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#WriteTip: Keeping Track of Your Series

Sam av

Hey, all!

I have always been a planner. And I’m not usually over the top–although I can be–but some amount of planning goes into every one of my stories. It’s usually just a rudimentary outline (see 7-point story structure) and a rough idea of setting, conflict, and characters. Most of the time, that’s enough to keep me on track.

However, as I’ve been diving into Book 2 of my series with ACHILLEA, I’m trying to crack down on a lot of what I know my weaknesses are. Chronology and seasons, how much time does my book actually cover, little hints and breadcrumbs, military details, where I put Rauden’s scars, etc. As my books have evolved, I’ve added a lot of minor characters and I have apparently drifted slightly from where my main characters were. For example, I looked back over my notes on Lyda, Sielle, and Naniha, a group of three friends and Achillea’s first recruits. In my mind now, they’re older than I originally intended. Fun thought experiment, I asked my friends at the Dead Pete Society how old they thought my characters were, and I got a range of reactions:

Kathi said 17-20. Jori said 16-18. Frankie said 20-26. I had them written down as 18-22, and in my mind, they’d become somewhere between 20-24.

Then I asked who they thought was oldest, and who was youngest.

Kathi and Jori agreed Naniha was the oldest, Lyda the youngest. Frankie thought Naniha was the youngest, and Lyda the oldest. Originally, Lyda was the youngest, but now my brain thinks she is the oldest. I find it interesting…Kathi and Jori have a closer handle on where I originally placed my characters, but Frankie seems to share my now-brain.

I clearly had some work to do.

I have character sheets for all of my characters in Scrivener, but as each of my books has its own file, this became a bit of a pain. And yeah, I know I can export/import from one book to another, but even that became a pain as I added and subtracted characters because I had to make sure it was consistent across all of my books.

And since I plan to take the series into at least seven books with a set of spin-offs, I knew I had to be more organized this time. You can’t just race off into the sunset and chase a series without being completely, one hundred percent in control of your setting and your characters. If people fall in love with my series as I hope they will, they’re going to catch on. I need to know this world and these people better than anyone.

So I made another book. A physical one. I have a weakness for office supplies, and that most certainly includes blank journals and notebooks. So I repurposed a journal that my friend got me for Christmas into a character reference. Every character gets a page, even if I only put them in the book to kill them off later. If I need to, I’ll start another journal, but so far this one has everyone in it with about half the pages to spare.

I gave each character the following details:

  • Name, with pronunciation and applicable nicknames
  • Nationality
  • Age at the founding of Vaethrre (my city), including birthday (because I might need that) based on what I think their astrological symbol is. (Okay, look…I don’t REALLY ascribe to this belief…but there are people who read this that might). For example, Lyda sounds like a Virgo, so I put her birthday in that range. This will help me keep their ages straight as the books progress, provided I can keep my damned timeline straight (this is the challenge).
  • The top of each page has their D&D alignment (Lyda is Lawful Good), their Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator (Lyda is an INFP), and who I think would be a good actor/actress for them (right now Lyda is marked as Natalie Dormer…her inability to properly smile because she always smirks is a shoe in, and Natalie looks badass with short hair)
  • Physical appearance, especially important if someone changes theirs later (like Heike does, or when Lyda gets new tattoos).
  • Personality; this is their concrete personality, what is less likely to change. PTSD or character shifts are added in later to the Notes section. Sielle hates apologies and refuses to apologize herself. This won’t change. But her extreme bitterness to the point of potential self-destruction is an added change and will go into the Notes section. That’s something that may eventually be undone. I haven’t decided that yet. For her to suddenly appreciate apologies would be out-of-character, however.
  • Family connections
  • Motivations; What are they trying to achieve? Everyone is motivated by something, even if their ultimate goal is just to be left alone.
  • Conflicts; what adverse forces are working against the character? Lyda takes issue with cruelty, and she steps in when she believes those around her are acting unfair or vindictive.
  • Love interest(s), including whether or not they have an ‘aya’, the equivalent of a True Love in my stories (in ACHILLEA, ‘true love’ is a very real thing. Kind of.).
  • Their opinion of the Warden (more or less ‘God’), if they have one.
  • Secrets; Lyda is a very private person and she keeps a lot of her own desires to herself.
  • Fears; Myen is afraid of heights and horses
  • Dislikes; Heike hates cheese
  • Likes; Kirae has a fondness for conversation and company
  • Skills
  • Weaponry; Heike has 54 different bladed weapons. At some point, I intend to list them all, but I don’t want to accidentally end up with 58 in case anyone is counting.
  • Notes; I left a big blank space here for most of the characters depending on how long I intend to keep them around. Myen and Heike get several pages each, but cameo characters like Carme (who works at the hospital) only get a page.

