happily married and widowed or divorced with a nasty custody battle. All this helps shape the way your characters will act and react in certain situations.
  • Pinterest boards: this is something that won’t appeal to everyone, but I like doing it. I create Pinterest boards for each of my novels and “cast actors” to “play the roles” of each character. This helps me to “see” the character perform the action in the story.
  • Mapping the location: I physically draw the layout of my locations: the town, the character’s house or apartment layouts, and so forth, again to help me visualize the scenes. And you don’t need to be an artist to make this work for you. A crude map is fine. No one else has to see it!

Keeping track of the details means you won’t be making as many mistakes along the way. This will save you a lot of time and aggravation when you begin proofreading and editing. And being able to visualize your characters and the setting of your story will help make it more real to you and that will translate into your work. As always, I hope this was helpful.

28 thoughts on “Organize Your Writing

  1. I have been fretting over when, and how, and if, to revise my first novel. You have given me some great ideas and I will do my best to process them internally and then get on with the rewrite. I have put the poetry first … but … anyway … thanks for the tips.

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  2. Hi Meg! This is such a great post. I hope I never write a novel because OMG it must be so HARD!!! Of course with an attitude like mine, I never will. Ha! You’re so organized and have such great ideas. Thanks for sharing them. xo

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  3. This is all such excellent advice. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone back and reread huge sections of my stories to check on some detail or other. Being the super-geek that I am, I can’t believe I never thought of making a spreadsheet. They are one of my specialties, after all! LOL. Oh… and the Pinterest boards — I do this already (I think we talked about this before)… but because I am so private about certain things, I keep those boards private. Maybe someday, if I’m ever a “real” writer, I will make them public…

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      1. That is exactly how my series goes: a set of friends, three brothers, then extended family … Each plays a minor role in the main characters’ story and then I move to the next. You can do the same thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s not that hard to change names in a manuscript. I had originally named my Graham, Steve and almost at the very end of the book I went back and used “find and replace” to change it. Now’s the time to do all that stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post. I really haven’t used any tools, but I have been thinking about them more. I may use this idle time as I wait for my vision problems to be repaired. It would be the perfect time to try some of the things and Scribner too.

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