Keeping Track of What’s in the Novel

This topic’s prompted by a comment over at Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, where he is currently running a series on Writing into the Dark (not outlining).  In the comments, we got to discussing character questionnaires and interviewing characters.

I don’t use either technique. I’ve looked at questionnaires and not been impressed, and character interviewing just seems to odd to me.

Or actually, it all seems like outlining to me. In this case, outlining the character.

Just like the story, I wouldn’t know anything about the character until I wrote the story. A character worksheet would force me to make decisions that I don’t know about yet.

Then there was the question, which was “But you keep track after you write, right?’ Like write down who the POV character is for a scene, what they were wearing, what happened in the scene.  A story bible of sorts to refer to.

Nope. Not at all. I don’t keep track of anything as I’m writing.

I have a very good memory, which is a function of being visual spatial. I might write a scene, and as I write it, I’m mentally connecting it to another scene already in the story. It’s like I can see the direct connections, and all the connecting parts get into the new scene. I don’t have to refer back to summary of the scene to know what’s in it. I can generally even hop back and land within a couple of scenes of it because I can see where it is in my head.

I can have trouble remembering how to spell things.  Usually I’ll hop back and look, but sometimes I just do a botched spelling and move on, for fixing later.

As for the character pieces, It’s the same thing. I remember reading about a writer who had to physically write down that her character had tea at exactly 8:00 in the morning every day or she’d get it wrong. I found that quite strange because once I connect to that character, it’s part of the landscape in my memory and comes into the story when it needs to.

When I’ve tried story bibles or variations of one, I end up stalling out on it. I think, “What should I write down?” and it seems stupid to write down the character’s name when I know what it is, and it seems stupid to write down that character’s favorite color is when I already know what it is. The result is that I spend a lot of time wondering what I should write down in a story bible and don’t write anything at all.

Going through my messed up electronic files, I found at least five instances of character name lists. I started them all, thinking I needed it to remember a character name, and then never used them at all and forgot they were there.

7 thoughts on “Keeping Track of What’s in the Novel

  1. Pingback: Keeping Track of What’s in the Novel link) | Joy V. Smith

  2. livrancourt

    I use pictures to help me keep track. Usually I can connect the character’s personality to “their” photos (actually random pix I’ve pulled off Pinterest or the web). I sometimes forget details – like with my current WIP, a beta-reader pointed out that I had the shorter character tip his head down to kiss the taller hero. (Oops, wrong way…) But that’s what beta-readers are for, right?


    1. Liv, I tried photos for characters at one point. The book had an entire cast of Hawaiians, so I wanted to make sure I had that well-seated in my head. I’d also heard Tamara Pierce speak about using them, so it sounded good. But I run almost 50% women in my cast, and I found that it’s really hard to search for photos of any women. Most of them photos of women seem only be of the 20-year model who is airbrushed and surgically enhanced into perfection. I ended up using a historical site for the photos, and abandoned the technique after that book.

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