Advice from the pro side

Keep notes.

Keep notes from the start. Write down what the characters look like, and where things are. If you invent a town or something along those lines, make a map, even if it’s just chicken scratches on the back of an envelope.

By taking such steps, you will save yourself the effort of having to reconstruct these things by scrounging for details in the three novels, one novelette, and one novella you have already completed. And when the thing you’re trying to map is a faerie palace which (you have abundantly established) doesn’t correspond in a logical fashion to the city above it, you will be very grateful that you have saved yourself this tedious and problematic work.

If you fail to keep notes, you will use up all your scratch paper trying to find a way to make it all fit together, so you can then decide where and how to break it for the purposes of the fourth book. So be smart from the start.

In other words, don’t be like me.

0 Responses to “Advice from the pro side”

  1. moonandserpent

    I know I’m not nearly a pro, but my Evernote has whole sections devoted to my works in progress.

  2. desperance

    “Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils.” (Samuel Johnson)

    It is the subtitle of my journal. I was hoping to profit by that, but alas. I still never make notes, and spend half my writing time thumbing back…

    • Marie Brennan

      My problem is that I can keep the details in my head very well for the duration of writing a given book. It’s the whole series thing that trips me up.

  3. scottakennedy

    The other thing to add might be to keep those notes in a highly accesible format, like a paper printout or rtf files. I recall Elizabeth Moon searching for someone who could read 5.25 inch floppies in order to access her old WordStar notes when she began work on a new Parksenarrion novel a year or so ago.

    • coraa

      Yes, this!

      And backing them up, too. Which ought to go without saying… but often people who remember to religiously back up the chapter files will forget to back up the endless bits and scraps of .txt notes and saved images. (I have been in that boat.)

    • Marie Brennan

      I copied all my 3.5’s over to CD before I got rid of my last computer with a drive that could read them. I will do the same again, when the day comes that CD drives go away.

  4. coraa

    Yes! I try to do this. Not always successfully.

    Of course, there’s a fine Scylla-and-Charybdis-like dilemma between making sure you have enough notes, and spending all your time on your notes, which can turn into Worldbuilder’s Disease at its extreme ends….

  5. celestineangel

    I take notes.

    I have notes in about a hundred notebooks scattered amongst my belongings. Some of them packed away in various boxes.

    I have notes for more than one idea in the same notebook, sometimes interrupting each other.

    I have notes on my laptop.

    I have notes on my old desktop. I have notes on my new desktop.

    Basically, I have the most disorganized set of notes in the world (or at least in my state, definitely in my city, I’m sure in my house), and I barely use them because I’ve learned that oddly, everything important tends to stick once I’ve written it down once, and if it doesn’t stick, it really wasn’t all the great to begin with.

    (This, by the way, is how I got through any class in school that was based on words, not numbers, as long is the words were in English. Write notes in class, never study. My friends hated me for making such good grades without studying. At least until math and Spanish classes.)

    • Marie Brennan

      My notes were like that in school; I tended to scribble them interlinearly with my class notes. (Which I rarely re-read: like you, I found the act of taking the notes often sufficient to make me remember stuff.)

  6. mrissa

    I am the worst of both worlds here: I keep notes, and they are never the notes I meant to keep. So I will have written down that I said that someone’s eyes are blue, for example, and fail to write down that I said someone else’s are brown. Invariably the someone else is someone I will need. Or I will write down, very meticulously, where I said Tam’s grandparents were from and not where I said his brother was. Blarg.

    • Marie Brennan

      Heh. Yeah, I can see that happening. But at least I could try, y’know? And then reassure myself that at least I have notes on these other things, even if they aren’t the ones I need.

  7. shui_long

    Maybe it …err… moved?

    But given the amount of excavation the Victorians did underneath London, at some point they must have encountered some part of the Onyx Court. No doubt there’s an interesting explanation as to why they didn’t recognise it as such.

    • Marie Brennan

      It isn’t that simple; you can’t get there by sticking a shovel in the ground. The Onyx Court both does and does not exist in the ground below London.

      Sticking cast-iron pipes and such through the ground, though . . . that, my friends, causes problems for the fae.

  8. unforth

    For the historical research end of things (though not from the pro side) I’m gonna add: if you have looked something up or fact checked something already? Make sure you make it CLEAR to yourself that you’ve already done this. Otherwise, you end up looking up the same things six times…

    • Marie Brennan

      THIS. <points at it wildly>

      For me, it hits the worst at the copy-edit stage; then enough time has passed since the original lookup that it’s easy for me to forget that yes, I really do know that for sure, plus it’s my last chance to fix it before the expensive stage of page proofs.

      • unforth

        I’ve been having the same problem, because I keep taking 6 months off. So, for example, I used to mark that I’d looked them up by making a footnote with where I’d looked them up (cause I usually do this checking on the interwebs). But when I started editing last fall, I started removing the footnotes as I went. So now, I’m going to have to go back to the original file to check if I already checked, and if I haven’t checked…then I’ll check. Aargh.

        (my main problem is language: I keep having to check the etymology and usages of common current slang – the most recent example being yesterday, when I looked up “crush,” as in, “to have a crush on someone,” which turns out to date to the late 19th century and therefore be completely appropriate in 1942 – but then I don’t remember which I’ve checked, I just know that I’ve checked some, and not others……….)

        • Marie Brennan

          I don’t want to know how many times I’ve looked certain words up in the OED, because I never remember whether I’ve checked them already or not.

          So yeah. We share that particular pain. πŸ™‚

  9. aulus_poliutos

    Heh, I steal existing places for my settings, preferably places I’ve seen. No need for notes.

    I have research notes, but those hang out with the notes for my academic papers, and I’m very organised about my academic life. Writing not so much – most of the planning happens in my brain. πŸ˜‰

    • Marie Brennan

      Oddly enough, I’m more liable to make notes on London (where I can look stuff up easily if I forget it) than I do for the Onyx Court (where there are no handy book indices to help me find details when I’ve lost them).

      • aulus_poliutos

        Most of what I write is either historical fiction or alternhate historical Fantasy (think Guy Gavriel Kay or Jacqueline Carey), so I seldom make things up completely out of the blue. In case of my Roman hist fic I use the same research I also use for the academic stuff, and deliberately keep it there. Most of it sticks around in my brain anyway, and that’s where I take it from for my fiction. For the Fantasy I developed a magic system which I wrote down, and promptly had an infodump scene. I learned not to make notes other than geneaologies these days. πŸ˜‰ I’m not an outliner anyway (tried it but it doesn’t work).

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