Writers: Who’s dead and other important details

When writing, keeping track of things is important.  This is especially true when it comes to your characters.  You never know when it will be important to recall the date someone died and you don’t want to accidentally change your character’s physical attributes.  Those kind of problems can cause a break in continuity for your readers.

To avoid looking back through all my writing when describing a character, I created a spread sheet to save my sanity.  It was a cheap (a.k.a. free) and easy solution to organize the characters in my stories.people-list-image

I call it my People List spread sheet and if you are interested, here are copies in Open Office and Excel formats.

Inside the spread sheet, I keep track of several items.  The person’s physical characteristics, their names, titles, which books they have appeared in, any notes about how I described someone, etc.  The notes section helps me to remember that I said someone had a “strong chin” or that “they looked about with a nervous twitch.”  I don’t record details that I will only use once, but something that is defining about the character will end up there.

Another item I built into this spread sheet is a date tracker.  At the top of the sheet, I put in the current date in my story and by including all the birth dates and death dates for everyone, I can know instantly how old a person is (or would be on that date) and how old they were when they died.  Additionally, I can put in future effective deaths (us writers never plan our character’s demise in advance, no, never) and when the date has passed, the row will turn red to let me know they died on or before the current date. (I broke the dates up into separate values because for fantasy and scfi writing, you may have a non-standard calendar and the separate fields supports a wider range of possibilities.)

It is not super fancy, but it is something I have used for several years and I thought I would share this tool.  It would be easy to add columns and expand or change the list of things that are tracked.  Let me know if you decide to use it and if you come up with any special enhancements.