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!

Do You Have to Get to "I Love You?"

One Week in WyomingAn earlier version of this post appeared on the Contemporary Romance Writer's blog and in the RWA-NYC April Keynotes. One of the cardinal rules of romance is that a story has to end with a happily ever after. But does that mean a couple has to say, “I love you,” at the end of every romance? Maybe not.

It’s a question I asked myself when I wrote “Seduction in the Snow”. The story unfolds over a week at a ski resort. Both Evan and Lydia tell themselves that their sexy hot tub encounters are just a vacation fling. Lydia is particularly tough to sell on the idea of love. Having seen relationship after relationship fall apart after a few short months, she’s scared of the big “L” word.

Of course, this is a romance so we all know where the story’s heading—for the happily ever after—but given Lydia’s resistance to the very idea of love, I didn’t feel that a big, “I love you,” exchange at the end of the novella would be fitting with her character. Instead, I decided that Lydia and Evan should show us their deep commitment and potential for future happiness in a different way.

As authors we have a responsibility to really get to know our characters. What are their fears? How can we push them out of their comfort zones? Would they actually say the words that we’re writing on the page? While “I love you,” is the backbone of many happily ever afters, it doesn’t have to be if it doesn’t fit with your character’s personality.

Another thing to consider is your book’s timeline. Romance authors tell stories that unfold over decades, months, weeks, days. There’s such vast variation in the timelines in our genre that a one-size-fits-all approach to the happily ever doesn’t always work. If a character is more in touch with their emotions and open to the idea of falling in love, the, “I love you,” exchange rings true. But we know our heroes and heroines will continue to grow after our stories are complete. If that’s the case, “I love you,” may realistically take them longer to get to.

Whether you decide to have your hero and heroine say, “I love you,” or not, the most important thing to remember is that it’s our job as authors to write a convincing love story. That means you’re not just telling the reader that the hero and heroine love each other. You’re showing their deep commitment through the actions and emotions. Write your story with that in mind, and you’ll have your readers falling in love.

My novella "Seduction in the Snow" appears in the sexy, contemporary romance anthology One Week in Wyoming. For more posts like this one, follow my blog or sign up for my newsletter.