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Remembering What You Wrote

by Doug Lewars (originally posted on

It’s easy isn’t it? You wrote it so naturally you remember it. Such is not always the case. I’m reminded of a book I wrote some years ago. It’s a fantasy and a woman is killed and moved into something I refer to as the Midworld. Anyway, not knowing her way around, she wanders aimlessly for a while and happens to board a subway. A hundred or so pages and perhaps three months in story time I remembered I’d left her on the subway and quickly needed a way to get her off and account for the time lapse.

Major oopsies like that are uncommon but small ones are always a risk. If he murdered the victim with a knife and suddenly he’s in a shoot-out with the police, where did he suddenly acquire the gun and if he had it all the time, why didn’t he simply shoot the deceased? Did I spell ‘Mellissa’ consistently with two ‘l’s or did I refer to her as ‘Melissa’ from time to time?

Those are the easy ones. I’m currently working on book number nine of a fantasy series. My protagonist is an apprentice witch. She’s meeting with her teacher for a lesson in magic. What doesn’t she already know? What spells did she learn in books one through eight? These are much more frustrating questions and difficult to answer.

The trick, of course, is to keep notes. I have one Excel workbook for each series and one for any additional books I write. In the workbook is one sheet for regular characters, another for transient characters I may need or want to bring back in the future – or even just reference. I have a sheet for each plot and often another cross referencing my characters and how they relate to one another.

I’ve learned a few things through trial and error.

  1. Yes it may become large, but keep each series in a single spreadsheet, not one per book as I started out doing. Otherwise you’ll find yourself digging out old spreadsheets trying to figure out who did what to whom some number of books ago.

  2. Have a separate sheet for each plot outline. I generally shrink Column ‘A’ and fill it with numbers from 1 through 70. Before writing I like to have seventy scenes. They may be very sketchy but they provide an idea where I’m going. So for example, ‘Meeting at the school’ could be one entry.

  3. Have at least one and possibly two sheets for characters. For main characters I like name, possibly date of birth for younger characters and any relationships I need to remember. I don’t provide much detail. These are just to twig my memory. So for example, ‘Jack Stone – Jane’s boss is enough. Since I like writing in series format, some characters won’t likely be referenced after the book in which they play a role. I might move these to the second worksheet because I’ve found, on occasion, a character I thought I was finished with has reappeared for some reason.

  4. Sometimes I’ll have a sheet reserved for relationships in a particular story. It will look like a line for character name, a line for what they want, etc.

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By laying out the agendas, I can see where I want to drive the story and how various characters will react to one another and to any number of situations. I don’t always use this technique but it comes in handy from time to time.

I also generally keep a work sheet. In it is information I worked out or found via research. For example, let’s say a business plan yields 10% ROI over a year. I’ll generate returns for several years and store them. When whichever character owns the business needs to make a decision I can refer to the sheet. Plus if I’m using that general idea in the future I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Various bits of research I’ve pulled from the internet go in this sheet such as how far could one travel by horse in a day? How far could an army travel? How much in terms of supplies would they need? Having these facts stored saves digging in the future.

While I use a spreadsheet, just about any data repository will work. The key is to keep all the stuff in one place to make finding it easy.

Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published thirteen books on

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