It’s All in the Details: Keeping Track of a Series

- by Nancy Gideon

When I started my “By Moonlight” dark paranormal series, it wasn’t meant to be a series. It was a stand-alone book that just went on and on until it became four . . . then had four more added to it. If I had to do it again, I would have started out with a more organized plan, one that would have kept me on track and charted all the little details that make or break a series.

The devil is in the details. Who said what to whom when, why, and where. The farther down that path you go, the more detailed a map you’ll want to have to keep your story consistent. You want to make sure that bay mare doesn’t become a black gelding. You’ll want to remember who overheard that whispered secret when it threatens to come to light.

Knowing how many years passed between one event and the next can turn your sexy heroine into jail bate or a cougar. And you certainly don’t want your hero romantically involved with his first cousin.

After spending hours thumbing through pages in different books to see if I ever mentioned how tall someone is, or what car he drives, or if she has a favorite perfume, I found several ways to manage my facts for ease of reference (I’m sure there’s software out there that will do it for you, but I’m still trying to figure out how to text!). Here are a few of them that have worked for me:

1) A character sketch. These can be as elaborate or as simple as you need them to be. I include these basics: name, age, body type, hair and eye color, dominate personality traits and quirks, educational level, profession, family ties, internal and external goals and what or who is getting in the way of achieving those goals.

The other thing I do that helps me develop and keep the story consistent is to list how each character views and is viewed by the other major characters. She sees herself as self-sacrificing when others see her as a snob. He views himself as a crusader. They think he’s a psycho. Knowing this helps create a rounded character through self-examination and the POV of others. Clipping pictures or doing a Pintrest board of and for your characters can help keep you focused, too.

2) A detailed outline. This isn’t the synopsis, although I trim my outline down into the final synopsis form. This is a working conscious stream of story development using snips of dialogue, internal and external revelations or “Ah Ha!” moments that’s for your eyes only. It can be a narrative, a story board, flash cards, whatever places characters in a scene and setting and tells what happens there.

This is when he finds out she miscarried. It was raining when they had that first kiss. Plant red herring here. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

I print my outline out and then jot notes on the sides if something changes or if I want to remember to add something or look something up later. I also make note of any cameo character names because you never know when they’re going to walk through again. The outline is your cheat sheet of story and character progression.

3) A timeline. Chart the important dates and places that have meaning to the story. It helps later with ages and distances and general logistics of how did they get from here to there or when did they meet if their daughter is now six years old. They couldn’t have taken a train if there wasn’t one at the time.

He couldn’t have fallen in love with her when they were children if their families don’t move into the same town until he was in high school. How long would it take kidnappers to get her from the second floor bedroom across town during five o’clock traffic? When did their clans split and where did they go?

4) Mythology. Write up a summary of your series mythology. Are there particular rules? What are the names of the tribes or communities? What special abilities do they have? Are they all dark and slender or red haired and wild?

What are their goals, their purpose, their fears? Create family trees. What groups or organizations do they belong to and for what reason?

5) Copy editor style sheet. This is a wonderful tool I recently discovered. My copy editor had pages upon pages of names, spellings, word usage, and places with pages numbers for quick reference. What a great way to find out what slang words the hero uses or the name of the bar where they had their break up. If you don’t get one with your copy edits, ask if one is available.

6) Keep notebooks. After finishing Book 7, I invested in three inch binders to house the important papers and notes related to each book. I organized in each one my original outline, my synopsis, any pictures or notes I collected for characters, houses, floor plans, clothing, cars, etc., my copy edits, covers, revision letter, e-mails from editor, agent or publicist, promotional materials, my PR plan, copies of guest blogs and giveaway winners, reviews, and any other relevant items. All at your fingertips.

7) Computer folders. Keep a central file folder for the series with separate files for each book. Keep a copy of the synopsis, original draft and the revised draft of the manuscript (and back them up on a flash drive or in the Cloud), the PR plan for appearances, ads, promotional costs, blog posts, etc., long and short book blurb, long and short excerpts, copies of blog posts and articles in each book file.

In the main folder keep book covers in different resolutions, mythology, series overview, potential plots points and future character pairings, possible titles, series quotes, and anything else you need at a moment’s notice. Scan in your contracts and your literary agent agreement.

These ideas should get your own going. Find out what works for you and stick to it. A little pre-organization can keep you from hours of thumbing. Was that tattoo on the right or left shoulder?

What are some of the things that have worked for you when it comes to keeping your fact straight and your plotlines consistent?

2 comments

  1. I always knew you were organized but…wow! I use many of your suggestions but you’ve offered so many more I want to try. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Wow! what a wealth of information and great ideas. Can’t wait to use them to untangle my own series details. Thanks!