Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Color Are His Eyes?

I'm working on a sequel right now, and of course, I've written other manuscripts between the first book and this sequel. That means I'm doing a lot of going back and looking things up. Yes, it's a time suck. 


So, I decided I was going to keep track of each character and what they look like. Each class period and time of day it occurs. And any other detail that I might need to know later. I'm making a list of these things at the top of my planning document, and I have it open next to my actual manuscript. Aside from the time it took to create this cheat sheet, it's really saving me a lot of trouble. And I've learned a valuable lesson: create a cheat sheet when I start a new manuscript, even if I don't plan to write a sequel (which was the case with this story). 


How do you keep track of all the info from one manuscript to the next or even within the same manuscript? Do you have a cheat sheet?

68 comments:

  1. I have a really good memory about that stuff...You and me combined would be brilliant!

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    1. LOL. Want to come over while I write?

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  2. I thought I was really good at picturing and remembering these details -- until my editor pointed out the random furniture items that kept changing in my manuscript. Ooops. Where did that writing table come from? And it was a dressing table, not a dresser -- slap head ...

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    1. Oh, yes, that has happened to me, too. God bless editors. :)

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  3. Since what I write about is only what happens to me in real life, i don't really need to remember anything :)

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    1. That makes me wonder if it's sometimes tough to remember real life. I'd think it might be.

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  4. Great post, Kelly. :) The cheat sheet is a really good idea. I thought I had a perfect memory too until I started mixing eye and hair colours, and who had a dimple on which cheek.. :D Cheat sheet helps alot.

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    1. They really do. I'm swearing by them now.

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  5. I don't really. I have the outline where I usually document that kind of stuff as I go but I think that's a great idea if you're writing different books with the same characters. I don't know how JK Rowling kept everything straight!

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    1. Yeah, she must've had a cheat sheet. ;)

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  7. (Sorry, wanted to add to the last line ...)

    I don't have a cheat sheet and I'm not writing sequels yet. When I'm revisiting a manuscript I'd tucked away, I usually read back on my full notes, which might take me some time, but I always discover new stuff along the way. But if I do get to write a sequel, a cheat sheet would be really handy, too.

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    1. I find the cheat sheet helps within the same manuscript too. It's hard to keep all the characters and other details straight from beginning to end.

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  8. I kept character sheets in liquid story binder, then my pc crashed. For another wip, I had print out sheets, then lost them in a move. So I do make them, I just can't seem to keep them!

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  9. I haven't had to worry about it, yet, but within my one novel--which I did not write in order--it was tough to keep everything straight. In a late draft, one of my reader's pointed out that two characters who "meet" on page 100 had already met on page 75!

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    1. Oh, yes. I write out of order too and that can cause problems. Got to love betas!

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  10. Sounds familiar. I realized I needed a cheat sheet when I was filling out a cover info sheet and realized I had no idea the color of the heroine or hero's eyes. You'd think I'd remember, but like you it had been a year since I'd last really visited it.

    Back when I first started I had one of those character info sheets, but I stopped using those a while ago. Now I make one as I go. When I mention how a character looks or some crucial background info, I copy-paste the sentence into my Character Info page. Makes it a lot easier and is handy to see if I describe anyone the same way or say something twice so either need to say it a different way or take it out.

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    1. I do the same thing. It does make things so much easier later.

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  11. Yes, a story "bible" where all of these qualities are listed is really helpful!

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  12. I always use a cheat sheet. In fact, it's the first thing I do when starting a new manuscript. It helps me get to know the characters.

    And, in addition to saving all of my writing stuff on an external hard drive on my computer, I also save it on a flash drive just in case. And back it up often. Because the thought of losing anything scares the crap out of me. And I save everything...every query draft, idea, good line, I mean everything. I have a terrible memory, and I can't even count the number of times I've needed to refer to earlier drafts.

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    1. Same here! I have lost things, so I back everything up.

      And I've now learned I have to do the cheat sheet right from the start.

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  13. WriteItNow has a cheat sheet too! You can even attach a photograph of your character. I had one character in my last novel attempt who looks like Mary Stuart Masterson, so I got her picture and attached it. Cool idea!

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    1. Ooh, yeah I wanted to start using Pinterest that way, but I'm leery to post things for others to see until the book is contracted. I don't know why, but I am.

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  14. I don't usually have a cheat sheet for things like hair and eye color. What I need help on are things like place names, how my towns are set up and what the buildings look like.

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    1. Yes, I use the cheat sheet for those things too. Very helpful.

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  15. I didn't use one for my last book and regretted it. I had to keep going back to look up random things like what period is physics class and what is the supporting characters last name.

    With my current work I am saving the info in yWriter. It has a separate are for character info. We'll see how it goes.

