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

Teresa Edgerton

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My characters do grow more complex as the writing goes on, but it's not like it goes on behind my back. I'm there to see it and experience it; it becomes part of me as it becomes part of them. And like my own children, I have known them all their lives. I don't need to consult a piece of paper or a computer file to remember facts about their personalities. Except that unlike my own children—who as they grow older can do things and develop relationships and have experiences that might change them when/where I'm not looking—none of this can happen to my characters unless I say so, unless I was there.

I think the problem stated in the title of this thread only applies to writers who do most of their work on their characters before they start writing. They make up character charts full of details they don't remember later because they wrote it all down before they had time and opportunity to really grow acquainted with their character. When you start out knowing only a few things about a character and let them develop organically as the story progresses, there is nothing to lose track of, because it doesn't exist until you know it, and once you do, you really, really know it. My characters do sometimes surprise me, because I don't always know what they are going to do until they do it, don't always know what they are going to say until they say it, but I don't have to consult my notes to find out if it was right, because such occasions always feel inevitable once they happen—like I didn't know about it consciously before, but on some level I did know that was what they would do and say in that kind of situation.
 

Karn's Return

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Honestly, for my style, it tends to get pretty complicated. My main characters are all a dynasty family, with cousins, twins, and various things going on, over the span of a few generations. (A sadly short-lived dynasty in the scheme of things, but an influential one.)

And then there's others. Ancient noble family lines dating back thousands of years, though mostly Elven in Tolkein style, such things are really not as spectacular as they might seem. Trying to capture some of the old magic, if you'll pardon the expression, of the days of LotR and the like.

Point is, best way, make a glossary of character entries if you have to, with detailed description of all relations and relationships between one another as well as their background and shape. It'll help cement things in your memory, help you be able to reflect on it all and make needed changes, and even just perhaps be fun. Even if nothing comes of it...*Looks downward shamefully*
 

DLCroix

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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.

Hi! I want to hang a bit from this because a similar situation of plot evolution happened to me. For example, last week a character, a ten-year-old boy, was rescued by rebel soldiers along with other children from an imperial home where imperial officers arrive all the time and sometimes they take up to half of the children who knows for what, but surely one of the motivations is to supply perverse networks of slave trafficking and even pedophiles. The point is, that kid was assigned a godmother or something.
But only now, a week later, the reason why they assigned that godmother to that child appeared and that it actually corresponds to a dispute between two women who love that boy (in a maternal way but also in the another) and one of them, so that the other woman would not stay with him, appealing to the Law and to her privilege of nobility (imagine a she Roman domina, with military power and others), demanded that that boy be assigned that godmother or tutor, since the another woman is also a military and given the danger they run all the time, she is prohibited by law from exercising maternal tutoring.
Now, what is all that long explanation about? To the conclusion that no matter how deep or detailed your outline is, plots definitely tend to change over time, because as part of the very mental process of creating a story, the brain does not throw all the answers at you right away; somehow he also learns with the days and is throwing you conclusions as he finds them.
Therefore, my recommendation is that the scheme must have some flexibility so that it can resist those changes that you do not know will appear but they will, in fact, so that later you will not be forced to change too many things as a result of the variants that are they are producing.

But I think that in terms of character sheets it is convenient to have some annotation, but depending on whether they are going to be projected forward or not.
For example, in the case of that maternal dispute (and the another) of that officer woman and the noblewoman interested in that ten-year-old boy, even in the text I show by way of internal thought that the military woman is 30 years old in 1240 while the noblewoman has 25. Then, in 6 more years, that is, in 1246 (the year in which the division of the Imperial Army began to become clearer, with surgical blows that could only had be plotted by their own intelligence), for both it will be legal even require the refugee in marriage. But in 1250 not even the rebels will be able to believe when they see on the screens huge ships raising their battle flags, an army they never expected to have on their side, so I am still studying if I put those two women in one side or the other. Maybe they should forget their differences and join forces to fight together, I don't know, when the brain gives me the visual image (I always see the best fragments as scenes from a movie), I guess I'll have it clearer.
Therefore, these details should be noted down, because it allows us to make a following, say, historical. It avoid us the confusion and the dizziness of digging through the pages to see where I wrote this or that thing. Especially if your WIP is a river saga or novel with many characters.
 
