Epic stories require epic casts of characters. Each one of those characters is going to have a story of their own, even if they all don’t get a piece of the spotlight. When you write a series of three or more books, you’ll have the Uber Story, the one thread that winds its way throughout the whole series, and then under that, you’ll have the specific plot for each book. Those plots are the ones that require resolution at the end.
But wait, there’s more…you may have several little sub-plots below that too.
All of it has the potential to get tangled beyond all recognition and drift away from the main point if you’re not careful. Characters already have a way of doing their own thing, you have to juggle them without dropping any of them. You need to think about continuity from one book to the next (your fans will know your story better than you. Just ask George Lucas about that) and continuity within each current story.
So, how can you keep everything straight? Here’s a few things we do:
- The Black Book. Every author needs a Black Book. This is documentation on all your characters, their histories, their traits, their personalities, physical appearances (you have no idea how many times I have to ask Wendi “What color are Joe’s eyes again?”), name spellings and family trees. You’ll also keep notes on your setting and little details about the plot you don’t want to forget.
- Timelines. Time has a way of running off without you if you’re not careful. You start on Day One and you get on a roll, then before you know it, you’re looking at your story wondering “when” everyone is. Time is tricky and gets more confusing when you have to keep many scenes in parallel time frames all running smoothly at the same time. The best thing you can do for yourself is create a timeline. Write down a list of when each chapter begins, starting from Day One. We like to put it in the chapter titles themselves and see it in our document’s table of contents. Later on, after the final draft is done, we’ll get rid of the chapter titles and replace them with chapter numbers.
- Do Read-Through. Take your rough out of the computer and put it into another format. Have it printed out at Kinkos, or if you have the ability to convert it for an e-reader, do that. Doesn’t have to be all polished, just get it off the monitor and into something else. Read through from beginning to end. Try not to edit, just see if you can read it from a reader’s point of view. How does it look to you? Is it making sense? Do you lose it anywhere? If so, make a note where things start to go soft. Once you get an overall picture, you’ll have a better sense of direction.
- Is It Me? Sometimes we work so closely with something we can’t see what’s happening. The screwiness may be a result of our own bias or it may be totally valid. Have someone else have a read. Pick one person you know and trust to give you an HONEST opinion (not your mom or best friend…unless they’re the type to tell you what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear).
- Return To The Source. Go back to your original outline. How far have you strayed from the plan? Check your plan and get back on track.
Getting tangled up in your story is a good thing when you get in so deep you’re in the Zone, but not so good when you’re tangled in a bad way and can’t make sense of your story anymore. How do you untangle yourself when that happens? Do you have any tips or tricks of your own that you use?
Credit: Image by Disney’s “Tangled”