Cooking up a Character Part 2 – Organizing the Chaos

“Now, where did I put that character sheet,” Bria said, staring at the mess of papers that littered her floor. Her knees creaked as they unbent. “Oh geez, how long have I been sitting here… JAMES?!” Her voice echoed off the bare wood floors outside her circle of chaos. “JAMES! WHAT TIME IS IT?”

“Check your computer clock dummy!” The thick cement walls muffled James’s voice, but she still blushed.

“Oh, right.” The computer told her it was 10pm. She’d been sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the blinding screen for almost 3 hours. All around her papers were strewn, as if the wind had picked up at one point and made a mess of her neatly organized piles. “Shit. Where is that sheet.” The cursor on her screen blinked frantically at her, reminding her to remember that thought she was having so that she’ll keep remembering it when she remembers where she threw that character sheet she needs because she can’t remember what colour this characters hair was supposed to be. She took a deep breath, her run-on-sentence-like thoughts giving her a headache.

She dug through the pages, looking for that familiar orange-coloured border with the scribbles on the top and clippings on the back. Her fingers came out of the pile bloody; thin slices running along each digit from where the papers got violent.

“Damn it!! Her hair is blonde now.” Her fingers rested on the keys. They didn’t move. The cursor blinked at her. Mocking her. Nothing happened. She’d forgotten what she was writing.

She swore like a truck driver.

End Scene

After Part 1 of the Character Cooking project is complete, you’re left with all of these papers or notes that you’ve made. And trust me, over the course of one novel, you’ll probably make about 30 + character sheets & a dozen or so more minor notes about one-time appearances. So, what happened to Bria should never happen and yet I’m sure  it happens all the time. You’re writing away, a perfectly good story developing as you type. Your mind takes you from one fantastic plot device to another then suddenly, you can’t picture that side character you’ve used before. What was her name again? Georgia? Tina? It had to have ended in an “a”, right? Wrong.

Character sheets are supposed to prevent this. They’re supposed to help you keep all your facts in nice neat lines. Unfortunately, if you can’t find the character sheet, well. That defeats the purpose doesn’t it. That’s why, sometimes, being organized can be one of the most important things you do to prepare for your novel.

(Side tip – if this DOES happen to you, just put “Insert Name/Description Here” then put a Comment around it so that you can easily find it later. Trust me, this will prevent you from losing that flow you’d tried so hard to cultivate.)

Organization the Old Fashioned Way

James V Smith (author of You Can Write A Novel for those of you who are visiting my blog for the first time)  has a whole section in his book about how your *could* organize your character sheets (remember, these are all paper and pen things…)

I read it over and went.. uh… no.

It involved folders and tape and flipping through sheets and more tape and I’m probably exaggerating but I think there was a lot of tape involved. Now, when I’m working on a story, I don’t want to stop what I’m doing to flip through a pile of paper to find the information I’m looking for (I used to do that when I was writing essays in school. Then again, I used to write all of my essays by hand first then type them out. I was a weird child. I grew up to be a weird adult, so I think it all worked out in the end.)

Organization the Digital Way

I propose an alternative. A digital alternative. When you file digitally (be it through an online cloud type service, like Evernote, or on your computer) then you can easily sort and search your files without getting paper cuts. Because there is nothing worse then trying to type with a paper cut.

There are many ways to organize yourself digitally. I like to keep everything in Evernote, with one notebook dedicated to a story… So lets dive into the craziness that is MY way to keep shit organized…

1) First, lets start off with generic file naming.

I like to arrange things by category, then by type, then by specifics; this is how I name my files:

Category – Type – Specific

So in the case of my MC, it’s:

Character – Master – Clara Reid

In the case of a Minor Character, it would be:

Character – Minor – Gillybean

In the case of a  Scene outlines, it would be:

Scene – Major – When Clara and Gillybean defeat the Ogre

Scene – Minor – When Clara sneezes & someone comments on it

(I’m going to assume that from here on “In the case of” is implied)

Drafts of scenes/Writing “clips”

Write Up – Clara sneezes & someone comments on it

Setting Description/Notes

Setting – Ogre’s Home

Revision Notes & Ideas for things I’ve DONE that need to CHANGE

1 – Revision Note: CHANGE Clara’s back story to include an Ogre grandparent

1 – Revision Note: ADD Gillybean to the list of major characters

Overall Outline of my Story

0 – Clara’s Journey Outline

You might be asking myself why I am so detailed in the titling of my files. Well, when you have all of your files in a folder, you can sort them BY NAME. Using the above strategy, you’ll have all of the files of similar content in the same place. Then, it’s a matter of looking for the right title.

But what about the 0 and the 1 names? Well well, when you sort by name, numbers are grouped before letters – this way your outline and revision notes will ALWAYS appear first. So easy to find when it’s a the top, no?

2) the Filing and Sorting

I have one “notebook” in Evernote dedicated to a story. Here’s what it will look like:

This is my NaNo story prep so far. A little bit unimpressive, I know. I’m working on it!

It looks a bit daunting, but this is an almost fully planned out story… I still have about 10 character sheets to fill out, but all of my Master and Major characters are developed, the Major scenes are there & the settings have been organized… It’s easy (for me) to find what I’m looking for… and that’s ultimately all that matters.

Granted, if you’re keeping your files on your computer instead of storing them online anywhere, then you can easily make folders for each grouping (Characters, Scenes, Revisions, etc) and then have sub folders for major & minor character. The one problem I see with that, is the amount of clicking you’ll have to do. Click to the folder. Click to the subfolder. Find or not find your character/scene in said sub-folder because you can’t remember if you called it a Master or a Minor. Click out. Click into other folder. Click to open. So. Much. Clicking!

The other disadvantage to keeping your files local is that you can’t access them when you’re away from the device on which you’ve saved them. So if you’re on the bus and the inspiration fairy has smacked you on the head, you’ll have to write without the benefit of your notes (again, remember to put in big letter “INSERT DETAIL HERE” – that will cue you when you’re typing it up later).

How Cloud Note services like Evernote are GREAT digital Organizers

  1. I have it on all of my devices – computer, iPad, iPod, Blackberry. I also have it downloaded to my computer at work. This way, no matter where I am or whether or not I’m connected to the internet, I can access the information. So if I AM writing by hand on the bus or something, I can look on my blackberry. If I’m at work and get sudden inspiration, I can look on my computer. When I’m at home, I keep my iPad (or iPod, depending if one or the other is out of batteries) open as a reference tool while I work.
  2. I had Evernote to begin with – I had it. I used it regularly. Therefore I thought of it when I was working out a more organized way to keep track of my character sheets than the paper-folder-tape method.
  3. All of the information is backed up on the internet – if (heaven forbid) my apartment burned down or I lost all of my devices for some reason, all of my prep work (and some of the scenes I’ve written) will still be accessible online. It’s like the safety blanket of all note keepers. It comforts me to know that my work will never die (unless I accidentally delete it. Then I’d probably cry for years).

The only fear I have of using cloud services is that someone will hack into my account and steal all of my work for their own use. That’s why I never leave fully written work in there. That is always saved locally and backed up onto something I can carry. See – now if someone is going to steal my planning, well, they’d still have to write a novel from that planning and it definitely won’t be the SAME novel. Besides, I think I could take the would-be thief down.

So, just try it would be thief. I dare you! (but don’t really, because I’ll probably cry)…

Do you have any tips for keeping your novel prep work organized?
Do you think I’m crazy and put way too much thought into my system?
(You’re probably right on that count… I’ve noticed that organizing is a great method of procrastination.)
Comment! Share with me and the world! 

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