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    1. Same here! Going back to look things up is time consuming. I kept cursing at myself. LOL

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  16. I noticed that HP's super-fast-growing hair disappeared after volume one, and wondered if the author had a change of heart, or did she forget? You clearly won't let this happen, Kelly.
    I've not been in a position to write a series, like you. But I did notice that in revision some tiny detail can slip when changes are made.
    You give staller and solid advice

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    1. Aw, thanks, Mirka! You're so sweet. I didn't remember the fast growing hair in HP. I guess I forgot along with the author. LOL

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  17. I have a cheat sheet, a story board and yellow sticky notes on the wall infront of my computer. I have no memory. I'd say it's old age but I've always been this way unless it has to do with painting then I'm fine. I have my own personal editor now! I love her! And she is free, (I'll pay her back someday) Now I don't feel like I can enjoy writing and not worry if I spelt a word wright or not or put , or ; in the right place. :)

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  18. I have a cheat scroll. It's about 8 feet long It's mostly for plotting,divided by chapters, but again, sticky notes are great for recording detail. And I do a lot of searching back & forth within the mss., as I write, to keep details consistent.

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  19. Funny you would bring this up. Today's mission is my novel's timeline. I need to chart who was where when to make sure I haven't messed up timing. Why didn't I do this in the beginning, instead of halfway in? No idea...

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  20. I had the same problem when I started writing book 2. I went to conference recently and one of the speakers handed out a handy worksheet in which we could record all the important details. The worksheet is especially helpful when it comes time to revise.

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    1. She called it her Reverse Outlining Chart and it can be found at www.loispeterson.blog.com

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  21. Oh, yes, I learned that lesson well. The cheat sheet. It can be changed, but at least references are easy to find.

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  22. I have a spreadsheet with separate tabs for outline, each main character, key scene details etc. I find it difficult to remember surnames or parents' names sometimes if I haven't worked on my novel for a while!

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  23. As a fellow prolific author, Kelly, I would really recommend something like Storymill or Scrivener. Both pieces of software allow you to create lists and track that kind if information inside your manuscript. Scrivener has an entire "character sheet" that specifically asks for that kind of information from you. It's a bit of a time suck to set up, but the reward is definitely there.

    I also like how both pieces of software will break out your chapters into scenes for you and let you rearrange, tag characters, tag locations, store images, and stuff like that.

    Unfortunately I'm still using a Word doc for The Aeronauts because it's practically impossible to switch to using software on a manuscript unless you do it right at the start!

    Good luck.

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    1. Yeah, I've never tried those programs. I just make a list in Word. One day I'll get around to checking them out.

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  24. I've put little details like that down into various files and such in my email or on flashdrives to keep track of.

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    1. In all those places at once? Please, tell me I'm reading this wrong.

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  25. I use Scrivener so it keeps everything together and always have a character profile sheet. I don't use much physical description for characters within my narratives, like to leave as much up to the reader's imagination as possible, but it's good to have for my own reference. I also find keeping characteristics listed can inspire more plot ideas.
    Your YA novel has a fantastic cover!

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    1. Thank you! My cover designer at Spencer Hill Press did such a great job. I'm so happy with it.

      I don't use a ton of physical descriptions because I too like my reader to be able to contribute how they see the character.

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  26. Lol I SERIOUSLY need a cheat sheet. I guess while I go through revisions I can get started on one ;)

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  27. I keep track of some details on a sheet- but after reading this post I am wondering if I should have kept a little more at the ready! I can see how it can get a little muddy- sometimes I forget what people I interact with every day look like (eye color and small details). After reading this post I will keep better track.
    ~Jess

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  28. I keep a document with those details listed because I am great at forgetting those things.

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  29. Cheat sheets are my friend. I don't know what I would do without them. :)

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    1. I now feel the same way, but really because I know what I would do without them. I'd pull my hair out. Been there and don't want to go back. LOL

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  30. I do chapter by chapter summaries, so I can keep the story line clear, especially what the characters think and do and how they do it. The key characteristics I already have down on a character page, but having them in the context of the chapters helps me a lot.

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    1. I've used chapter summaries before too, but I've found I sometimes feel restricted by them--unless you mean you summarize the chapters after you write them.

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  31. I'm writing a sequel right now, but fortunately it's fairly recent that I wrote the first so I'm not having too much trouble keeping up with things. However, I do still maintain character lists, a conflict summary (where I list main conflicts and sub-conflicts that I might want to develop more in this one), and specific language/name lists. That does help keep everything straight.

    But what I have the hardest time with is keeping myself from doing too much recapping too early on. I keep having to go back and pull out the history dumps because they read like the literary version of the TV "Last time, on ____". I really have to focus on winding the information meaningfully into the story bits at a time. Though I will admit to having cheated and used a single flash back scene...

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    1. Ashley, that's probably the hardest thing when writing a sequel. I'll be getting my edits back on the sequel to Touch of Death soon, and I'm a little terrified to see how I did as far as recapping is concerned. I don't info dump; I tend to not give enough of the previous story instead.

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  32. I have a notebook with important details scribbled all over a 2 page spread. A cheat sheet sounds much easier!

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    1. I type much faster than I write so the cheat sheet works best for me.

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  33. With how much my mind looks like Swiss cheese, I should use a cheat sheet. Even today as I was going through my WIP, I noticed I had the MC's eye color different in a couple places. Darn. Maybe the cheat sheet would be good for me, especially since my WIP is going to turn into a three book series.

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    1. Yes, make a cheat sheet. Details are so hard to keep track of in series. Believe me. I've written two. The cheat sheet will save you a lot of time in the future.

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  34. I need to create a cheat sheet. Sometimes I write notes apart from my outline, but not enough. I use ctrl + f a lot.

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