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The Story is in the Details

By Margaret Daley

We all know that character and plot are important elements to writing, but I’m here to remind you of the importance of the details in your story. I had a friend tell me she sent out her book for endorsements. When one endorser emailed her with her endorsement (a good one), she casually asked my friend what happened to one character. My friend had the character in book one. He was the adoptive son of the hero and heroine of that book. In book two she forgot to mention the child. This series was about a family. She couldn’t believe it had gone through edits and many reads by various people and no one asked about the little boy.

I had a series where I changed the name of the deceased husband of the heroine from book one when she was a secondary character to book three when she was the heroine. But a reader asked me about it. I had to fess up that I had made a mistake.

It can be hard to keep all the details of one book straight, let alone details of a series where the characters are in more than one book, and you share a town or location across the books in the series. So how do you keep track of all those details?

You need to keep track of them before you write the book/series, during it and afterwards. There are a lot of ways you can do it. I use charts I’ve created on Excel as well as a pad of paper I have for the story. Some people use different kinds of software programs that are out there (example: Scrivener). Others use spreadsheets or hard copies of what they need (example: putting the details up on a pegboard or in a notebook).

What do you keep track of? Some of the elements you track are your characters (everything about them from their appearance to goals, conflict and motivation), plot (main and sub plots–all details), setting, point of view, timeline of story, weather, logistics in a scene, questions that need answered in the story, research and anything else pertaining to your story.

In every book there are a lot of details you need to keep straight. That is why it is important to have some kind of system other than just your memory to help you keep up with all the details. Take time to think of what works best for you. Investigate different methods of tracking all the details in a story and then use one. This becomes evident especially when you write a complex story with many characters and subplots like my October book from Abingdon Press, Shattered Silence. If you don’t keep the details straight as you write it will cause you a lot of problems and more work later in the book (not to mention mistakes in the story).

It will save you time in the long run if you have a system. You won’t have to dig through your manuscript trying to verify a detail because you will have it down in your system you used. Also, you won’t receive reader letters about the detail you messed up. But mostly, it won’t stop someone reading your story because he or she is trying to figure out what is going on and is getting confused. Whether this is an agent, editor or reader, you don’t want someone confused. You want them to keep reading.

Remember the story is in the details, so keep track of those details.


Margaret Daley is an award winning, multi-published author in the romance genre. She currently writes inspirational romance and romantic suspense books for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired lines, romantic suspense for Abingdon Press and historical romance for Summerside Press. She has sold eighty-three books to date.

Margaret is currently the President for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an organization of over 2600 members. She was one of the founding members of the first ACFW local chapter, WIN in Oklahoma. She has taught numerous classes for online groups, ACFW and RWA chapters. She enjoys mentoring other authors.

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2 Responses to The Story is in the Details

  1. Eddie Hinkle says:

    Margaret, I recently joined ACFW amd I have just started writing christian fiction. Your article about keeping track of characters is very helpful since I found out that it is difficult to keep them straight in the story.
    Thank You

  2. Kristen says:

    I use an app called Notebook (for Mac). It’s great because it automatically creates an index, which helps me find things like character notes. I’m told Microsoft’s One Note for Windows is similar. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Pro software also has a great section for kerping track of character traits.