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I have completed writing a novel and have revised it many times. I am very worried that I may have made some logical mistakes, like not revealing a secret, or using different hair colour for same character.

How do people keep track of these things? Should I make list of all facts in my novel?

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    I have seen people having a writers room with lots of whiteboards stick notes and arrows for whatever they are currently writing to keep up with how everything works together. Getting a good overview that way I guess. – PlasmaHH Apr 12 '18 at 10:34
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    Hand the manuscript to the most pedantic person you know, and cringe. – AJFaraday Apr 12 '18 at 14:10
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    @PlasmaHH All I can think of is i.imgur.com/cLOQhPq.png – corsiKa Apr 13 '18 at 21:42
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    @AJFaraday The most pedantic people I know are on StackExchange. ;D – jpmc26 Apr 13 '18 at 22:51
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    What I do is start with a basic overview of the plot, then a chapter-by-chapter overview, then a very basic summary. Eventually, my story will become a full book. Since it's not front-to-back, it's easier to not make stupid mistakes. – Redwolf Programs Apr 14 '18 at 3:29
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This is one of the methods I use for characters.
Each character has a separate page (you can do this in a notebook, jotter, online using onenote etc) and I note the following:

  • parents
  • position
  • partners
  • siblings
  • children
  • appearance
    • hair colour
    • hair length
    • eye colour
    • other distinguishing features
  • any other info worth noting

I like to have this for every character who appears and is named in my writing, and when it comes to descriptions or references to family, I have my reference.

(Note that this is my method, which may not work for everyone, however feel free to if it does work.)

25

Many people have a list of the most important things, like the overall story-arc and when to reveal which part of the plot so that it's easy to see and check these things. It's also a good idea to have a list for your characters with little notes about their characteristics from a physical and mental point of view.

You don't have to do these things, but it can help to have something like this to be consistent.

The problem with finding little mistakes is that you are often too close to your own work - it's hard to see the mistakes because your mind replaces what you are reading with what you wanted to read or simply see in your mind. For example when writing a long chapter and re-reading it multiple times because you are re-writing stuff you will likely overlook a typo or two if your spellchecker doesn't mark them, simply because you are not reading every word carefully. You know what it says after all.

The easiest way to find plotholes is to find a few trusted beta readers and give them the draft so that they can look over it. This will also help you to find out whether you for example have used some words over and over again, or whether you have given the impression that some small element will be important later, but you never mentioned it again. User expectations can be weird, no matter whether your users are users, readers, players or something else - they will find something and your taks will then be to evaluate the feedback and find out what's important to fix and what would interfere with your idea of what the final piece of work should look like.

Making a list of all facts would likely be too much - because you would basically have to note down the entire book in the form of notes. Just a few key points and the important things about your characters, like the most important backstory points, physical appearance and stuff that could be easily verified by a reader by reading a passage second time, such as years or numbers for height/weight/...

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  1. Another trick that can help is to print it out. As soon as it is a hard copy, you will see problems that were not in the e version. Try it with a chapter or two. You'll see. I see the changes immediately.

    1.5 You can also put your novel away, for a couple of weeks. When you look at it “with fresh eyes” you’ll be able to see more errors. You can also combine these tricks.

  2. I have heard that changing font can do this too.

  3. Here's one way some errors can creep in: I've changed names on several characters and changed several in-world words for things. But when I am adding a new scene I occasionally use the old name/word without thinking. So, I need to search in Word for each of those names and words at the very end, make sure all the Ronalds are Ronalds and not Ruperts. Unless the intention is to have a character called wrong in dialog.

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  • Isolate
  • Distance
  • Identify
  • Feedback

Isolate:

Pick something you want to isolate, such as a particular plot point or a character or location's description. Then copy-and-paste any reference to it into a new document. Read that. It's very easy to realise you mentioned the wrong hairstyle/colour when the other reference is right there on the same page.

I find this works even better for subtle hints. Let's say you want to slowly reveal that a character is a badguy. You can isolate every scene they are in, and slowly ramp up their evil behaviour as you progress through the book.

It's surprising how little something can be in a book. You often only mention the weather once or twice in a scene, if at all. That may not even be three paragraphs in a whole chapter.

Distance:

Get some distance from what you wrote. Take a break. Read something different. Do some exercise. When you are doing a read-through, make sure you don't do it all end-to-end. You only have so much mental stamina and you will miss details if you're mentally tired.

When you have written something you will often skip over it, because it's still in your memory. You know how it should read, and your brain reads that instead of how it does read.

Try reading it in different ways. Print it out, change the font, read it on the bus, read it out loud, record yourself reading it out loud and listen to it, get someone else to read it out loud. Try to reinterpret it.

