I used to be a multi-tasker. I remember being able to:
- watch television, do homework, and carry on a phone conversation all at once
- track 3 different conversations at parties
- write 2 or 3 different projects at once (and keep them all straight)
I can’t do that anymore. Heck, I can’t even knit while watching television without either dropping a stitch or dropping the action of the show. I suspect multitasking is a function of a younger brain.
I haven’t given up trying, though. Now I’m reading 3 different books (1 for the exercise bike, 1 for book club, and 1 of my choice), and I can’t keep the characters and plots straight. It’s eery when I’m reading along in one book and I ask myself, “but what about Martha?” and then realize she’s in another book. Oops.
So, what’s a writer to do about multitasking? There are plots and subplots and different viewpoint characters to track. We have to keep them straight, weaving them in and out of the story in all the right places. We can’t drop a single one of them, like my dropped stitches.
Here’s what I’ve done to help keep some of this straight:
- Write a 1-2 sentence summary of each chapter or section. Being a pantser, this summary comes after the chapter has magically appeared.
- Use a different font (in the growing outline) for each viewpoint character. This makes it easy to scan through and see where that character is in the story, and who to juggle next.
- Different colored index cards track the different subplots as they grow. I lay them out on my table and intersperse them where they appear in the book. I can easily see where one subplot has been neglected too long. This is an especially handy tool for the revision process, after a complete draft is written.
Right now I’m facing a huge challenge with my Work-in-Progress. Doesn’t it always seem like the current book is the hardest book you’ve ever written? My WIP has (so far) 3 different viewpoint characters, 2 time-lines, and 3 settings. So I’m looking for more ideas of how to multi-task this mess!
What tips do you have for keeping track of different plots and characters?