We're here at an often over-looked but crucial step in the writing process. It's the one thing all writers (myself included) and bad at: organizing. Yet people who are organized know how much time it saves, and that's what we need.

We never know when we'll run out of time


At each step I'm going to write out directions for digital and hard copy organization. Despite the digital age some of us do better with hard copy as we're kinesthetic learners and hard copy helps. Some of us also have small laptop screens and hate going back and forth between two open documents. Particularly as we always have VLC player going with Ren & Stimpy loaded up. Maybe you're mature, but I do a advise every writer keep their inner kid close. It's the key to imagination as well as being your own best critic, but that comes later.

Let's list the materials you should have, assuming your goal is a 300 page novel:

1) Summary, 3 pages long
2) Outline, 30 pages long, unmarked
3) Outline, 30 pages long, marked for plot points, internal and external conflicts, and character arc developments
4) Character bios for all protagonists and antagonists
5) Stat sheets for primary secondary characters
6) Fact sheets with active and passive research notes

Let's review what they are, how to name them, what you'll use them for, and how to access them. 

What it isThe general overview in brief, describing only protagonists and antagonists, external conflict/plot points, and skimming over details to get the gist. This is what you'll base the blurb on the back of your book on, or use to base the explanation you give strangers when they ask what your book is about.  
When you'll use it: Only to guide making your outline, protagonists, and antagonists, and later when selling your novel. Remember that anything you write that changes the outline might change the summary. If during writing you change any major external conflict, antagonist, protagonist, or major arc of character development or plot, you'll have to edit the summary.
Everybody: Create it as an MS Word or equivalent file. Create a folder in My Documents named for the novel. Save this in it as the novel title (or abbrevaition) and follow with "_Summary." For example I have "CaseofthePurpleRose_Summary.doc" or "COTPR_Summary.doc"
Digifiles: Put numbers in front  of the names. Number your novel file as 01_, for example I have "01_CaseofthePurpleRose.doc." Put 06_ in front of the summary, for example "04_COTPR_Summary.doc" because you won't use it very often.
Hard Copiers: Get a 3-ring binder, no more than a 1" spine. Get a hole punch. place them on your desk and pat yourself for how organized you look. Open your MS Word file and make sure you double space it, then print out a copy of the summary with a title at the top. Punch holes in it, and place it in the binder. It should be double-spaced now because you will have to change it as you go, so you can cross things out and write in the new between the lines of print. This will always be the last page in your binder.

Summaries are small but powerful, like the Gettysburg Address


Outllines (Marked & Unmarked)

What it is: the single most used file when you write it's your novel's bible. It describes everything major and minor in detail, and should be a 30 page document when single spaced.

When you'll use it: Every single time you write. EVERY single time you write. Got it?

Everybody: Just as with the summary, place it into the file under My Documents that contains your novel. Place _OutlineMarked or _OutineUnmarked after. if you prefer have just one outline that is marked to use when you write. After when you need to sell just remove the markings.

Digifiles: Place 02A_  and 02B in front of it if using two, or just 02_ if using one. 02A_ should be in front of the marked copy (that is the one you will use for writing) and 02B_ should go in front of the unmarked one that later you will use to sell.

Hard Copiers: Print out only the marked copy, and make sure the colors of the fonts come out. If not, use highlighters and pens. This will go in the binder and remain as the first file. Staple the edges between the 3 holes punched so it can be removed as one file from the binder when you need it. Make sure it has page numbers and a title so you can keep it organized.

Character Bios
What it is: Files on major protagonists and antagonists with pictures of them and descriptions of everything you need to know, usually 2-3 pages long each.
When you'll use it: Every time you need to reference a protagonist or antagonist's past or are unsure of who they will react in a situation
Everybody: Create a subfolder titled "Characters" and save each file as the character's name as it appears in the story. For example maybe your character is named Michael Jones but in the story he's called Ghost. If so, save it as his nickname, or "Ghost.doc"
Digifiles: In this subfolder put numbers in front of the characters in order  of most usage. The main protagonist is 01_, if there is a secondary protagonist present for almost all the story he/she gets 02_ and the antagonist gets 03_, and from there order them from most frequently used to least.
Hard Copiers: Print them out and make sure their names are clearly a the top. Order them with the protagonist first, secondary protagonist second, antagonist third, and then in order of usage. Punch holes in them and place them directly behind your outline in your binder. At this point some you may want to get those sticky tabs that are neon designed to mark textbooks. Use them to quickly locate the character bios and other files you'll need.

Stat Sheets For Secondary Characters

What it is: Like character bios these are short 1 page descriptions without pictures of secondary characters who appear frequently and impact a plot point.
When you'll use it: When secondary characters appear and you need to describe them or craft their actions based off personality.
Everybody: Create a subfolder within your Characters subfolder and call it Secondaries. 
Digifiles As you did with the character Bios, number them in order of usage. 
Hard Copiers: Print them out and make sure the character name is clearly visible, order them again in terms of usage, and use any a sticky label. You probably just need one for this section, if any character requires their own marking why aren't they a protagonist or antagonist?


Without organizing your character bios and stat sheets, finding them is as easy as finding Aubrey Beardsley in under 5 seconds. Can you do it?


Research Fact Sheets

What it is: Sheets with headings of various things you needed to research, ordered as they appear in the story. You should have one for active research (things that affect plot) and one for passive (things that set the scene or aid character development).
When you'll use it: When you write and also during the editing process.
Everybody: Place these in the novel subfolder in My Documents. Label them "PROJECT_Research_Active.doc" and "PROJECT_Research_Passive.doc." Note that on your marked outline each research point should be noted and defined as active or passive to make searching easier. 
Digifiles:Place 03A_ in front of the active and 03B_ in front of the passive. You can even create a marked outline with the research notes at the bottom. Create bookmark links between the research notations on the outline and their entry below for quick reference. Don't forget to link back to the outline to make going back and forth easier. See 101 Supplementals for how to do this.
Hard Copiers: Print them out, punch holes in them, and staple the active pages together and the passive pages together. Place them behind the character stat sheets and in front of the summary. Use just one sticky tab per section (if using them) to mark the active section and passive section.

There, now you're done and ready to write. Whether you like it all on the computer or all in hand you have what you need, organized. Hard copiers need to remember that any change to the outline or summary can be written down on the pages, but later you must alter the digital copy.

Bonus cool points if your binder looks like this


That's it, you're ready to write. Got me? GO WRITE! The next three sections of the 101: 3- series can be done before writing, or when you start, but always come at the beginning, never wait until after you've written your first draft or you're slightly fucked. So go ahead and start, just remember the next three lessons should come before you write chapter four. try to do each after writing a chapter to space them out. Good luck!