Wednesday, June 9, 2010

World Worksheet

by Raelene Gorlinsky

If you are writing a series of any type, or a single book that has a highly complex setting or timeline, it is imperative that you keep track of all the details so that you can maintain consistency. Readers become outraged if characters do things they "shouldn't be able to". Discrepancies in descriptions (people or places) or dates drive some readers insane.

Every author figures out what method works best for them. Do you keep lists, draw charts? Do you enter cross-reference notes in electronic files of your stories? As long as you keep track of things, how you do it should be tailored to your working method--but be sure you do it!

Editors and copy editors catch some amusing or horrifying discrepancies. A continuing character whose name is spelled differently in different books. A woman whose pregnancy lasts over a year (yes, she was a normal human--the author had altered the time of the second book without taking into account how it would affect this secondary character who had become pregnant in the first). People whose eye color or other physical attributes change from book to book.

Here's a sample of a very basic World/Character Worksheet. You could start with this and add to it.
BOOK TITLE, Series name and number

Setting (Describe the "world" as a whole. Record a description of each place where action occurs.)

Timeline (All historical or current events mentioned in the story. Dates of events relevant to characters.)

Language/Special Terms (Any "alien" or made-up words. Also expletives and common exclamations. For example, do you write "Oh god" or "Oh God"?)

Naming Conventions (Are there "rules" for how people or places or things are named?)

~ Name
~ Nicknames, forms of address
~ Appearance, age
~ Relationships to other characters
~ Personal history facts (birthplace, education, jobs, residences)
~ Personality traits, phobias, hobbies, special skills

If your story is a paranormal or fantasy, futuristic or set in an alien world, then you have even more information to keep track of in each of the above categories.

Authors, what are your favorite tricks and tips for keeping your world consistent and coherent?


Anny Cook said...

If I'm planning several books in one series, I keep a bible with the all the common information and add sections for the individual books with info for the characters and story line.

Jory Strong said...

I keep lists of names, places, etc., with relevant details if the series doesn't involve complex world building. But if it is complex, I keep a bible with the above and also rules and descriptions, backed up by excerpts from all the relevant stories so I know exactly what was said.

The Fallon Mates bible, as an example, is 56 pages long. And the last section of it includes notes to myself on where I'm going with the series, or how I intend to bend certain rules in the future when it becomes necessary, or why a rule/information was put in place (i.e., with a future story in mind.)

Debra Glass said...

I know people can't believe that I actually enjoy researching my historicals but I'm WOWED at the work and imagination that goes into a story that takes place in a whole other world. Kudos to those who do it and do it well!

Anonymous said...

I have a world book. It has master world rules and info, and each book has a separate section that has details of timeline, characters, events, etc.
Some info is written in more than once but it's all there for me to flip through as I'm writing.
I also have a card system for all my books whether they're part of a series or not. There's a card for each book listing title, publisher, release date (if it has one), and the main character profiles.

Wynter Daniels said...

I keep a binder with character grids on every character. I wouldn't be able to keep everything straight if I didn't.

Ms Snarky Pants said...

I have a master time line for the series I'm working on that starts in 900 AD and goes to present. I have a list of all the characters too. I also have a list of the different vampire families/dragon clans/fairy groups in my series and important members and facts about them. You could probably put it all together and make a roleplaying book if you wanted to.

I'm one of those readers who gets really angry if things aren't consistent so I'm kinda a stickler about it in my stuff.