Timelines and Series Bibles
When I got a two-book contract after having written only a single book in my romantic suspense series, I found myself presented with several problems. First: a deadline. After all, I'd taken forever to write the first book, and I couldn't do that with the second. And second, I had to remember everything from the first book so that I didn't contradict it in the second.
I slid through that by the skin of my teeth, but with the next contract it became clear that I needed a more comprehensive setup. Here are the two tools I rely on:
For every scene of a Scrivener manuscript, I annotate the day and date. This gives me a visual overview of the timeline when I am outlining or roughing in scenes. (If you're not a scrivener user, you can do this by turning on commenting in Word and giving yourself comments in the margins that say things like "Sunday July 14, 8am" or whatever. Then you can skim down the margin to make sure all days are accounted for.)
Of course, Scrivener does more than time tracking for me. I also have a full series "Bible" where all my characters in the series are described, their backgrounds, likes, dislikes, scars and tattoos all enumerated. The character sketches contain images of actors or models who remind me of the characters so that when I am trying to figure out how someone with certain features might smile, I can check it. Forget eye color? Easy check. Where's that eagle tattoo? Oh, wait, it's not an eagle, is it?
And then there's the timeline. Before Aeon, I wasted a LOT of time plotting things on long pieces of paper. I have a tendency to write things rooted in the distant past, so I need to know several generations worth of history. This is some of the stuff that happened before the first book in my romantic suspense series...in Aeon format (click to enlarge):
Most of my romantic suspense books feature an organization called Harp Security. If you look at the timeline, you'll see that there's a Harp column at the far right. Harp was founded in 2007. You'll also see that 9/11 is a featured date. I wanted Nash Harper to buy the property in TriBeCa that houses Harp Security long before the company is founded, and I know what that area was like after 9/11. So I put in 9/11/01, and Aeon automatically calculated how long before the founding that would be (-5y on the chart). That sounded about right. If I change the founding date, all the other dates linked to Harp security will change, too.
Honestly, I don't use half the features in either Scrivener or Aeon. But even the few I do use have saved my bacon more times than I can count. So if you find yourself on your third or fourth book in a series, and suddenly freaking out about what you might need to remember for book seven, those are my two recommendations.
Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.