How exactly do you keep track of characters & relationships when you write stories?

hawksflyhigh

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With this asinine lockdown going on, I am really frustrated and wanted to write my story to express this frustration.
But in crafting my tale, my characters are starting to become more and more complex. I am not sure if there is a good way to keep track of them rather than just writing long paragraphs about each character etc. Do you use any tools? or techniques? charts? graphs?
 

The Judge

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I'm a panster and I edit as I go, so that means I work very slowly, revising stuff that's already written, and I also spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and having them interact with each other in scenes that will never be written down or included in the story, so all that allows me to get to know my characters well as I'm writing them. I jot down names as they come up or as they're revised, and for the first few pages I might make odd notes of eg verbal tics as they occur to me but that's it. After that I don't need any notes for the characters any more than I need notes about my family's likes/dislikes/temperament/mood swings etc, and since I don't use a lot of physical description I don't need crib sheets to help me remember colour of hair and so on. I did create a family tree in one WiP to ensure I wasn't making stupid mistakes about people's ages and relationships, but that's probably the most I've ever done.

Some people create character biographies, which might be one way of proceeding if it's the characters' backgrounds and so on that are becoming too complex for you to handle. If it's their relationships, then a family tree is definitely a good idea.

If it's not their characters but eg their whereabouts at any one time which is the problem, then I'd definitely draw up a table with columns for date, time and each character so you can see at a glance that eg at 3pm A is in the city library while B is at the docks.

That help?

And before I forget, welcome to the Chrons!
 

Toby Frost

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I tend to write lists with very short descriptions next to them ("in charge of mercenaries, brother of Cyrus, missing right hand", that sort of thing) arranged by some convenient factor, usually family or location. I tend to remember most of the details in my head but, like the Judge, I don't go heavily into things like hair colour.
 

.matthew.

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I've tried a lot of ways but the main one that springs to mind is just to have a bio template. Keep it the same for each character so you can just glance and see what's what. You can keep it simple or go as complicated as you want. I usually start with the following subheadings.
  • Full Name & Aliases
  • Physical Description (age, height, hair colour, scars, etc)
  • Relationships (so brother to so and so, friend of whoever, etc)
  • Background (if such a thing matters to you)
After those you just add anything else you feel is important. Maybe just a General Info section at the bottom as well. If you want to get fancy, noting which chapters they appear in can help with editing later on. One I do really like is a Speech section as it lets you keep the slang and common phrases to the right characters.

Edit: As mentioned in other threads, the free software Quoll Writer has some excellent tools for this in it as well, which while fairly basic does stuff like auto-linking names in the bios, and also pinpoints what chapters they're in (if you're using it to write as well).
 
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The Big Peat

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I sometimes use charts or sort of flow diagrams for recording how a group all feels about each other i.e. something like this



Or this

Mysteria McCoolHappy GoluckySnarko d'Cynic
Mysteria McCoolNice kid, pleasure to be aroundFunny for five seconds, annoying for more
Happy GoluckyWow! I wish I looked this coolWow! I wish I was this witty
Snarko d'CynicI wonder who they killedLike. A. *******. Puppy.

I've also tried excel spreadsheets that track the Scenes in a book so I can quickly see who did what important and plot changing things where, i.e.

SceneTypeSummaryPoVPlotKingLove
1​
SKings party escaping palace and after argument, take prisoners with themNicegirlOpen. This is revolt and king must fleeShock; able to command when rousedMeet. Instant Distrust.

And I've also messed with Character Profile Templates including the most vital information, as an alternate/appendix to those quick paragraphs - sometimes it's easier to pull the relevant stuff quickly from a template, and sometimes having values you have to enter gets you thinking about the right things.

How useful have they been? Some. They mainly exist to trigger memories, and I'm lazy about filling them in when I say I will - a lot of the info is still in the head. Really, whatever way is easiest for you to read info, should be the first place to look for how to put down notes, and putting down notes of some sort is usually the best technique.
 

Kerrybuchanan

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I'm also a panster, and I tend to make handwritten notes as I go about anything that needs remembering, e.g. mannerisms, etc. Otherwise, I just grow my characters and let them tell me what they'll do in response to the stuff I throw at them. Often, they surprise me.

I'm currently writing a series of crime novels commissioned by my publisher, so I have to make sure I have tight continuity for the core characters. I'll probably get around to putting everything in a database at some stage, but for now it's different colour highlighter pen for different characters.
 

Toby Frost

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That sounds interesting! Can you tell us anything about the crime novels (hopefully without derailing the thread too much!)?
 

Kerrybuchanan

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Hi Toby. Briefly, I was offered a three book contract earlier this year by Joffe Books on the basis of my stand-alone crime novel (Knife Edge). They liked the detectives in the book and wanted a series with the same detectives going forward. I finished writing Book 2 (Small Bones) in late October and immediately began the next one, Close Hauled. Knife Edge was due to be published this month, but when the publisher realised I'd soon have books two and three ready, they decided to postpone until Feb/March next year so they can release all three books close together.

