Whether you begin writing with the idea for just one story or have the entire series of books pre-planned in your head, it’s best to be organized from the start. Keeping track of important details from the outset will pay dividends in the long run, saving you precious writing time and mental effort.
I’ve written a three book series (the Higher Elevation Series), and am currently working on two other series (One is a Contemporary Romance, the other is Fantasy Romance). I’ve curated a method that works very well for me. While it is true that every writer must use the process that works best for them, some or all of what I describe here may be useful to you. There is no one “Right Way” to write, or to organize your work, so take what you can use and leave the rest.
Note: I write using MS Word. If you use Scrivener or some of the other writing software on the market, your program may do some of the organizing for you or be done in a different way. I find MS Word suits my needs and some of my methods may still be useful for users of other programs.
Before You Begin Writing
The first thing I usually do when I get the idea for a story or series is to write a free-form outline. This can be in Word document, or hand-written in a notebook. The point is to write down any and all ideas I have regarding the story during that first rush of excitement. If I can, I break it into sections, as in plot, characters, and scenes. This way I can easily find these initial ideas later for development. I usually name it “XYZ story” if I’m typing a document. It’s meant to be a broad overview.
After the initial rush of excitement, if the story or series premise still seems viable, I’ll create several documents:
The next step is to begin filling in these documents with more detailed information. I am not a heavy plotter, nor am I a “pantser” (writing by the seat of my pants). This method would work for both types of writers, because you can fill in as little or as much as you want before you begin writing. You can, and should add to each document as you write your draft, for the sake of consistency.
Filling the Well
Adding details to each document happens before I start writing, and continues throughout the subsequent drafts until publication. Sometimes details in the story are changed or added which need to be documented. Here is how I fill in those details:
Outline- Now I write a more structured outline, paying attention to scene placement. I want to be sure the rough order of scenes follows at least the three act structure. I also use a few other structure methods, depending on the type of story it is. Some of the structure aids I have used are Nick Stephenson’s/Mark Dawson’s Seven Key Elements structure; Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets; Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot structure; and Gwen Hayes’ book Romancing the Beat. Use whatever method works for you, just be sure you have at least a rough Idea of where the story is going from beginning to end.
Characters- I usually keep one document with information on all the main characters, but sometimes I write one document for each. It just depends on how detailed they are when they come to me. Then I add traits, quirks, and details such as backstory, emotional wound, etc., as I go. This way, I can refer to it when I forget where they worked or what color their eyes are. Minor or mention-only characters are kept track of in the Series Bible. You can write all these details about your characters in advance, or as you write the story, which is what I do.
Setting/World details- much of this will be in the Series Bible, but what I write here is more of a free-form description of the settings where the story takes place and why they are important. This is to help me imagine the setting so when I write there’s a rich backdrop for me to use when choosing which details to reveal.
Series Bible- This document is broken down into sections, and is meant only to keep track of important details. The sections are:
Timeline- when the story starts and when it ends
Characters-( brief description), name, age, what they look like, if it is important; if character is minor or just a mention, I add how they are related to any other characters if that applies
Places- countries, towns, street names
Companies- any business name that is mentioned and what it is
Vehicles- who drives what car, and the year, make and model
For my Romance Fantasy Series, I added several categories because there was much more world building. In addition to timeline, characters, and places, I added details about:
Anytime I make up something new, I add it with a short description to the list. When subsequent books in the series are written, I break the Timeline and Characters sections into “Book One” and “Book Two”, etc. This way the timelines and characters can be tracked from one book to another.
Research notes- Some writers us One Note or Evernote for this purpose, but I like having the document handy in my folder for that series. Any research I do, whether my own notes or a copy and paste of an article, goes here. You never know when you might need that obscure detail!
Some stories go through only one draft that is edited several times; some need to be revised and rewritten. If I write more than one draft, I number them. With each draft, I write a separate Scene List. The scene List is a must for me, and has:
Whose point of view is speaking (POV)
What happens in the scene. Example- “Jane- She calls her mother; they argue about why she hasn’t called; she hangs up, and begins to cry; there’s a knock on the door; When she opens it ( hero) is standing there”.
Throughout the scene document, I note what day of the week and date it is, so I can maintain continuity
I write the scene description immediately after writing the text of each scene, to be sure it has served its purpose
The scene list also helps if I get stuck. Reading all the scene descriptions up to the point I am stuck usually gets things moving again. I also review it once again when the story is done, before I begin self-edits.
All of the above can be used to write a series, adding the details to each section as you write. You could also keep one document to diagram the series arc, if you have one, adding and changing it as the stories unfold.
I can’t count the times I had to refer to these documents when some minor detail skipped my mind. It’s especially helpful if you skip around on projects and some time has lapsed between writing. I prefer concentrating on what is yet to be written, and this method helps me to do just that.
What methods do you use to keep track of stories in a series?