By Sue Ann Jaffarian
I hate housework. And just as washing a kitchen floor or doing laundry are necessary evils that cannot be ignored for long, so too must the good writer pay attention to the housework of writing in order to produce a solid, cohesive and accurate book or story. There is just no getting around it.
Writing housework is the time spent categorizing characters, places and events so that their use throughout the manuscript is consistent and accurate. If the villain has blue eyes on page 7, he/she must have blue eyes on page 230, unless, of course, colored contacts are being used and then those must be accounted for in the text. If you write that it’s Sunday when your protagonist visits a witness and then three days later you say it’s Friday, shame on you, you didn’t do your housework.
Everyone handles their writing chores differently. I know writers who keep index cards, notebooks, and separate files on the computer. Generally, I fall into the last category and often supplement it with a large erasable whiteboard. While working on a manuscript, I keep a file specific to that manuscript in which I list all the characters, both major and minor, the places they go, and the dates and times of day they do things. As soon as a character is mentioned in the manuscript, I stop to add that character to my notes file. The character is given an identity, physical characteristics, an occupation, a place of residence, and even a little back story. There might even be a note or two about how I intend to use them again later in the story.
Places and dates are given a similar treatment. For tracking dates and timelines, I pick a starting date for the story and download a blank calendar page for that month and year and fill in all holidays, birthdays and other dates important to the story. I then mark on the calendar each day’s progress of the story – Odelia gets dragged into the murder on Tuesday, she tracks down the one-eyed jockey on Thursday, etc. As I said, if the story starts on a Sunday, five days later had better be Friday. And Easter never falls on a Tuesday. Believe me, readers pay attention to these things.
I repeat – I hate housework. It keeps me from the flow and fun of writing, but without it I’d have a big sloppy mess on my hands, especially since I write a series. And I’ve found that if I wait to do my writing chores after a day’s writing, I don’t do them properly. For me, it works best while I’m in the moment when the character, place or activity is fresh on the page.
How do you do your writing housework? Here’s your chance to play Heloise and share your tips and remedies for tracking ongoing information in your work.