where the writers are
Staying on Track

story tracking board, via Terry OdellI’ve been work­ing on my next Maple­ton Mys­tery, and am back to using my story track­ing board. I didn’t use it for Jinx’s Black­thorne, Inc. book, mostly because I was lazy. No excuses; I didn’t take down the sticky notes from the pre­vi­ous book, and by the time I thought about it, I was so far into the book, the thought of recap­ping to that point was too daunting.

(Note-this was def­i­nitely a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation)

But for Gordon’s book, I cleaned off my board and went back to my tried-and-true method of track­ing. For me, it’s another way to remem­ber stuff if I write things long­hand, but using sticky notes means I have to be concise.

Things I track:

Plot points for each scene/chapter. In this case, I’m writ­ing strictly from Gordon’s POV (at least for now), so my chap­ters are what would have been scenes in the pre­vi­ous books. Part of the rea­son­ing here is that the trend is for shorter chap­ters, because read­ers will often keep read­ing if they see there are only a few more pages to fin­ish the chapter—and then, if you hook them, they’ll see there are only a few more pages to fin­ish the next chap­ter, and so on. I’ll also not impor­tant reveals, so I don’t get ahead of myself and refer to some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened yet.

Story day/time of day. I don’t worry about what day of the week it might be until I have a plot point that needs to hap­pen on a par­tic­u­lar day, and then I back­track and fill in from there. I might be half way through the book before a day of the week is men­tioned, and if it’s not impor­tant, I don’t bother with it.

Where the scene takes place. This helps make sure that 1)I’m not stuck in the same set­ting for chap­ters on end, and 2) I’m not talk­ing about being in the police sta­tion when I’m really at the crime scene. Or at a restaurant.

Sec­ondary char­ac­ters. It’s easy to glance at the board and see whether a char­ac­ter hasn’t appeared in a long time, and if so, if that character’s really needed. Or, in the case of Deadly Secrets, look­ing at the char­ac­ter sticky notes gave me the killer. (No, I usu­ally don’t know when I start the book.)

manuscript printout with editsWhat I’m find­ing I should be not­ing now, although not nec­es­sar­ily on my track­ing board, is power out­ages. I’ve shoved my char­ac­ters into a remote Bed & Break­fast dur­ing a bliz­zard, and since I can con­trol their elec­tric­ity to suit the needs of the plot, I’ve been turn­ing it on and off. How­ever, on my re-reads, I’ve found places where they’re using flash­lights when the power is on, or a com­puter when it’s off. While it’s not wor­thy of a sticky note, because the power might go off and on more than once in a scene, I do need to remind myself of what it’s doing. For this, I use my nightly print­outs, and make a men­tal note to high­light these places or scrib­ble what the elec­tric­ity is doing in the margins.

What about you? What things do you dis­cover (per­haps the hard way) that you need to keep track of? Do you ever catch char­ac­ters chang­ing clothes as if by magic? Or eat­ing din­ner twice? How do you keep things organized.

And, another rea­son I’m writ­ing this post today is that on Sat­ur­day, I’ll be attend­ing a work­shop given by Gwen Her­nan­dez, author of Scrivener for Dum­mies, and I’ll see if I think using a com­puter pro­gram instead of my low-tech sys­tem makes sense for me. I under­stand the pro­gram has great track­ing capabilities.