They Call Me Ismael – the Book Charting Queenie

Details, details.

I’m usually pretty good at keeping up with them, but I will admit that 79,000 words into something and I’m bound to forget a few…hundred or so.

I told myself that I was going to do some charting of the book’s characters and plot points as they’ve been developed and tweaked to give myself an easy reference posted somewhere on the walls in my office that I could use as I write. And 19 chapters and 79,000 words later, I’m finally doing it. Doh!

I don’t know what veteran authors do. I worked off of an outline that I changed and expanded along the way. Perhaps other authors do something like this instead from the start. Or maybe not at all and they just have these wonderfully gifted and magnetic memories that latch on to every detail they’ve written and hold on tight.

Me? I lost track of my short-term memory a while back. I can remember lists of Oscar winners I memorized as a kid to help me fall asleep at night when I was particularly wound up mentally and old locker combinations from middle school and that’s nearly geesh – 30 years ago! But ask me whether my character’s wife’s name is spelled Kristen or Kristin, I can’t for the life of me remember what I decided on hundreds of pages earlier. And that was only written a few months ago.

So I’ve been charting. At least that’s what I call it.

BookCharting

And yes, my handwriting really is that bad.

I suppose it’s a lot like storyboarding in advertising. A little like creating an imposition in publishing. But instead of laying out or telling a story, I’m merely recording the facts. So I can keep them straight – not just for my two lead characters but the myriad of supporting folks who pop in and out throughout the book.

I’m doing it for me. If I really do plan on writing a book two and quite possibly a book three with these characters, better to give myself a Cliffs Notes version for use later. I’m doing it as a helpful reference I’ll be able to give my editor too once she has the draft in her hand (because I plan on transferring all of my notes on the big white pages that will soon be plastering my walls into a Word doc or PowerPoint file). I’m also doing it as a handy reference for my proprietary lawyer to easily find all of my pop cultural references so they can hopefully tell me that I’m good to go there, too, and won’t incur the wrath of anyone with permissions issues.

And I’ve always been a stickler for continuity…when I watch a film, when I read a story. Don’t tell me something in chapter 5 and completely contradict it or forget it altogether by chapter 14. I laugh as I recall hearing about soap operas that were notorious in the 60s and 70s for introducing a character, sending him up to his room to go to bed and never EVER bringing that character to light again on the show. Like he just stayed confined to his room forever.

Continuity, people. Details. They are our friend. They do not have to be our enemy and are only such when we mistreat them or neglect them altogether.

I’m also charting a timeline as I go so I can make sure that my time passage between scenes and chapters is really matching up with the time of year during which I need the story to wrap.

This charting process is taking me a lot longer than I anticipated. I’m also integrating some new necessary edits that I’m making as I go along, so that’s slowing me down, too. But I know in the end, I’ll have a better book. And what does that pizza company say, you know the one that I’ve boycotted ever since the owner got all up in my face with his politics and turned me off completely — better ingredients, better piz-…better story.

I’m sure some writers don’t even do this, at any stage. Meh. I don’t care. For me, it’s already been such a helpful and eye-opening activity. I’m glad that I’ve taken it on. I only wish I would have done this along the way after composing a chapter or two instead of so much later, when I was already two-thirds of the way through it.

So I chart. And I chart. And I chart.

And when I’m done with that, I chart some more.

Soon though, I will be back at the keyboard and continuing the story again, and I can’t wait. I’ve come to really love these characters and am seriously missing my book boyfriend, Oliver. Sigh.

Hand me the green magic marker, will ya?

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