Chaos & lists.
I’ve mentioned before (probably more times than necessary) how generally disorganized I am when it comes to writing. I can’t plan, I can’t outline, I can’t see from one chapter to the next most of the time. Heck, I can’t even stick to writing chapters sequentially. I have to use a dry-erase board to keep track of everybody so they don’t wander off the edge of the map when they’re not supposed to. They wander enough as it is.
Luckily, that’s just what goes on during the first draft. Once it’s done, the retroactive organization starts, and I just read a stellar example of why keeping a record of the events in your series is a must.
I’m rereading another series, and quite a few books in, the main character mentions, in an aside, that a particular criminal from a previous book is still on the loose. Except he can’t be, because he died in that previous book. It wasn’t like an, “Ah ha! Somehow, he survived!” — there was no missing body, no weirdness. The guy definitely died. It was like the author just forgot that this particular character had been killed off.
I’ve run into discrepancies before. Minor characters whose names mysteriously changed between books, a newborn baby girl that turned into a newborn baby boy in the next book, entire sequences of events that characters have inexplicably forgotten about entirely — it’s jarring when it happens, no matter how minor it is. I really don’t want to do that myself if I can avoid it, so I started a file.
Here’s the thing: when it comes to basically anything else, I tend to go a little overboard when it comes to planning, rules, structure… my fiction-writing process may be a hot mess, but my spreadsheets are both copious and a little frightening. I can’t comfortably leave the house without very precise forward planning, which is why the slightest deviation in my morning routine leads to chaos. It’s why my head goes full-blown Exorcist when we go to the movies and I find out that you smuggled in a can of soda. It’s why I can’t go grocery shopping without risking spikes in my blood pressure and/or confrontations with strangers. (There are RULES, people. Don’t park your cart in the middle of the aisle so that no one can get by, don’t let your kid use stacks of bread as stepladders, and don’t leave an entire pack of children in the bathroom without supervision when you know darned well that they’re always one step away from going all Lord of the Flies on your ass.)
Ahem. Where was I? Right. I started a file. Names, descriptions, actions, affiliations, motivations, lies, suspicions, what certain characters think happened vs. what actually happened (and sometimes, what actually actually happened) — the file gets bigger every day. I could have made this whole thing easier on myself if I hadn’t created an entire cast of characters who can basically… erm, never mind. That would be a spoiler. But trust me, I made it a heck of a lot more difficult on myself to keep track of all this stuff.
If you find yourself writing a series, you can’t assume that you’ll remember every last detail two years down the road. I can’t, anyway. Which seems strange, right? I mean, if you made it up to begin with, of course you’ll remember it all later. Just like you’ll always remember where you put your keys…
I can’t take that chance. Starting a history at the beginning is a heck of a lot easier than getting two or three books in and then trying to piece it all together after the fact. I may end up goofing at some point (it’s entirely possible that I already have), but it won’t be for lack of effort. And by effort, I mean lists. Lots and lots of lists.