Thursday, June 30, 2011

Your Organization Is Touching My Chaos!

Continuity is a bug-a-boo of mine in a novel series. Be consistent with your history & descriptions of a particular character or place or event. This is something I strive for in my writing, especially in the large series I am working on. If an author chooses to change a character's description, change hair color or the like, I can accept that.- provided there is an explanation for the change in the books. Don't make him sandy blond in one book, and have him dark haired two books later, without giving a reason why.

TV shows and lesser movies often give no thought to continuity. This bothers me, but not nearly as it does in print. I've seen good and bad examples of continuity in published print.

The Bad: I once read a book (which suffered severely from bad editing, or none at all. Really, it was a train wreck.) where the dog's name changed completely from one paragraph to the next. Not two dogs. One dog. Two names in two successive paragraphs. I keep this book as an example of what NOT to have printed with my name on the cover.

The Good: The various Star Wars novels that have come out over the last twenty years (well over a hundred, closer to two hundred) have shared an amazing consistency, given the fact that they are written by dozens of authors. Added to that are the 6 movies, the tv series, and the video games the individual units of LucasFilms has released, it becomes an even more impressive feat.

I've seen problems in my own writing. When you've got parts of a dozen different novels (or more, I lost count), plus several short stories floating around that are all in the same shared universe (and across a large span of time) it gets to be too cumbersome to keep everything in your head AND keep it straight. I have one alien species that I kept flip-flopping the ending of the species name from -in to -inian. Planet names that were written -ax in one piece, -axia in another.

I don't have George Lucas' money to hire my own continuity editing staff. Yet. Until then, I have to do it the hard way- myself! To combat this, I started a document to track all the references, characters, ship names, locations, ect that were going into my series. This isn't an entirely new idea, other writers no doubt do the same, with character bibles, three-ring binders, and whatnot. I call mine a compendium, and I went a little more thorough with mine.

I included things like a list of sector names (important because I give a header block for each new chapter giving the location, ship name the characters may be on, ect), a time-line of the major events so I can keep the history straight, and a reference guide for me to remind myself which projects use a given character, or reference. I broke all my references down into alphabetical order for easier searching. Here's an example page from the X-Corps Compendium:

A genetically engineered species. Rhinocerosi were two meters tall, bipedal and weighed approximately one ton each. Jailen Devorax took a rhinoceros DNA sample from ancient Terra, and had the DNA manipulated to grow himself a private body guard force. (RP)

Rowantree, Captain Rosina
Captain of the Starcorp vessel Starcorp Merchant. Barely 1.5 meters tall, with mousy brown hair tied up in an efficient if not exactly inventive bun, Rowantree had been moved over from the Starcorp Accountant fleet to command of the Starcorp Merchant shortly before the ship was raided by the Chorros de Corazón. (TAH)

RP Freight Line­
Render Paxon’s independent freight company. (RP)

- S -

Sánchez, Captain Ramón Juan Álvarez de la Vega
Captain of the privateer ship Chorros de Corazón. He was of Portuguese descent, with a darkly tanned skin that was a genetic gift from his ancient ancestors. He wore a goatee beard and a short pony tail of jet black hair that gave him a rakish, almost piratical air. A practical man, Sánchez operated on the principal that you never ruin that which you can raid again in the future. A stern but fair authority figure, Sánchez played no favorites and accepted no shirkers among his crew. (TAH)

Sanchez, House
Sanchez was the second smallest of the surviving houses to form from DrummondCo. Sanchez was named for Juan Raul Julio Sanchez, the head of the marketing division. House colors were white and orange. During Operation Telegraph the house was one of the major alliance members, pushing their spin-ward border well into former House Merker space, adding several systems to house control. (HSPP1,6,7)

Schwecshheimmer, Fregattenkapitän Fritz “Quicksilver”
Commanding officer of the Merker Navy aerospace fighter squadron Hell Hounds on board the carrier Cerberus during the first two years of the Fourth Border War between Merker and Donov. Fritz was killed in an ambush during a Merker attack on an unmanned border observation post in an uninhabited system. (HSPP1)

I broke it down this way: Entries are alphabetical (by last names for characters). Ship names are alphabetical by the name of the ship, omitting 'The' from a title. The (parenthetical) bit at the end of the entry is my project reference code, so I can track and update references. Some entries appear in more than one project. For example, House Sanchez is mentioned in books 1, 6, and 7 of the Hunt Starfire series.

I started this document for my own self-reference. It's grown into a document over12,000(!) words long at the moment. I'm sure that by the time I get all of these projects written, and hopefully published, the Compendium will be the size of a novel itself!

So, there it is. There's my organizational tip for anyone who's doing extensive world building or writing a series. If you have any tips, feel free to comment and share them!


  1. First, I really need to put something together like this for a couple of projects I'm working on. Especially my epic fantasy novel, since the world building for that is so intense. I also have a 13-book werewolf series that I need to semi plan out. The rest are trilogies, with exception to the Kick-Ass Girls Club novels.

    Second, you really shouldn't get me started on the consistency issues in the Star Wars movies. I'm talking only movies here. George should have watched his own movies before writing the newer episodes. LOL

  2. You had mentioned a multi-book series you were working on, and I had you in mind when I wrote this up.

    The inconsistencies between movies 4,5,&6 and 1,2, & 3 I think can be chalked up to a couple of things. 1) George was purposely vague when he referred to anything that ended up happening in Ep 1-3. 2) Stories told from memory can change over the years. Obi Wan was trying to protect Luke from his heritage, and so he was tilting the truth. Therefore, it could seem inconsistent after 20+ years.

  3. I haven't made a compendium/bible/ect for my world. I think I've lived in it long enough that I just KNOW (also, I don't have quite the number of spin-offs and such that most do :P). That world is like home to me, so it's just like knowing the people at home that I interact with everyday.

    New books though? I would probably need some sort of cheat-sheet to get through those without messing up :)

    Last, I agree with wrytersblock01: "Stories told from memory can change over the years." I use this a lot in my back-story - it's like a game of telephone. Things are going to change, no matter how much people try to keep it consistent.

  4. (Changed my display name, I'm Wrytersblock01)
    Sticynote, I carried around this universe in my head and some scattered notes for 17-18 years before finally starting the Compendium. How liberating! Not only did I clear head-space, I also picked up a few new story/novel ideas!

  5. Fabulous advice! I've started to keep terribly unsophisticated notes to track my world building, but I love the notion of one's own little alphabetized wiki.

  6. It's amazing what it does for your organization, and creativity. I had a throw-away reference in one piece,less than 10 or 12 words, that turned into a 4 line entry after I thought about what the thing was and what had caused it.

  7. I've begun to morph into a plotter and am hard at work finishing the outline for my MIP (already about 2/3 of the way finished but in need of some fixes). I plan to have at least a duology if not a trilogy and so will need a more extensive outline, perhaps even a story bible. I've discovered a lot of backstory that needs writing.