Keeping Track of Your Series’ World
I’m one of those authors who has several series going on at the same time. Currently my active series are Security Specialists International (SSI), which is a contemporary romantic thriller series, and Prime Chronicles, which is a scifi romance series set in the far future in the Milky Way galaxy. With more than several books under my belt in both series, there are times I need to check in and make sure I haven’t changed essential parts of my world from book-to-book. This is a problem anyone writing a long-standing series will have, from J.D. Robb and her Eve and Roarke series to Charlaine Harris and her Sookie series. And trust me, the fans always catch the errors and inconsistencies. Always.
Besides the embarrassment of having a fan pointing out a glaring error, there’s nothing worse than working on your next book, getting into the flow, and then finding you need a detail from one of the previous books – and you can’t remember it. That’s when, for me, the writing stops and frustration sets in. As most writers will attest, when you are in the zone, you do not want to stop for any great length of time or risk losing your writing rhythm.
Yes, I can put a [find aunt’s name and put here] note and keep typing, and I have done that. But it never feels right to leave those holes on things that have already been named or used in the series before. Yes, I’m anal, but I have to have the detail in place if it already exists before I can continue writing. I try to save the [put *** here] notes for new character names or new species or more detailed explanations to be handled when I do my first full revision.
For me, organization of my series’ world details and rules is essential for keeping me sane and my page production flowing. I don’t know how J.D. or Charlaine keep track of their world building and series/character development, but I know how I do it. My method is part old school and part new.
Let’s take my Prime Chronicles series. It is science fiction romance with lots of action. My series involves some made-up and some real technology, existing solar systems in the Milky Way and some I made up. There are various alien species who look, speak, and act differently than one another; some are good and some bad. There are words in the Prime language I created in Book 1 and want to make sure I use them the same in each book thereafter. There are genealogies for my main series family. And there is the zero population growth problem for the Prime, an ongoing theme of species survival. With each book the reader learns more and more about why the Prime race is dying out and how it might be solved; this story complication alone involves the kind of details that could trip a writer up by the final book.
Using the old school method, I have a three-ring binder with tabs for each category in my world such as characters, language, Prime Military, Milky Way Galaxy, and the like. And behind the tabs are notes, drawings, printed out pages of the previous books detailing things such as how the mating bond works and the history of Prime cross-breeding with other similar species. There are maps of the Milky Way with my made-up solar systems added in by hand and then (approximate) light year distances between real solar systems and Earth and my fictitious ones. Yes, I get that detailed.
This notebook is on my desk (or more likely propped up against my desk at my feet) while I am working on any Prime book. So if I forget what I called Wulf Caradoc’s paternal aunt in Book 1, I can pull up the genealogy tab and there she is – Beria Caradoc-Nabann. How far is the Gliese system from Earth? – 20.4 light years.
The new school method is Microsoft One Note 2010. It came with my Microsoft Office 2010 and can be open on my desktop to the side of my document as I write or I can minimize it to my Task Bar at the bottom of my screen. It is set up with Folders that are tabbed like real file folders. I label them similarly to my three-ring binder tabs and under them I create the pages (their term for what’s inside a folder) under which I detail items under the general folder topic. For example, in my Prime Military folder, I have pages for Gold Squadron, Starship Galanti, Starship Leonidas, Galanti II star cruiser, Military Terminology, C-Class Light Battle Cruisers, Prime Fortifications. On each of the labeled pages, I give details and descriptions and can even point to pages in the manuscript so I can re-read what I’d written about them.
The cool thing about One Note is the immediacy and the fact I can add images and links to things I have researched on the Web. Need to convert feet and yards to metric system? I can have a folder with a direct link to a site that has the formula converter. Plug in my numbers, hit convert and voila, I have metrics. No pencil and paper math for me. Need to see pictures of what a certain star system looks like for an accurate narrative description? I can actually paste the image from the NASA site in my One Note folder or post the link and click on it and open in a window. One Note means instant research at my finger tips and something that isn’t easily done with a three-ring binder. Oh, and One Note is searchable.
And if you need the three-ring binder and sheets of paper, you can save the One Note files as a PDF and then print out the pages. I keep a back up of my One Note PDF file in my Drop Box so that I can access it through devices on which I might not have One Note loaded.
If you do not have One Note and can’t afford it (note: My son in CIT has just told me that Microsoft is going to all Cloud software ala Office 360 and that you could be buying programs piecemeal in the future, so if you do have One Note, keep it!), there are Open Source equivalents. I have not used these. I am just posting them here for your benefit. I included the links to the Osalt.com review of each so you can read the reviews. There are also Open Source note programs for Linux and Mac users detailed at Osalt.com. The ones listed below are all Microsoft OS compatible programs.
Zim – http://zim-wiki.org/
Osalt review of Zim – http://www.osalt.com/zim
WikidPad – http://wikidpad.sourceforge.net/
Osalt review of WikidPad – http://www.osalt.com/wikidpad
Osalt review of Znotes – http://www.osalt.com/znotes
So, if you are working on book three in a series and have slept since you wrote book one and can’t remember a world/series detail, you might try organizing your world.
It has made my writing life a lot easier.
Sign up for Monette’s Worldbuilding Class
from April 7-14
The criteria of a good fictional world are a world
(a) in which the readers can immerse themselves and
(b) one they want to revisit.
The approach to this class will be lecture and hands-on exercises with specific comments and assistance from the instructor. By the end of the class, the student will have worked on creating a fictional world from both the micro-and macro-cosmic aspects. The student should come to class with at least a general idea of the genre in which they wish to create world and a general idea of what type of world they wish to construct.
Monette attended Purdue University and IU-Indpls Law School. She works as an arbitrator in commercial, securities, and employment law. She has been an EPPIE finalist and a CAPA Finalist, and won an EPPIE in 2005 for Blind-Sided. She writes three series as Monette Michaels: the Gooden and Knight Paranormal Mystery series, The Security Specialists International series and the Prime Chronicles Trilogy . As Rae Morgan, she writes the Coven of the Wolf Series.
She is currently a Senior Editor for Liquid Silver Books and reads, acquires, and edits for the main lines of LSB.