Writing Wednesdays: Why you need to make notes on your story

September 20, 2017
It's important to keep notes when you start a new story - but why? And what do you make notes of? I try to help answer those questions in this post.

I’ve been asked a few times about what tools you need to be a writer (which I wrote more about here). Specifically, one person asked if they needed a particular notebook or pen.

(For the record: no, you don’t.)

But anyway. This isn’t about tools for writing.

This is about why you need a notebook when you’re working on a novel. Or maybe just a Google Doc or something. Literally, anything. You just need somewhere to be able to make notes.

Maybe it seems obvious to some, but it’s important to make notes on your story. The bigger question might be: what exactly do you need to make notes on?

Your characters.

Maybe you’re not that big on drawing up character profiles when you start on a new story, but you at least need to make notes as you go through and create your characters. Even the secondary/minor characters. It’s no good changing someone’s eye colour halfway through, or suddenly changing their accent or surname.

It can also help you to make notes on your characters so that you can see everything about them laid out in front of you. You know your characters inside out, but there’s something about seeing it all written down in one place that makes it easier to get inspired. It’ll also help you with any character development.

The plot.

Um, duh, you might say, but hear me out. I suck at plotting out my entire novel before I’ve really started writing it, and I know I’m not alone with that. So make sure you keep track of your plot and any major developments you have made, or want to make.

Timelines are handy, too, for keeping track of your plot, especially if it’s happening around big events like a prom or Christmas. (Trust me on this one, okay? You’re bound to get confused about when you are in the story at some point.)


Yup, track these in your notes too. Chances are, you’ll find something in your edits you totally forgot about – a romance subplot, or maybe someone’s family member is sick and you only ever mention it once even though it’s kind of a big thing for that character.

Random ideas for this novel.

You might have a few lines of dialogue you want to use, a really beautiful phrase you’ve thought up, or even want to sketch out the framework for an entire scene. That’s great… unless you don’t know where, or even if, it’s going to fit into your book. Make a note. Come back to it later, maybe. But you’ll kick yourself if you get to a point where you want to use it and you’ve forgotten the details that made your idea such a brilliant one at the time.


Hoo, boy, do notes come in handy when it’s time to make revisions. Whether you’ve made detailed notes during the writing process that you annotate in different colours, or just jot down a few of the main points you want to work on when you re-read your work, having it all laid out and being able to add to the list or check things off as you go through will help the chaos of editing a whole lot simpler.

Goals and lists.

Speaking of checking things off, you might be the kind of person who works well and is motivated by a couple of lists. For instance: if you’ve worked out the structure chapter by chapter, you could cross off each chapter as you write it. Or maybe you want simpler goals to tick off – like making a little landmark out of reaching 20,000, 50,000, 65,000 words. Everyone works differently, but if you’re motivated to work when you’ve got a checklist to cross things off of, it can be a big boost to your morale to see how much progress you’re making.

Rogue ideas for your next novel.

You know when you’re right in the middle of writing a book and then suddenly – BAM! – three new story ideas come along all at once? If you find it easy to juggle – and complete – seven or eight novels at once, that’s great. But for those of us who want to focus on just the one book until it’s finished, make notes of those new ideas. Trust me, you’ll regret it later if you don’t.

Do you keep notes when you write? What kind of things do you jot down? Let me know in the comments!

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