Plan Ahead

Some people have photographic memories. I envy those people. (Though it does seem that remembering EVERYTHING might not always be a benefit.) I tell people I have a memory like a sieve. If I write something down, I’m better, but even then it’s usually the general information I remember rather than specifics.


Someone like me really shouldn’t write a series, or, if they do, they should know so ahead of time so they can write down information as they go along. There’s the basic information that’s necessary, like the names of the characters who will appear in more than one book, their physical descriptions, ages, relationship to each other, etc. What I’m also finding important is making sure I keep the background info the same in all of the books, adding to it with each successive book. And I don’t want to change how characters talk, unless there’s been a change noted from one story to the next. Do they repeat the same phrases? Do they change how they treat each other? If so, is it a logical change or just a mistake on my part?

I didn’t think about any of this when I started my “Crow” books (P.J. Benson Mysteries) mainly because I didn’t know I was writing a series. The closest I’d ever come to writing a series was when I did two books for Bantam’s Loveswept series where one book featured one sister and the second book featured the other sister (with the two sisters making appearances in both books). THE CROWS (published 2007) was simply a story I created because of a murder close to where I lived. It wasn’t until after the book was out that a librarian asked when the next book featuring PJ would be out, and I decided “Why not?” And then, of course, my muse (might as well blame her) teased me into ending the second book with the possibility that PJ might be pregnant…causing many to ask me, “When’s the next book coming out? Is she pregnant? What does she have, a boy or a girl?”

So now I’m on the third book in the series I never had any intentions of writing, and I can’t remember what I said in the first or the second book, and I’m wasting a lot of time doing SEARCH AND FIND. But thank goodness we do have those features, and thank goodness both THE CROWS and AS THE CROW FLIES are in digital form and I can call the files up whenever I want and do side-by-side comparisons or research.

Nevertheless, if you do think a book you’re writing might be the start of a series, I highly recommend that you plan ahead. Some writers create what they call a “bible.” It’s a NOTEBOOK (or file) where there is a section for each of the characters or settings they create and all of the important information is jotted down or copied into those sections.

Other writers use INDEX CARDS. Basically these cards hold the same information a writer might include in a notebook, but the cards (3×4 or larger) are separate and the writer can pull out and use just the cards needed for a book or scene.

There’s also a program called EVER NOTES ( that I’ve been told will help you remember. It’s a free app that can be downloaded to a MAC, PC or iPad.

And many writers nowadays are singing the praises of SCRIVENER. That program costs about $40-$45 but those writers using it seem to love it. One feature in that program is a corkboard where you can post pictures or notes that will help the writer keep track of characters or settings.

I’m almost finished with book three, and when I do finish, I’m going to sit down and re-read the first two books to make sure I’ve stayed true to the characters and haven’t made any major goofs. Of course, there’s no guarantee I won’t miss something, and I sure wish I’d planned ahead.

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14 Responses to Plan Ahead

  1. In writing the latest DIY book – #7 – I had to look up whether someone was dead or alive, because I couldn’t remember whether I’d killed off this secondary character in book 6 or not. In my defense, I’d gone back and forth a couple of times on whether I should kill her or not, and it had actually changed in edits… but still, a fairly embarrassing thing to have to admit.

  2. Maris, I hear you. I wrote a sci fi novel for 2010 NANO. My only intention was to overcome my phobia about sci fi world creation. I didn’t plan to make it into a series. I didn’t plan to write more books in the universe I created.

    Now two of the books are out, a third is due out in November, and I’m working on a fourth.

    I just signed up for a scrivener class — and you *know* getting all the info about the settings, characters, etc, etc, into *some* kind of shape is high on my to-do list.

    My advice? Assume your book will have a follow-on. If it doesn’t, well, all you’ve done is a little extra organizing. If it does– you’ve saved many a “search.”

  3. Joe Novara says:

    I just last night put my YA books into the series they always were. It’s now called My First Horse and I made the book in the middle (4 of 7) free to hopefully entice readership backward and forward. I also eliminated old fashioned IM email dialogue and just had the characters talk on cell phones. Hope that will improve readership.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Joe, I know you had several already that you felt fit together. One nice thing about being able to rework some of our older stories is we can bring them up-to-date. I’m sure having the characters talk on their cell phones gave a more immediate feel to the story.

  4. Diane Burton says:

    My memory’s like yours, Maris, as leaky as an old faucet. I have to keep a file with all the details even if the book isn’t part of a series–more importantly, if it is. Best wishes on the series.

  5. Melissa Keir says:

    I’m so glad I can go back and re-read. It helps both as a reader and writer. I’d forget my shoes if I didn’t need them to leave the house.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re right, Melissa, it will be fun to go back and re-read those first two books. I just hope I don’t find a lot of things that will need to be fixed.

  6. Alexa Bourne says:

    I’m with you! I started my first series and didn’t really realize it would be a series. I had to search through over books for details as I worked on the 3rd one. I have 2 more series planned and I’m definitely going to start taking notes right from the start to make my life easier!

  7. As a short story writer, I never thought this would happen to me. Wrong.

    Usually when I write about a character they go away, but I had a police detective and a witch who didn’t. I ended up with a prequel story and an two other stories later than the first one. I finally printed out the stories and highlighted the characteristics of each character in order to make a story bible.

    This police detective has never gone away, he just tosses me another crime. I’ve realized now that until I can settle his love life with the witch, he will stay. Did I mention that he doesn’t believe in psychics or witches? She drives him crazy!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Pat, I love your comment, and I’ve got to read some of those stories of yours. I agree, I certainly wouldn’t have thought a short story writer would face this problem. That’s the trouble with some of these characters, they just won’t stay quiet. I’ve got a woman in her seventies who keeps telling me she has more adventures ahead of her and I’d better get a story bible put together for her.