M.A. Wohl

Writer on a Quest

I’m pretty sure every writer in the whole WORLD uses, has used or will be using a notebook.

I have been writing for many years now. Over time, I learned to create a better reference notebook or story bible (I dislike that « story bible » term, for some reason only a psychiatrist could explain I guess/hope).

A reference notebook can be a real mess, or it can be well put together. And you don’t necessarily need one. Although, when writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel, or a series of novels, I would venture and say that a reference notebook is a necessity.

I’m not gonna go « extensive possibilities » here, and produce a lexicon for creating a specific reference book for each genre out there.

First, there would be a gizzilions tons of repetitions.

Second, once the basics are there, it’s up to the writer to add the things needed that will help with, not only writing the story, but also during the editing and revising process.

A reference notebook is a work in progress. It is ever a finished thing? Not in my humble opinion !

Main elements of a reference notebook

There is as many ways to go about a reference notebook then they are writers in the world.

I’m sharing which key elements are now making it to my reference notebook, no matter what genre I choose, no matter for what audience I’m writing.

Characters

  • Time period (contemporary, in the past, in the future);
  • Name and age;
  • Family tree;
  • Family history;
  • Housing situation;
  • Neighborhood situation;
  • Friends situation;
  • Full-on backstory, from kindergarten to wherever they are when the reader first meets them.

I do that for all the usual suspects: the Hero, the Side-Kick, the Love Interest, the Vilain, the Antagonist.
The idea for me is to know as many details I can about the main characters.

Sometimes, I might write down physical details, such as a particular physical attribute I had to research, something like that.

By default, writing the backstory opens the door to world-building. One cannot go without the other.

World-building

I always, always write about the world the characters are in, even if it’s a contemporary RomCom for grown-ups.

Since I tend to over detailed everything in the novel, so I take my « revanche » with the world-building.

Here’s what always goes in my world-building:

  • Again, time period, but here, I’ll write down every detail I find during research, even if I don’t end up using half of it.
  • Type of world – fantasy, sci-fi, a little bit of this, a dash of that –
  • The house, village, small town, town, city of the main character, and the places surrounding it
  • Ecosystem
  • Economic system
  • Culture system
  • Political system

And I draw a map. Or maps. Yes, even for the contemporary writing projects.

For example, I draw a map of the village where the RomCom writing project takes place, plus house plans, including the names of the trees or flowers on the lawns, things like that.

What else?

So many things, depending of the genre and time period. I’m sharing what I’m using, so it might seem to you like something is missing. If so, tell me in the comments, I’m curious to know your take on this topic!

I’m adding to my reference book :

  • Hand-written research, because it’s less distracting to have a written version handy then to constantly go on Pinterest, or the pined document in the browser, or to go through the saved documents, etc.
  • Language glossary, or language glossaries, depending on what the story needs.
  • If needed, I’ll have an index for weapons, technology, science.
  • I’ll include some background research and a list of novels to read if I choose to go super duper ultra-specific with a sub-genre of the fantasy genre, example; I’m one of those writers whom deeply, whole-heartedly believe in « if you wanna write a fantasy novel, you should be reading TONS of fantasy novels » kind of thing!

Colors and order and all that jazz

I keep all things related to each writing project in a different big folder. The folder it-self can tend to get messy, especially with big projects.

For the fantasy novel I have put on hold for almost a year now, I’m at two really full folders already, but I made a point early to keep this one clean. There’s enough stuff in there already.

Many writers use colorful pens and pencils, stickers and special notebooks, some others keep it all on the computer (if there’s one advice I cannot give enough is: back-up your work, every week at the very least; the pain of losing a 60 000 words novel cuts deep, I can tell you that much).

I use cheap notebooks, like the ones I used to buy back in High School, Cegep, University. And I use home-made post-it (because post-it ain’t cheap, plus not super environmentally friendly) for every big section of the reference notebook.
To keep it as clean as possible, I sometimes several little notebook, and keep them all in a big folder.

Right now, I have three different reference notebook. Two very thin, because the story are contemporary and pretty simple, even if one of them is in the paranormal realm of things. One who is getting bigger every time I simply glance at it.

I keep them handy, because those are the on-going projects I want to finish drafting this year.
One of them is almost done, one of them is middle-grade, so fewer words; as for the last one, we’ll see how it goes!

Thanks so, so much for reading, I’m very grateful that you took the time to read this blog post.

Please subscribe to the blog to follow me on my quest to become both a traditionally published and a self-published author!

Until next time !

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