Monday, October 13, 2014

Charting Your Continuity

The best writers have a developed OCD. They tend to figure out all sorts of ways to keep track of their characters and stories, and some of those take advantage of technology. One of those is a continuity chart, where a writer tracks events using a chart rather than a bible. Although a whiteboard can be used, this is one area where a computer may actually work better, especially a tablet with a decent graphics program. Assuming you have a big enough whiteboard or a favorite graphics program, continuity charts are easy enough to develop.

The first thing you need to decide on which colors represent which kind of events. You can also shapes, but colors make them stand out that much better. Generally, you're going to have four or five types of events to deal with, and therefore you'll need four to five colors: major events, character arcs, romance, important but off-screen events, and backstory. A sixth event can be debated for some comics, future events, which need to be noted so that they can be lead up to. That makes for a total of seven colors and/or shapes, depending on preference.

Each time an event happens, you have two choices how to present the information. You can either cluster it, or link it linearly. Clustering events can be complicated, but can work for singular events that need to be noted, such as when a sword is forged or how a character trained. The preference is going to be for linear presentation, where the information is on essentially an x-y axis. The x-axis should be used for different types of events spaced apart just enough to allow for small paragraphs. In other words, all of your various arcs and storylines should be organized horizontally.

On the y-axis, events should be organized so that events should be placed so that they are organized by time. In other words, you should be able to be look down to see which events happen at the same time, and should be able to get a good idea what order events happened. If you can provide dates so much the better as the timing can get a lot more precise, making it perfect for murder mysteries and military stories. You don't need such precision for most stories, so there is some room for personal preference. For that matter, you can organize stories on the y-axis and times on the x-axis, as long as you are consistent with it.

When it comes to events, you need to remember to write as concisely as possible. The ideal is to combine with a bible; the event is noted on the master chart so as to get a feeling for where it belongs in the continuity while a fuller entry (containing details, characters in attendance, important details) is in the comic bible. You can provide character codes in the chart details, but the chart is there just to show you where things fit in the general continuity.

As this can get rather huge, it helps to be able to use a tablet or something else with a touchscreen. You will find rather quickly that the ability to expand or shrink areas and to quickly go from one area of the chart to another can be all sorts of cool, especially when you are exploring character histories. When you need to get a quick glance of the situation a continuity chart can be a real help, especially when determining where an event can fit in when you are writing something and know you want to fit it in, but are worried about it conflicting with other events. For time travel stories that can be a great feature. Luckily this is easy to set up and maintain, making life easier for even the most OCD-blessed writers.

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