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Steve Harrison

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I don't bother with notes or keeping track, because there's no need. I constantly revise and edit throughout a novel, so the characters and their relationships become more complex and layered and, during the writing process, effectively become as real as the people and relationships in my own life, as I spend so much time with them.
 

apocalypsegal

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I write a sort of story bible as I go along, making notes of anything I think I'll need to check on later. I've done a table, just paragraphs, even started an Excel sheet once. As a pantser, I don't really do anything ahead of time, it kills the story for me.

The trick to it all is to try different things, find what works for you, and do that.
 

Thiswriterinme

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I saw a lot of posts for people who describe themselves as Pantsers. I am a proud Plantser, meaning I take aspects of both the Pantser and Planner writing approaches (as well as some of my own). I agree with what @Teresa Edgerton said about letting characters develop organically through the writing, but that doesn't mean you can't flesh them out with histories and backgrounds, including experiences and relationships, that were established prior to where your story starts. Those details shouldn't be 100% fixed though (with the exception of historical details that can't be changed).

When it comes to keeping my own characters organized, I use Scrivner. It is my favorite writing software and has really helped me keep my worlds and stories figured out. So, when I create a character, I have a template that lets me create their physical features, base personality, pre-established relationships, and some key historical events in their lives. It isn't meant to be long, in-depth, or all inclusive. It is literally just a starting point. Most don't take up more than a single Word Document page. In fact, a lot of that information never surfaces in my stories, but it helps me establish their personalities and opens possibilities for them in my writing.

As I write, the character develops, evolves, and changes in accordance with plot development, new experiences, and new relationships. However, I don't go back and change my initial character profile to match character development. This is where Scrivner becomes an invaluable tool. If there are major events in my book that lead to important character development moments, I can just insert a link into the character profile to that chapter or scene. I can also make notes on a side pane of the character profile for any notable development. Generally, I won't make notes or add links unless I am writing a series of books and want to carry those developments over into the next installment. My template also allows me to keep track of character relationships in the same way, by linking to other character profiles, or scenes that define a newly developed relationship.

Scrivener is also great because it allows you to split-screen. I can write in a chapter and have a character profile up at the same time if I need the reference point for writing that character. My books tend to have a lot of characters, and I can't always keep track of physical features and personality traits, especially for minor characters that only surface now and then. Having the split-screen feature allows me to get the details accurately when it is needed. This promotes consistency fr each character, regardless of how often they appear in the story.

I think the important thing to keep in mind is, you don't have to completely rewrite your character profile as they develop and create new relationships, maybe just add notations as needed so you can keep it organized and consistent. Also, just because you put something in a character profile/sheet doesn't mean it has to be included in your text if it isn't relevant to the story. Characters should be multidimensional, that's what makes them real and relatable. Think of it like this: when you meet someone new, you don't know everything about them, nor do you learn everything about their lives or who they are, unless you become lifelong friends. Even then, you might not know everything. That doesn't mean the history isn't there or doesn't inform who they are as a person. Characters are the same, which is why a lot of writers like to have some kind of fleshed-out history even if only for themselves.
 

msstice

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Like many people I use a combination of intuitive and analytic methods. As I write more, things become clearer, new ideas form, old ideas are discarded. I write down character development ideas as a memory jog. These notes can change (be overwritten). I just use them as an extension of my brain.

I like Brandon Sanderson's approach (which is fairly common). I analyze which of my characters are stalling because of development, I jot down what kind of goals and competencies my characters seem to have. By noting these down, my thinking sharpens. I go back to the text and see what needs to be changed.

For me writing is a very iterative process.
 
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