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Data Management in Writing


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In my latest project I've got more than a hundred named characters.

Insanity!? Probably but, that's how I roll. Goofy bastard.

So... how do you keep track of it all? It's a struggle.

These are the tricks I'm using and, the pros and cons of each.

1. Dramatis Persona... word document

This worked Ok until it got to sixteen pages with notes and pointers to other entries. Then it became too complex and cumbersome to easily work well. It lost the virtue of simplicity when it was overloaded  with more and more complex and unformed information.

This is what it looked like at first:

Chris Ashley (19) == Father Ashley (n)

Tony Ramano (18) == Mother Maria Ramano (n)

Toby Rankin (13) (d) == Father Sam Rankin (deceased)

Brandon Rankin (14)(d) == Father Sam Rankin (deceased)

Jeb Somerset (15)(d)  == parents Somersets of Savannah

Cole Matthews (14)(d) == Father new age fruitcake

Barry Anderson (13) (d) == trafficked child, actual name is Cutler

You don't want to know what happened later. Each entry expanded from name, age, shift (day or night), parent to paragraphs and description and sketches and why the F* are my notes outpacing the writing???

This still exists but it has been trimmed down to only what is needed at a glance. Just basic stats. If I need hair and eye color... Well that's my next step.


2. Dramatis Persona... note cards

Anybody that's ever written a paper knows about note cards and how handy dandy they are. They were hyper-text before there were computers, right?

WRONG. Three by five note cards are amazing things. They help in lots of ways... until they become a horrific cluster of complexity and you can't find your arse with a flash light.

Once again, Keep it simple, stupid. Index cards work but, you can't expect them to be a database.

They are useful for marching ideas across the desk, matching up characters and seeing how things look. If you keep them simple and don't try to do too much with them, it works FINE.

Keep it simple and, it works best if you can remember how to write. (That's actually a thing- handwriting vs keyboarding).


3. Dramatis Persona... spreadsheet- for the win.

Yes it is a clear winner. It's searchable. You can make fields for EVERYTHING. Want to search by how many redheaded characters you have? It's possible. Want to sort by age? You can do it. Want to know who is boffing who? Yeppers, it's a complete possibility.

There are highly complex writing packages that you could spend forever learning and not get anything done. Databases are possible but if you can do that, someone wants to hire you to fix the mess his last guy left.

Spreadsheets are old tech and have been around forever. The key thing about them is they are built generically enough that as your complexity grows, it can accommodate you without breaking anything or having to start over.


Your mileage may vary. If you've got a sane number of characters, data management isn't a huge issue. You may absolutely love Scrivner and have figured out how to make it all work. That's fine. If you can use Excel, you've got a serious power tool.





Edited by jamessavik
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I prefer post-it notes, my screen is only 8" so having a spreadsheet open in half a window doesn't really work too well :D

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I've got a two monitor set up with a 22" and 20" screen (that's 55.8 cm and 50.8 cm to metric folk)

I use one to write and the other has email, spreadsheet and browser I can pull up without taking my eyes off the ball.

Now, it the cats behave, I might have this next chapter posted soon.


Edited by jamessavik
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@jamessavik there is always someone with a bigger one :D but I couldn't carry that around with me and hold it in the palm of my hand and take it out anywhere even outside 😜  Funny thing about screen sizes, but they are quoted in inches even in Europe (with a metric conversion) - don't ask me why!

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  • 1 month later...
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I've been using World Anvil... https://www.worldanvil.com/

But I have a entire Sci-Fi and Fantasy Worlds to keep track of in addition to characters, plots and timelines.

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