(I still use Excel for Excel things because plain text spreadsheets aren’t really a thing–which is a shame. But I do use plain text for my to-do list, which is turning out well.)
I use a format called Markdown, which I’ve rambled about before, but I wanted to post about how I organize a file overall.
The nice thing about this format is this will work in any program–Word to plain text–as it is just a manner of organization. Now to be clear, this is primarily my working file, and while you can use this as a final with some tweaks (for a later post), for now think of this as what you are using to draft.
The layout is simple, really. I put the infonotes at the top, break, and the story, with a slight tail of word storage at the end. A blank layout would look like this:
Title: (title here) Author: (my name) To-Do Summary Characters Locations Notes Story Archive
To use this, all you would need do is copy/paste that into a fresh document. These headings (which I usually format as Heading 1 just for visual effect), provide a skeleton to the file, and some guidance to the chaos that usually filled my stories.
The To-do section is as it sounds. I’ll make a list of items for the future. If I am feeling proper, I’ll use todo.txt formatting. I’ll mark done items with an “X” in front
# To do - change main character’s name - move the setting from Mars to London - look up fashion from 1870’s @library X read about Inuit and Aleut +mythology
I use the same formatting both for the Characters and Locations sections: a Heading 2 style for the name of the character / place, and then followed by a description (or important details)
# Characters ## Victor Frankenstein Smart guy, but kind of a jerk. He knows what he wants, and isn’t afraid to go get it. Love interest of main character. Blue eyes, tall, hiding a bald spot. ## Jean Renee Lone wolf type character, she is traveling but won’t say to where (Stockholm). carries a blade in her umbrella. (or really an umbrella on her blade.) likes crepes # Locations ## Victor’s House London, 85 Baker street. There is an exit out the side only he knows about, and a secret basement he doesn’t ## Warf Three pubs, Ego Alley, Jones’ and The Lost Lady
For characters, you can set them up in groups. I had a military story, for example, and had them sectioned off by fire squad and rank to keep the names straight. Have ships? group them based on who is on what boat.
Locations, same idea–organize by city, then location; by planet, then continent; chronologically by when they come up in the story. However you want.
Notes is free form for a reason: sometimes you need free form. I’ll usually try to space them out by headings or white space, but overall, anything goes here.
Story is just that. Write here like you always do.
Archive is for things I wrote which, naturally, are brilliant, but for whatever reason don’t fit into the story. This is an archive of deleted sentences and paragraphs I want to keep, but not be a part of the published text.
And that’s it.
This structure allows me to have the spread of information I want. I can open a file and world build, or I can write away, knowing that I can keep things that don’t work as well.
The best part? This isn’t a program. So if something isn’t working, it is easily adjusted. For example, you are writing a short story, set in a single location, BUT the main character is a chef, so you have to keep recipes handy? Scratch ‘Location’ and ‘Recipes’ it is. Change things to work for you.
Now some may say, isn’t this what Scrivener does? Why not just use that? And yes, there are similarities in ideas. I do own Scrivener, and while I love it, not everything I write fits into its scope. Scrivener is a big app, and offers a lot of functionality, and sometimes you just need a single file.
This text file I can store in my dropbox and work on anywhere–on my phone, my computer. It is small, light, easy to read and future proof and completely customizable. I don’t have to fight a program to get something I want, just change a header.
And then get back to writing.