Identify:

Have a checklist of information you need to make sure is correct and then do a read-through for each of them. For example:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Timeline
  • Weather
  • Description

Do a read-through for each of those, only focusing on one topic at a time. The problem is you can forget yourself what was previously said, or what it should be saying. Trying to keep it all in mind is difficult, but focusing on one at a time can often work quite well.

Make sure you actually know what and how you want it to be. Make some notes on how the story should be. Every time you read through, make sure what you have wrote fits your notes.

Character descriptions are easy (hair colour, style, etc.) but this also works for more complex things, like "it often rains in the city". If you go through half the book before it starts raining in a scene, there's something for you to fix.

Try writing a quick summary of what happened at the end of each chapter. "Bob met Murray and learned he was adopted. His super power is uncontrollable. It was raining on a Tuesday."

Feedback:

Someone else will read in a way you don't, they'll notice something you won't. "beta-readers", editors and other forms of feedback exist for a reason. Ask questions about things you are worried about once they've finished.

4

In addition to the points raised in other answers, I'd also mention that if you're going to include something you don't know about, then you really need someone knowledgeable in that subject to give you guidance. If one of the characters is a martial artist and there's a fight scene, find someone who's a martial artist to sanity-check it. If there's something about tech, find yourself a geek.

I've proofread something for a friend where he very much had this problem. I can't remember the details, but he was hung up on a 1980s conception of what went into personal electronics, as well as a misconception about data rates. I had to point out gently that no, you don't have pins which you can see and tweak with pliers; no, the processing that the average mobile can manage these days really is incredibly powerful and mostly not a limiting factor; and no, however you run your mobile internet connection, it's still never going to compare to copper or fibre. He was trying to write something loosely cyberpunk, but he didn't have the technical background to pull any depth of suspension of disbelief for the kind of target market his book was aiming at. Since some of these limits were plot elements, he needed to go back and completely rethink the reasons why his characters would need to follow that plot path.

2

Tell yourself everyone's story character by character.

While the techniques above are all good, and i think a good timeline with contentment and facts really helps, the everyone's story trick works for me. Any time after I see a movie if I want to pick it apart and see if the plot makes real sense, this is what I do, and bad movies fall apart.

What do I mean? Well authors tend to tell themselves the protagonist's story. After that they make all the other characters dance around to fit their parts. Sometimes this makes great sense, sometimes it looks like a mindless dance.

Let's look at The Terminator. Sarah Connor is the easy story. This is the one the screen writers focused on when they wrote the script. Now let's tell ourselves the Skynet story. Skynet is loosing the war against the humans. What does that look like? What is it doing day by day as the war goes on? So it's going to send back a terminator. Why? What does it think as it picks a time period? Why not kill the first human? Does it worry about altering the timeline too much? Why not then pick a time point after it's creation? Why attack Sarah in the prime of her life? Is killing the humans it's objective? Is preventingthe war a solution? Why not send a negotiator to Cyberdyne Systems?

So as we understand Skynet's story all the logical issues of the movie begin o work themselves out. We wither find motivations we may want to explain, or logic that needs to be fixes.

1

If you've already gone through it and revised it several times at this point, I'd recommend two things are the biggest helps probably for you.

Take Some Time Away from the Story

Right now you know everything that everyone does, your brain might even tell you that you wrote something you didn't because you expected to see it there. Not major stuff, but you might not notice that Lucy has black hair in one chapter and you say she has brown hair in another chapter. When you're re-reading and re-learning what you've written after taking some time away from the story, you're more apt to catch things like that.

Have Someone Else Read It

Much like the first, it's about getting eyes on the novel that don't know everything that is going to happen. When I say someone else, it can be and should probably be multiple people. They are going to notice mistakes, continuity errors, other things that you wouldn't have noticed. As a word of caution/advice, tell them up front that you aren't interesting in spelling fixes, grammatical errors that they find, because that's for someone else to do, an editor later on. Right now you are looking to figure out what goofs you've made, what might not make sense, etc. on a grander story level.

1

kill two birds with one stone: create a wiki of your own universe

A lot of books have now their own dedicated wiki, with a page for all characters, places, events... It's maybe a lot of work, but depending on your motivation, public and genre (maybe science-fiction and fantasy books are more suited for a wiki as they have a deep background), it could be worth it as it's useful for you to see if each character, events attach is individually coherent, and help the readers as well. If you have beta-readers, a wiki could also be useful, both for their understanding and for the criticism of the universe

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You don't

I know this site is one in a network of pedantic nitpickers and my answer will go against your perfectionist grain, but if you want to be a prolific writer and make a living from publishing books the only practicable strategy is to

  • employ a few qualified beta readers (i.e. have others find your mistakes for you)
  • work in their feedback
  • forget about any possible remaining problems
  • submit your novel to your agent or editor and write the next book

Basically, follow the 80-20 rule.


Finding logical errors and explaining them away is great fun for the fanboys over on Scifi.SE, so don't spoil their fun by writing perfectly plotted books.

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