Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memos for Plotting

Among other things, today is "National Memo Day." A memo, or in its original, longer form, memorandum, is defined as "a short note designating something to be remembered, especially something to be done or acted upon in the future; reminder."

As a non-plotter, it's important to keep track of ideas, clues, story reveals, character development and all the myriad details that keep those dreaded plot holes and continuity errors at bay.

Some writers use lengthy outlines, some jot notes on legal pads, some use voice recordings (I know one author who dictates all his novels while hiking), some keep a separate document file, or use a program like Scrivener to help them keep track of their stories.

I use a foam core board and sticky notes, and it's as close as I can get to plotting.

There's no particular ordering of my notes. If I place a clue in chapter 6, I'll note it on my board. Then, when it's dealt with, I can toss the note. As the book progresses, my board gets emptier, unlike my story tracking board, which gets fuller. (But that's another topic.)

And, as a non-plotter, I don't know a lot about my story at the beginning. As I write a scene, or, more likely, when my critique partners give me their feedback, I might realize that Adam should have a laptop. Or that Derek's ranch is losing money. Or who put the envelope in Sabrina's coat pocket?
Character ideas get noted as well, such as Derek's love for big words, so I can remember to adjust his dialogue as needed. And, since I write mystery-themed books, there are always clues and questions that crop up. I don't want readers wondering what happened to that gun on the mantel in chapter three. (Chekov's gun rule).

Or worse, why there's a dog in chapter one, and he hasn't appeared again and I'm writing chapter thirty-six. My board will have lots of question notes, because I'm always asking myself why or how something could happen. Some of them need to be answered sooner than others, but at least there's less of a chance of me forgetting to deal with them. And, when the writing slogs, it's nice to have a reminder that you haven't mentioned what kind of a car Merry has, and that's a quick and easy fix.

I do prefer to keep moving forward, but I also prefer to fix problems before they're going to require dealing with a 350 page manuscript. There are always times when I'm waiting on research, or have only a short block of time to work. That's when I can look at my board, and go back and deal with some of my notes. Like getting Charlie the dog into a few more scenes.

How do you keep track of your story?

(And, on another note, I have a new release, Deadly Production, and I'm offering it at the introductory price of 99 cents through the end of May.)

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.


  1. I am a plotter, so I have a conflict outline to start with. I keep all of my files organized on my computer in folders and keep notes etc. that way. In my non-writing life, I rely on sticky notes. I should probably buy stock in whoever manufactures them. :)

    1. Just thinking of your process makes me want to run outside and scream, Diana, but there is no "right" way to write a book. We all find what works for us.

  2. I'm not a plotter, and I rarely make notes unless it's something I think I might forget. I do make notes of names of secondary characters. On my last book, while going over it, I had my heroine mention how cold it was for the season, then a few pages later she goes out onto the balcony--same day--and it's hot. I'm glad I caught that one, but I doubt I would have noted that even if I kept notes. I try to live the story and become the characters as I write. That seems to work for me if I can keep writing. My problem is if I stop or get distracted from the flow of the story, which seems to be happening more lately.

    1. Polly, I agree that total immersion in the story is a boon, but since I'd been away from this MS for some time while getting Deadly Production through final edits, etc., I needed those reminders. And, as I get older, those "I'll remember this" thoughts seem to disappear into the mist.

    2. So agree about that getting older thing. Hate it, but it's true.

  3. I have tons of notes on my desk, and can't always find the ones I want. Right now, for my WIP, I typed out some stuff I need to remember, and I've also been writing on the page, and slipping in notes when I'm in a hurry.

    1. I know what you mean about disappearing notes. My post it boards help avoid some of that.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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