After five years writing fantasy and SF, dabbling in crime makes an interesting change!
 

hawksflyhigh

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Hi Toby. Briefly, I was offered a three book contract earlier this year by Joffe Books on the basis of my stand-alone crime novel (Knife Edge). They liked the detectives in the book and wanted a series with the same detectives going forward. I finished writing Book 2 (Small Bones) in late October and immediately began the next one, Close Hauled. Knife Edge was due to be published this month, but when the publisher realised I'd soon have books two and three ready, they decided to postpone until Feb/March next year so they can release all three books close together.

After five years writing fantasy and SF, dabbling in crime makes an interesting change!
does your book delve into fantasy world crimes with elves & dragons? :)
 

Biskit

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I'm another pantser and I mostly just keep it all in my head, unless it's something complex like the current wip where I make a few notes to keep track of continuity. It's amazingly easy to have the assassin sipping a beer with the target she killed a few chapters back.
 

tinkerdan

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I have an odd way of doing it.
I get it all into the story.
I print that.
Then I have a hard copy to refer to, if I really have trouble remembering what, who, when, how and so forth.

I now have 5 published books for reference and I keep copies right next to the computer.

However there are plenty of programs people use here to do this type of stuff.

Hang tight, they will arrive soon.
 

The Big Peat

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dabbling in crime makes an interesting change!
Now there's a great quote out of context.

I'm another pantser and I mostly just keep it all in my head, unless it's something complex like the current wip where I make a few notes to keep track of continuity. It's amazingly easy to have the assassin sipping a beer with the target she killed a few chapters back.
The continuity is the real kicker.

Although, honestly, given what I've read of your books that'd straight up not surprise me as a scene.
 

BT Jones

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Being the king of spreadsheets that am I, I have a master Excel spreadsheet called Gospel 2020 that has about 10 tabs (individual worksheets) on it. I have a 3000 line event list covering 100-odd years and all 10 of the intended stories in my series, sortable by faction, date, location, etc. I have a tab for chapter-by-chapter progression recording; chapter name; word count; character perspective; style / mood / tone; revelations; mysteries; key events 1-5, and then a series of columns for each of my characters and how their perspectives / attitudes are evolving. I also have another detailed character bio tab with DOB, height, weight, appearance, place of birth, family history, character, real-world inspirational references (where applicable) and other stuff.

This approach might not work for everyone but it helps me no end to keep track of everything, particularly parallel events with different character groups. Its a job in itself to maintain, and I still change my mind on things from time to time, but it really does help to have these things mapped out in advance, particularly character arcs.
 

sknox

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Hm. "Keeping track of characters." Much depends on what you mean by keeping track. What's happening that is causing you to feel you are losing track? How does that manifest?

Some things are straightforward. Is this character human or elf or what? If there's any sort of chronology involved, when do events happen for this character? That sort of thing is readily kept. For me, it's character pages inside my Scrivener project. Names (which will slip around on me during writing), physical appearance, etc.

Some things are less straightforward. For example, this character's relations with other characters. My MC might regard Character X a certain way, but others have a different opinion and, depending the POV of the story, the reader might have yet another opinion. Moreover, some relationships will change over time--in those cases, I'll have an entry about character arc.

And some things just plain can't be captured. How a character talks. How she reacts in a certain situation or around certain people. Tics. Many of these details only develop during writing. Ideally, I make additional notes as these develop. I do not live in an ideal world.

Finally, my own notions about characters (and plot and all the rest of the wretched business) evolve over time. I have found that no matter what I write, no matter how carefully I plan, at some point I'll be looking at a character file and think "no, that's not it at all." I usually wind up writing new notes below the old ones, just in case it turns out I have yet another change of heart. It happens.

In short, I am resigned to keeping track of my characters more or less like a parent keeps track of their teenage children. We have a rough idea of what and how they're doing, who their friends are, and we more or less assume they're still in the same city. Until they aren't.
 

reiver33

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All in my head, apart from some critical path analysis to ensure that characters have time to do what they’ve said they’ve done when they meet up again
 

jd73

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With this asinine lockdown going on, I am really frustrated and wanted to write my story to express this frustration.
But in crafting my tale, my characters are starting to become more and more complex. I am not sure if there is a good way to keep track of them rather than just writing long paragraphs about each character etc. Do you use any tools? or techniques? charts? graphs?
My approach is pretty much the same way I keep track of my non-imaginary friends: I know them, I hang out with them; I've spent a lot of time with them and been through the wars with them in many cases. I admit, I'm not much use in battle but I try to chronicle events reasonably legibly. Though I guess I do keep the odd note here and there.
 
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