#amwriting: 3 steps for keeping the story straight

1916 Momus Pinocchio via Wikimedia CommonsEvery liar knows it’s difficult to keep a story straight–the story keeps evolving and soon it’s out of control.  However, writers, those spinners of awesome lies on paper, must devise ways to avoid this little problem.

Some people use a program called Scrivener which is not too expensive, but which seems to have a tricky learning curve. I downloaded the free version but couldn’t make heads or tails of it and found it quite frustrating. Nevertheless, I understand that it works well for many people, and to them I say, “Good for you.”

For myself, I don’t want a fancy word-processing program. I just use MS Office, because I have been using the programs that come with that software since 1993, and I’ve been able to adapt to each upgrade they have made. It’s affordable, so I use Word to write and edit in, and occasionally use Excel  to make small charts that are my style guides for each  novel or tale I write, and also for every book I edit.

Helpful tip #1: Create a style sheet for every work-in-progress. Whether it is a handwritten list or spreadsheet–keep track of what you named people, places, and things.

Bleakbourne Style Sheet

By creating a visual guide that I can print out or  keep minimized until I need it, I will not inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. This particular chart is the style-sheet for a serial I am writing for Edgewise Words Inn, a small online blogzine.

Lets consider Lord Tenneriff, the name of a minor character. Because I noted it on the style sheet and gave a small explanation when I first used it, I will always remember that Lord Tenneriff was spelled with two ‘n’s and two ‘f’s, and with no ‘e’ at the end of it.  The heading of the sheet is like this:

Character Name       Word 1st appears      Other names       Meaning?

            Jason Tenneriff              chapter 1                                                      a local lord

                                                         chapter 2                   Bleakbourne             a village

By listing out the names of every character no matter how minor, even the horses, I will not have a continuity problem by the time I hit chapter 14 of this series. For my editing clients, I also list all magic spells, every god, demon or dwarf that comes into the tale. Anything that is named goes onto that style sheet exactly the way it was first mentioned, the chapter it was first mentioned in, and the brief description of what it means.

Every author has a different way of visualizing these things, and this is what works for me.

Helpful tip #2: Map it out:

Map of WaldeynSo how do you visualize your country and the world you are creating? I have discussed this before–I draw maps.

They start out like this, all blotchy and hand-drawn, with whiteout covering the changes. After a while of refining them they end up looking more like real maps.

Its a gradual process, and the actual shapes and where the places are will evolve throughout writing the tale, but it will remain basically that way.

Many authors will use locales they are familiar with for their fantasy maps, just changing the names of major cities.  This is a good way to do it, because your world is already well defined for you, and Northwesterners know that Portland, Oregon is about 170 miles south of Seattle, Washington.  You are safe using currently existing terrain.

map of Waldeyn 2015 with lettering cooper black copyBut safe isn’t exactly my thing, so I had to invent both the world of Waldeyn (Huw the Bard), and the World of Neveyah (Tower of Bones). This is what the hand-drawn map of Waldeyn from above has evolved into————>

Helpful Tip #3: Version control:

When we first begin to write seriously we learn how critical it is to have proper naming of our files to ensure version control.  The most recent file will usually be the best edited unless you have accidentally saved an earlier version over it. ALWAYS use a separate file for each version, and ALWAYS use consistent file labeling practices to avoid this tragedy!

Use good file labeling practices, even if you have a fancy program that handles structuring your manuscript.

As an editor, I am particularly careful how I name the files of my clients.

  1. I use a specific sort of naming system. It will ALWAYS be Book_ AuthorName_script.doc .
    This is the main file folder for this book and this author!
  2.  The file folder will contain everything that pertains to this author and his work. There will be at least two folders in this file, and can have up to six. Version control is critical, so proper naming of the files is absolutely essential. If he should ever lose his files, I will have the most recent version on hand.
  3. The raw manuscript in its entirety is saved in this file, and I will name it:
  •  Book_ AuthorName_rawscript.doc

There will be 2 files for every step of the process this manuscript goes through with me: One file will be from the author’s desk to me, and the other will be from my desk to the author.  I will break the raw ms down into chapters, and label each chapter in that file consecutively:

  • Book title_Ch1_ author initials_cjj_edit_rnd1.doc

This tells me that this is Book A, chapter 1, by Author SoAndSo, and was edit round one of that ms.

For my own work I label the files uniformly, like this: The main folder will be labeled with the working title, such as Bleakbourne on Heath. Inside the main folder will be the style sheet, and any images that will be used, including maps if needed.

Version Control 1

These three tips, creating a style guide, drawing a map, and labeling your files so you have good version control will help you navigate the shoals of the authoring business. You will always know who you are talking about, where you are, and you will be working in the most recent version of your work.


Filed under Publishing, writer, writing

3 responses to “#amwriting: 3 steps for keeping the story straight

  1. David P. Cantrell

    Good piece. I’ve suffered the damage that can arise from inconsistent file names and will take your advice to heart..


  2. That’s brilliant! Brilliant, I say!

    I prefer to carefully craft a particular detail on the side of a rubber ball, thousands of them, then toss them into the air and juggle them as I write.

    Liked by 1 person