Keeping track of who’s who in your writing

Meta Writing

I read an interesting post by Steve Poling about ‘scaffolding’. Scaffolding is all the little details of your plot, your characters and locations that won’t necessarily make it to press but that you need to keep track of. It’s meta writing, or an aide memoire for all your little continuity errors that are waiting to leap into your writing only to be found by your most attentive and verbal readers.

The post goes into more detail around scaffolding, but I most like the idea that if you are writing, your text ultimately belongs in one of three places: the final product, the bin, or as scaffolding. Storing this information is simple for the first two, but what is the best method for holding on to this extra information?

Steve offers one solution of keeping a spreadsheet to track your characters detailing. This is a bit too computery for me – I can see all the benefits of saving, backing up and searching your data, but when it comes to typing it up its a bit, what’s the word… nerdy?!

I like paper; I like index cards; I like post it notes, marker pens and the cheapest of black biros. I like to scribble things down and sort them into piles. I like to spread my notes out across the table and go through them all at once, linking bits together and adding comments as I go. Most importantly, I’m a fan of the Hipster PDA *

Technology vs Luddism

This is all good scaffolding, but what about the sections of text I chop from the book that are too useful to go in the bin? I can’t hand write everything back out on an index card so I can look at it on my dining room table. I need a more joined up approach to this. It maybe time to actively create an online file for all this information, rather than to rely on index cards. If they got lost I’d be devastated, plus I haven’t got time for redoing any of my work in this project.

I used to use Evernote, so I’m going to try that again. It would be handy to be able to keep this data backed up and available across the devices, but will it satisfy my need for jotting down ideas on an index card, eyes closed, at three in the morning. Maybe there’s something better thats available, or a way of joining up these manual and electronic versions of scaffolding. I’m not sure, but it’s certainly triggered me to actively work out how I’m going to deal with it.

If you have any views on how you keep your information about a story that’ll never make it into your final product, leave me a comment below.

You can read Steve Poling’s original post here:

* The Hipster PDA has been around for a while, but if you don’t know about it, have a look here:


5 thoughts on “Keeping track of who’s who in your writing

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  3. Myself, I have a lot of info files, all neatly labeled, but only one spreadsheet — for my world’s historical timeline.

    I also keep all of my old drafts, so if I do decide to chop a big chunk of the story out but then regret it, I can go back and figure out how to put the section back in. I did a lot of that fairly recently: condensed an old chapter into a section so I could put it back without feeling the ‘bloat’ it had previously given me, restored an explanatory section that I had previously thought extraneous but realized I needed…

    I write tons and tons of notes to myself on normal paper, usually while at my day job, but I make a point to portion those notes out among my various computer files for various topics when I get home. Still slowly trying to integrate some of my old info files into the new system, so all the info on certain topics is centrally located — and you already saw my maps, which are a great resource for visual information storage.

    But then I’m juggling a 6-book fantasy series right now, so a massive amount of scaffolding kind of comes with the territory.

  4. I agree – doing as much as possible on the book while at work is the best way to get things done! Seriously, it’s capturing all those little thoughts thats the most important. I said above about using Evernote, but still haven’t really got on with that – I tend to write notes down on my pad while at work and take a photo of it on the phone. I’ll then do something with it when I get home – usually typing up into a document split into different sections for the characters, plot, etc.

    So after all my thoughts and good intentions my structure of scaffolding isn’t as organised as I’d like – however, I’m nowhere near the level of detail that you’re at. Hopefully I can keep track of everything in an ad hoc manner until I need to do something more. I’m almost feeling guilty of slating using a spreadsheet – who knows, as I get a bit further down the line, I might need to use one myself!!

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