Organizing Character Data In Writing

Discussion in 'Make It So' started by Zin, Aug 29, 2015.

  1. Zin

    Zin Professional Lurker

    ....I have about 5 excel documents with bits of names and things like that, and I still can't figure out how to actually set up and organize a quick cheat-sheet with character information basics or what I should include and I'm beginning to think my brain is insisting that this needs to be addressed solely because I can't figure out which point to push at in the different bits and pieces of things I've been wanting to work on for the last month.

    Does anyone else have any ideas/input/methods/halp? :(
  2. oph

    oph There was a user here, but it's gone now

    Are you asking for programs to organise the data in, or for methods of organisation (like, "I include these types of traits in my character sheets" etc?)
  3. Zin

    Zin Professional Lurker

  4. oph

    oph There was a user here, but it's gone now

    If you can afford it, Scrivener has been a lifesaver for me in terms of keeping my notes organised. There are versions for Windows and Mac, and there's a beta version for Linux which works well enough. It lets you keep your notes all in one document, with a sidebar to access those notes from, and you can split the window so you can see your notes and what you're writing at the same time.

    I think they tend to do this thing where you can get a discounted copy of Scrivener if you beat NaNoWriMo, but I don't know if they're doing it this year. There is a free trial, so you can see if it works for you before committing to spending money on it.

    I think there was a free program that does something similar, but I can't recall what it was and I have no idea how good it is, so someone else will have to chime in if that's the case.

    I'll come back with the things I make note of in character/story sheets in a bit -- they're on my other computer.
  5. Zin

    Zin Professional Lurker

    Re: notes - that would be lovely!

    Scrivener looks very nice, I'll definitely look into it. Haha, I tend to get hella ADHD whenever I try to sit down and actually get work done, so I'm usually liable to start cranking open 50 windows at once because I /absolutelytotallyreally/ need to look into /thing/ at once and maybe I should open up this other document even though none of the things in it are going to show up and and and... ( but that's a different issue. )

    The corkboard option especially looks awesome/
  6. oph

    oph There was a user here, but it's gone now

    So, what my character notes include varies from story to story, for no actual good reason. Sometimes I don't bother with character info at all and just do notes for the storyline, but that's because I almost always write the same set of characters, so I'm pretty dang familiar with them by now.

    My most well-noted documents are for games, because I need to keep track of stats and what they do, and what character sprites I'll need when, and so on.

    My current novella features long periods of time when the characters are split up, so it was important that I have a timeline to work off of, which not only keeps track of where the characters are when, but also what state they're in (injured, in need of a cigarette, etc), and what state the city's in (it's a zombie apocalypse, so this includes what the other survivors are doing, what the city authorities are doing, and how bad the zombie uprising is). I also have notes on how the zombism works, the wants and fears of each character, character conflicts, what weapons each character has access to, and the maximum number of zombies each character can handle on their own and as a group. Each chapter has a section for notes which looks like this:
    Hour n
    The state of the city.
    Alpha Party
    The state of one group of characters
    Omega Party
    The state of the second group of characters
    Status Character X: Status effects (injuries, etc) present in this chapter
    Status Character Y: Status effects (injuries, etc) present in this chapter
    Status Character Z: Status effects (injuries, etc) present in this chapter

    Obviously, this is for a story that I have excessively planned out.

    Another story uses the character sheet that came with Scrivener:
    Role in story:
    Physical description:
    Internal conflicts:
    External conflicts:
    Normally, I don't care about things like "role in story", but that one is a pulp-style adventure story, so follows certain tropes.

    A novel I was working on some time ago had new and unfamiliar characters in it, so the character notes there include some more lengthy character surveys and also a set of notes that go like:
    Height, weight, skin tone, hair colour, eye colour
    Fashion sense (/clothing)

    A few personality traits

    Their vices

    This was designed to work with the corkboard option -- each character gets their own "card", and the card includes the basics of said notes.

    One more: I have a haunted house story which I tend to use for experimentation re writing habits, and one of the experiments is a more detailed set of notes to work off of. I have my usual "text file with every thought I have on the subject just jotted down in a disorganised jumble", but I also have:
    Motives for each character, protagonists and antagonists.
    This sheet:
    Eye colour:
    Hair colour/style:
    Build/body type:
    Style of dress:
    Quirks, flaws:
    Positive attributes:
    Five words that spring to mind when you think of them:
    Every story - no matter how long or short - is comprised of a beginning, a middle and an end, or a start, a conflict and a resolution/conclusion (alternatively a cliff-hanger, depending on whether your writing piece is part of a series). This step is very simple:
    Write down a minimum of five dot points detailing things you would like to happen in each category.
    In which time period does your novel take place?
    What is the timespan? A day? A few days? A week, a month, a year or more?
    Where does your story take place? Describe the setting in five or more words, then write a paragraph giving further detail.
    If you’ve created a place entirely of your own imagining, write another paragraph detailing what makes it unique and different to our own world.
    Probably the most important of all the questions:
    Why do the things that happen in your novel happen? What causes them to happen? Is it the characters, the way the plot unfolds?
    What is the main aim of the story? Are your characters out to vanquish a terrible evil? Are they on an adventure to discover a lost object? What is the overall arc of your novel?
    And another sheet:
    Things character 1 is good at:
    Things character 2 is good at:
    Things character 1 is not good at:
    Things character 2 is not good at:
    How character 1 interacts with people:
    How character 2 interacts with people:

    As you can see, there are some points common across all versions -- how much more than that you want will depend on the story in question (and how much you want to procrastinate on it). Lately, I'm tending more toward story-meta points and less toward nitty-gritty character basics, but (as I said) I almost always work with the same set of characters, so I'm already well acquainted with them. I don't need to remind myself of their surnames or eye colours.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2015
    • Like x 1
  7. Zin

    Zin Professional Lurker

    Yeeeessss... One of the difficulties I've been having is the nature of the beast I'm trying to build - and, to be fair, many of the games I'm in and run - is that there are so many bloody people I need a cheat sheet so I don't forget things I've established... which is terrible. ( To be fair, it does mean I try to keep everyone at least a bit different and build them up and etc etc etc which is why I end up with such huge cast lists... including some 'sir likely not even appearing in this novel series', but ah well... )

    I suppose the biggest problem is also that the moment I try to get anything categorized I start freezing up because I want to do so much...

    Eye Colour
    . Alt Eyes
    Hair Colour
    . Alt Hair
    Skin Tone
    .Alt Skin
    .Alt Height
    .Alt Weight
    .Alt Build
    .Favorite Colours
    (To Wear)
    Significan Social Links
  8. oph

    oph There was a user here, but it's gone now

    That looks pretty reasonable, to me. There's a couple items that I would personally combine (age and DOB, for example, favourite colour to wear with fashion sense, social links with affiliations, etc). You've got around fifteen items there if you do cut down, and they're all good things to keep track of.

    As you work with a particular character sheet, you'll probably notice points that you don't really need, and can remove, and think of points that you want to add. It'll refine itself as you go.
  9. Zin

    Zin Professional Lurker

    *nod* For me, the D.O.B. is tied in since... there's a little bit of time warping - there are characters born about 50 years before the book starts who are about 20 in actual lived years. :)

    Okay. cool! Thank you very much!!! You've been super helpful :D :D :D
  10. oph

    oph There was a user here, but it's gone now

    I'd just personally put both data points in the same slot ("27, born 19880607"). But I haven't done much with time travel, yet, so I'm probably talking out my butt.

    No problem!
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