Rain image     When writing a fictional story, it can sometimes be hard to keep track of everything that’s going on in your story’s world.    Although this can be remedied by careful note-taking, there are easier methods that will save you an astronomical amount of time down the road.  All it takes is a little bit of extra pre-planning before you start writing.
Characters

One of the simplest things you can do to help keep your character descriptions consistent is to explore the internet, a magazine, or even a store’s flyers for a photo.  When you find someone who suits your character’s looks, write down some general information about the character that you can’t see on the image.  Things like the character’s height, weight, interests, and background history.  These things combined will help you build a character that seems real to your readers and simplify your reference notes.

If you’re more of the creative sort, there are several other options that you can explore.  The first, and most obvious, is to draw the character yourself, or if you’re not artistically inclined try to find someone that is and see if they can lend you a hand.  Doing this will give you full control of all of your characters features, including looks, style, expression, and attitude.  All that’s left for you to do after you’ve built your character profiles is to decide what method you would like to use to access your reference profiles.  This can be done in either a physical or digital format.

Pros and Cons: Physical verses Digital

With a physical copy, organization can be the biggest, most tedious setback because during the writing process, papers can become scattered and misplaced very easily.  However, it does have one great advantage over the digital method.  The ability to access your notes without minimizing or reducing your word processing screen is hugely beneficial.  It enables you to view your reference profiles without losing what you were doing in an endless series of windows and programs, just make sure to have loose papers stapled, in a folder, duo-tang, or binder, otherwise a huge mess and frustration is in your future.

Digitally speaking, finding the right program is crucial.  If you have Microsoft Office, then you probably have One Note, too.  Chances are, though, that you haven’t ever used it.  With One Note, you gain the ability to drag-and-drop images, write or copy and paste your notes anywhere on the page, and organize everything in a digital filing cabinet, while being able to link to Word documents and websites for easy referencing later on.  This allows you to access all of your notes, clutter free, without worrying about losing something.  Best of all, One Note automatically saves everything you do.  That means if your computer restarts, freezes, or you accidently close the program, everything you’ve done, up to the second before the program closed, will still be right where you put it.

Of course, if you don’t have One Note, and don’t want to pay for it, there are some free programs out there that you can experiment with: EverNote, KeyNote, FreeMind, and Zim(and quite a few more).  Reviews of these programs will appear in Imagine Magazine’s third issue.  As was pointed out in the previous paragraph, digital referencing can be distracting, in the sense that you have multiple programs open.  Deciding what method is best for you might take some experimenting, but it’s more than worth the time and effort in the end.

Mark Dawson imageYour Characters’ World

Much like creating a character’s profile, it’s always a good idea to create your characters’ world, too.  What you need to do to achieve this is find something you can use as a visual reference.  Fortunately, this can be done in many different ways, in both physical and digital forms.  In both formats, you first need to decide if you’re going to base your story in a real place, like a town or city.

If you’re going down the physical route, you’re going to need either a map of your chosen area, or a few pieces of blank paper (grid paper works well here).

In the event that you decide to create your world on paper, you’ll need a ruler and some colouring utensils.  Once you’ve drawn or found a map, pick a spot where your main character lives and outline it on the map using your favourite colour, and then use a different colour for every other character you have.

Doing this, you’ll be able to know exactly how far it is from one character’s home to another’s, or to the shopping mall, school, work, or whatever.  As your story progresses, you can add more details like what event happened where.  This is useful because you never know when you might need to reference it later on in the story, and if you use the wrong directions or descriptions your readers are bound to notice.  Remember that all the hours it takes you to write something can be read in minutes by your fans.

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Using the digital method, your options grow immensely.  There are thousands of programs and apps that you can find on the internet to help you out.  The trick is to make a decision and stick to it; otherwise you risk another distraction, like installing a program that takes ages to learn how to operate correctly.  A simple and free tool that everyone can use is Google Earth.    Using this program, you are able to place pins on your map and leave notes to yourself for future reference.  This method can also save you time because you’re not running around trying to find or draw a map.  All you need to do is download, install, and enjoy.  Of course, the downside to this is that you now have another program running on your computer.  If you’re one hundred percent digital, that’s already three programs, which might slow things down if you’re working on an older device.

Beyond regular mapping, creating a quick blueprint of your characters’ home, especially of the ones that will be in the story a lot, is incredibly beneficial.  This can be achieved by either drawing it on a piece of paper and a ruler, or using a simple program such MS Paint or equivalent.  The more detail you put into your home’s blueprint the easier it will be for you to describe in your writing.

Again, if you’re not very good with drawing, there are programs that you can use to help make the task easier.  A simple, free program you can try is Google SketchUp, which enables you to easily create 3D models of homes, apartments, and even buildings.  Some other programs found on the internet are: 3D Home Design by LiveCAD, and Home Designer Pro by Ashampoo(this one costs a bit of money, though).  Reviews for these programs will appear in upcoming Imagine releases.

All-in-all, both digital and physical referencing is equally beneficial.  The important thing is to try new things and let your eyes focus on something other than text for a while.  As an author, it’s important to see the whole picture, and experimenting with new techniques and approaches can help keep you fresh, focused, and organized.

Published September 2, 2011

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