Over the course of your novel (or series of novels), you will sooner or later find yourself having to refer to previously-introduced events or descriptions.

What color were my character’s eyes? What does the brooch her mother left her look like again? What was the tattoo he got during his bachelor party–the unfortunate one his buddies convinced him was a good idea? If you’re anything like me, there are too many of these details to keep track of. The solution? A notebook that lets you keep all those details close to hand. The one I use for the Jared McKean mysteries is a large blue notebook with dividers that make the different types of details easy to find. I call it The Big Blue Book of Jared.

You can customize your Big Book to suit the needs of your particular project. Mine is divided up like this:

Jared:

This section contains a timeline of significant events in Jared’s life; photographs of an actor who closely matches my vision of Jared; catalog photos of clothing and items that belong to him; his character questionnaire (see Lesson 4); details (cut from the manuscript pages and taped onto plain white paper) about people, pets, and things that are important to him; a map of his office building and another of his office; and anything else I think I may need to reference later.

Continuing Characters:

Each continuing character his or her own section with an abbreviated timeline, abbreviated character questionnaire, catalog photos of clothing and items as need, floor plans of their home with photos or sketches of the interiors as needed, and as many pages as needed for notes. The more important the character, the more detailed the information.

Recurring Locations:

Recurring locations are grouped in one section of the Big Book. For each recurring location, I have a floor plan and a page with information about the place. If I add new information about a specific location, it goes into the Big Book.

Book-specific information:

I have a separate section for each book. They contain timelines, character details for book-specific characters, and descriptions of locations I may need to refer back to.

Nashville Information:

Because the Jared McKean books take place in Nashville, I need a section for maps of the city, maps of specific neighborhoods (some commercial, some hand-drawn), notes on the history of the city, notes on interesting places and events, a calendar of annual events, and so on.

Your needs will be different from mine. If you write stand-alones, you may choose to have a Big Book for each novel. If you write multiple series, you may have a Big Book for each series. The beauty of this versatile tool is that, not only can it be adapted to all of these situations and more, it’s fun to assemble and update. I couldn’t get by without mine.