Tracking: Characters

I’m part of a really stellar online, global writing community. I found them, actually, through a workout program, and they were such an unexpected bonus who have become super important in my writer world. We have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions and share resources, and I’ve found questions about a specific subject that keep circling around – tracking. How do we keep track of…well, everything?

I’m always happy to share what my process is like, and I make sure to note that what works for me won’t work for everyone, and to be sure to read what others have said and try things out. It can take time to get a process together that works for us as individuals. And even then, it will continue to shift and grow as we continue to work.

The conversation came up again recently, so I thought I might share here what I’ve been doing for tracking characters, plot, timelines, and multiple projects – though I’ll start here with Characters. I’m drawn to reading and writing character-driven stories, so it’s not surprising that ideas come through them. I generally get a sense of the story through learning more about them.

My first step is to conduct an interview with them. I really like K. M. Weiland’s character questionnaire:

Over the years, I’ve added a few questions (like pronouns) and edited a couple to make them better fit what I was trying to accomplish. (I also direct my students to this for their own work – as I tell them, they should want to know their characters so well that if I were to ask what brand of toothpaste their character uses, they could answer without hesitation.)

After that, I like to cast my characters. I usually have an idea of what they look like in my head, but I want something solid to refer to when writing so that I can make sure I’m consistent with their details. I use PowerPoint to track photos and other details about these characters, as well as images of any important items or settings that appear within the story (even for stories that exist in made up settings, I’ll still try to find photos that best represent what I’m seeing in my head). As a visual person, I find this to be so incredibly helpful to track.

If you don’t have access to PP (or just don’t like it), there are many other options for visual ways track your characters (items, setting, etc.). One example that a friend from my group uses is Pinterest. (I had a brief, torrid love affair with the platform about a decade ago and had to ban myself from it because there are just too many cool crafty ideas and delicious recipes to explore – and I can’t be trusted with that kind of access.)

A similar platform with less temptation that I’ve used for many things is Trello – you can create separate boards, and then within them, separate lists that have individual cards. You can include images, text, links – anything you would need to help yourself track. The bonus here, like Pinterest, is that it’s a web-based platform – so it’s essentially saved on a cloud, and you have access anywhere you have internet/data. (They also have an app for your phone.)

If you are more the type who likes making webs to track things, there’s Miro – a virtual whiteboard. I do not have personal experience with this platform – it was a recommendation I found via the writing community on Twitter.

There are, of course, a plethora of possibilities for tracking – and some will work for you, and some won’t. The point is just to try out a few things until you find the thing that clicks.

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