The Importance of a Concordance

Writing a single short story doesn’t typically require anything more than a few notes so you can keep your characters straight (unless you have just one or two characters to juggle, and if that can’t be done without notes, you’re in trouble). But when you’re writing a novel, a series, or have plans to do so, a concordance is your best friends.

Ideally, your concordance will help you keep names of characters straight, as well as their backgrounds and details. It can also help you develop your story, keep track of land and landmarks, buildings, history of your fantasy world, and little things, such as where your character was injured during the war (I’m looking at you, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who couldn’t keep track of Watson’s injury location — shoulder or leg — or what his first name was — John or James).

Anyone who writes epic stories knows how important it is to keep track of your characters, because ultimately, some avid fan will chronicle your work, characters, storylines, etc. George R. R. Martin has a fan upon whom he can call for keeping his characters straight. A fan-based concordance, in fact. One that’s so detailed the author himself uses it. Not all of us will be lucky enough to have the brilliance of Martin’s incredible stories, or get a fan base so rabid, so it’s best to just do it yourself, and do it early enough so that you can keep track and not become overwhelmed.

So what should be in your concordance? I went over it a tad in the second paragraph, but here’s a handy list that will help you keep things straight:

  • Characters Main characters, side characters, even one-time characters belong here. Don’t forget to detail their lives prior to your story, and add anything you think is relevant.
  • Landmarks Got an old building you want to write about? Consider the landscape of your world, and if there are any special places your characters will visit.
  • Maps Along with landmarks, maps are handy to have even if you can’t draw well. Whether you’re superimposing your world over Google Maps, or drawing a world all your own, keep your maps handy. You don’t want to establish that Town is 300 miles from City, only to have your character arrive there by foot in just a few hours later on (unless they’ve got super-speed, or something).
  • Factions Any time you have groups of people and tension, you wind up with factions. They can be political, religious, bad hairdo people versus good hairdo people, etc. Just be sure to keep them in order so that you don’t wind up having a character switch factions (without explanation, that is).
  • History/Timeline – During your story, things happen. Characters change, die, are born, reborn, move away, go to prison, etc. Make sure you add to your concordance as you go along. This will ensure you don’t suddenly bring back a character at the end of the story by accident. Unless your story is supposed to have that happen (and will be explained unless you’re going for something absurd), keeping track of your history and events is best done in a timeline.

Ultimately, your concordance will keep your story cohesive and is one of the best things you can do for yourself, especially when writing a series. But just be sure to keep your concordance as notes, rather than a highly detailed encyclopedia. Your story is what matters — the notes just support it.

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.

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