How to Organize Your Writing Life: Tracking Characters

Espresso Shot (4)When you're a writer, the struggle to stay organized is real. Different drafts. Different books. Different projects. Release days. Blog posts. Facebook parties. No matter the stage of your career, we all have responsibilities pulling us in different directions. Organization is key to making sure that everything gets done when it should without leaving you feeling completely overwhelmed.

Every Wednesday throughout the month of May, I'm sharing some of the tips and tricks that I used to keep my writing life in order. We've already covered your calendar and your daily writing goals. Today we're tackling tracking your characters.

Keep Record

I started to keep notes on all of the characters that appear in my books about three novels, four novellas, several short stories, and countless pitches into the process. I really, really regret not starting from day one. I'm still playing catch up on entering all of my character names as well as their defining characteristics.
So here's what I recommend. No matter where you are in your writing career, build a spreadsheet for your characters. Start it now. Today. And keep it updated. It will save you when you're editing manuscripts you haven't looked at in awhile. Even better, you can build your mini character profiles while you're writing and keep yourself on track as you draft.

What to Include

Your character spreadsheet can be as extensive or minimalist as you like. Here's a look at the things I track:
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Title (mainly for historicals)
  • Book the character appears in
  • Role (hero/heroine/antagonist/secondary character)
  • Race
  • Height
  • Hair color
  • Eye color
  • Profession
  • Additional notes
Once I enter all of that information in, I use Excel's sort function to alphabetize by first name. That makes it easy to find characters fast, and it also helps me notice any trends. I have a tendency to like men's names that start with an "E" and women whose names start with a "C." I don't know why, but having a visual remind of that is hugely helpful.

Use Your Spreadsheet

Just like a calendar or a to do list, a character spreadsheet is only helpful if you actually use it. When I'm writing, I have it popped up in the background. If I write about a new character, I'll add their traits to the sheet. Similarly, I refer back to that sheet if I'm drafting and I can't remember the color of a character's eyes (something I seem to be incapable of). Doing this will save you a lot of annoying stopping and starting while you're editing a manuscript--especially if you haven't looked at it in a few weeks.
If you are interested in getting a copy of my character spreadsheet, just send me an email to, and I would be happy to send you my template.
Good luck, and happy writing!