Saturday, November 30, 2013

This Is A New (to me) Approach for Keeping On Track When Writing an Historical Novel

 How I'm Using An Excel Spreadsheet To Keep Track Of Dates and Times, Relevant History and My Characters  

Ned Barnett

Let's face it - if you write an epic historical novel, you've got to figure out some way of keeping track of everything.  The alternative involves relying on the Mark One - Mod 1 Organic Memory Storage Unit (the brain), and sometimes, I'm convinced that memory is the second thing to go ... and I can no longer remember what the first thing is.

OK, last bad pun.  Promise.

I've developed something new to me (obviously not to others, though I haven't heard of it before) to help me with my massive-and-growing historical novel about the start and first year of the War in the Pacific (WW-II).  The book is:

"Year One - Pacific ... Aerial Combat from Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal ... and Beyond"

It is also currently at 1,977 pages, or 669,961 words - which is why I'm publishing sections - some of them mini-books of 150 or more pages - on Amazon:

To help me keep track of everything, I have already created an extensive bibliography to help me remember of what I've read in the way of research (it helps when i need to go back and clarify a point of historical fact).  In addition, I've already put together a 70-page collection of character bios (so when I return to a character after 750 pages or so, I can remember who they are).

However, starting last night, I've been using Excel to create a timeline - from the 1890s through WW-II and even beyond to Korea - and for each character, I'm putting down what they did on a given year, or month, day - or (for some hectic days like December 7 or June 4), parts of days. 

At the top of the page, in a line that is always at the top of the page (it took me a couple of hours to figure out how to do that), is the date and the historical events that took place on that date (September 1, 1939, Hitler invades Poland, launching WW-II in Europe).  Then, for each character in turn, if he or she did something important on that date, I add it in.

Already I see a couple of benefits.  First, I'm seeing characters who I'd created for just one scene, who could easily be involved in other parts of the book.  Since the interconnectedness of the characters is important (if you've read anything by WEB Griffin or Tom Clancy, you know what I mean by that).  Next, I'm spotting critical dates and historical events that are not included in the book. Yet.

I offer this as an insight that other writers of historical fiction (or, for that matter, any fiction), might find useful.  If you do, please drop me a line and let me know - and if you've got a better way, HELP!  I'm wide open.


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