Then I put a Table of Contents at the front, and voila! I’m good to go! Now I can use this handy dandy notebook for all of my books. And hopefully, I’ll never get lost again!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTip Idea Boards!

Frankie Av

Over the past few months I’ve told you about my writing routine. From my writing tools to playlists, bubble and flow charts to character boards. But what do I do with them once I have them ready?

Well, I make an idea board.

Now, I know many authors just write and find things such as I do merely a waste of time or an added unnecessary chore. I can almost hear them shouting “Oh, for crying out loud. Just get on with it!!” But, when you have a memory as bad as mine, combined with the attention span of a toddler, idea boards come in very handy.

While many authors are able to sit and write a book without the need for such a thing, I personally find an idea board invaluable. Writing is not my full-time occupation, and I have a lot of responsibilities in my life–even more so outwith my working hours. You don’t need to know what they are, suffice to say my time is split tenfold in all directions every day. It isn’t easy for me to find hours to sit and write. Therefore, since I often have long periods between writing, I need something to remind me what my goal is and something which can instantly get me back into writing. Yes, I know many authors are not full-time writers, and we all have our responsibilities, but-as with everything in life- we all do things differently. We all have our peculiarities, our rituals and routines. This is part of mine.

A simple cork-board with everything pinned to it helps me when I find my mind wandering or concentration wavering. It helps me when I have forgotten things or have strayed from the original story idea. My idea boards keep everything for my story in one easily accessible place. Once I have the outline complete and any ideas typed up or written down tidily and legibly, I pin them all to my board.  I often use small index cards to highlight main points and pin them to the board. I print out my flow charts and character sheets (printed on draft/economy mode and only once they are ready. I try not to waste paper and ink!) I also pin up my playlist details, chapter list, any photos or items which help me with the story. I only laminate very important pieces as I have accidentally ruined them in the past! I consult my idea board when writing to stay on track and reach targets I’ve set. It helps me remember exactly where I’m going with the story and reminds me of all the important plot points and twists.

I’ve already started the idea board for Emergence, but I need a new cork-board. My old one was damaged in the recent spring clean! No need to worry about spoilers in the photograph, I doubt you could read the print!

It isn’t only just another tool to help me in my writing. I suppose the creation of an idea board is also a sort of ritual to me. It’s similar to how some professional athletes carry out repetitive rituals before heading out to a big match or competition. I feel I need to make one, believe I would be lost without one, so yes, perhaps it is an offshoot of my OCD and has become a ritualistic chore. But, with every item I pin on the board I feel more prepared and ready to write. I feel more confident and believe that by the time the board is finished I am ready to get to work. In other words, it gets me into the zone.

Once the idea board is complete, I am left with a visual representation of the story. Just a glance at it can get me back on track if I lose my way or have been unable to write for a period of time. While I do keep a record of ideas and such in my jotters, I often find myself flicking through pages in search of something I invariably fail to find. I have wasted an entire day just searching for something. I can become quite fixated on one thing and squander  valuable hours looking for it! So I also consider my idea boards time savers!

Like I say, I am already working on the board for Emergence. So far I have my character sheet, story outline, some drafts, writing sprints and ideas. It’s actually nearly finished! I also have my character board set up for Emergence. If you compare the Emergence board with the Malevolence character board, you will see a very obvious difference.


They have very different moods to them and this was intentional. The returning characters are different from what they were in the first book. They are a little wiser, more wary than they were in Malevolence. Emergence character board is also black-and-white. This was also deliberate as every time I look at it I want to remember what happened in Malevolence, what the characters went through and how they were at the end of the story. Also, the mix of black-and-white and colour in the Malevolence board bugged me after a while!  The only one who didn’t get a new photograph was Louise. The reason for this is because I don’t remember the woman’s name so therefore can’t source another photo of her. If you know who she is, let me know!

I should also point out that the people I choose for my character boards are people who I believe are most like the way I imagine my characters. I’m a terrible portrait artist otherwise I would create them from my mind onto paper or canvas.

Anyway, I’m getting very excited about writing again and have already started Emergence with approximately seven thousand words already written. It looks like the sequel to Malevolence will be well on it’s way long before NaNoWriMo even begins!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE