Keeping track can be tricky, especially if you have an epic story with multiple characters and points of view, taking place across many different locations and potentially up to 100,000 words (or even longer – cut, cut, cut!).

So how do you keep on top of all that information – how do you organise yourself to make sure you don’t have a character who’s eye colour changes halfway through, or a world where the temperature does down the closer you are to the equator (unless that IS the quirk of that world).

Well, you can keep track in a number of ways – many more than we’ve listed, but here’s just a few to get you started.

Writing an outline

Outlines are a useful starting point anyway, but especially so because you can really map out character arcs and changes in a substantial way, that goes beyond the 2D, superficial pitch or premise which you’ve started off with. And as you add those layers to the story, you’ll be adding details which you can come back to at any point if you lose your way. It’s your story roadmap and will allow to keep track even our characters try to take us off to the beach or to the moon!

Character notes

Methods for this vary as much as characters do from one another. Some people like to make massive lists, charting the characters eye colour and favourite food and primary 1 teacher’s name. Others list almost nothing, and we’ve read some brilliant books where the character is physically barely described at all. Ultimately the key notes to make on your characters are the less superficial ones. The deep changing flaws or fears or misbeliefs which will lead your character on the difficult journey that your book will tell. We need to know their breaking points, the hills they are willing to die upon, the things that bring them the great joy and the greatest sadness or fear. When making your character notes, these are things that really matter. But you still don’t want you clean-shaven character in chapter 1 to suddenly be sporting a beard two chapters later, when only 6 hours have elapsed.

Word count trackers

There is the obvious method of using your won spreadsheet and noting down how many words you type in each session, and using a formula to calculate the total words typed. You could even produce a funky graph to show unlikely linear line of words being added. There are lots of softwares out there that will do this for you automatically – things like Scrivener, or websites like 750 words are a couple of examples. Tallying word counts can benefit in a couple of ways – firstly as a means of motivation. I find it comforting to look back upon word counts from previous days to spur me onto write more in that moment. Similarly, total word counts are a great measure of just how far you’ve come. The word counts can also be used a means of identifying (roughly) how far you are into the story, and where you should be in correspondence to your outline. For example, if you’re on 80,000 words and you find you haven’t started Act III of your outline yet, then that gives you pause for thought in terms of pacing and in terms of where you perhaps need to cut later.

Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.

Robert Collier

Target setting

As the quote above suggests, writing a novel is not done in just one sitting, or from one burst of inspiration. The likelihood is that you’ll spend many months (or years) just completing a first draft. And a huge task like that is difficult to face when thinking about it in it’s entirety. 90,000 words seems like a HUGE effort, whereas 500 words a day for 6 months seems much more achievable. We can manage 500 words in a day, but thinking about 90k in 6 months feels HUGE.

You’ll have no doubt heard about the SMART principle of goal setting and it’s worth using that for your writing.

S pecific

M easurable

A chievable

R ealistic or relevant

T ime-bound

Suggested writing task

Try the methods we’ve listed above – at least one, but all of them if you can. By putting in that work now, perhaps you’ll find that it pays off later and helps you stay on track and finish that novel even sooner.