Creating a character list

Creating characters can be fun. You develop their characteristics, physical traits, and their backstories. And you get to name them. Now you don’t always need to spend a lot of time on characters. If they are a minor character, you will spend less time developing them then say your protagonist. But as your protagonist runs into people sometimes those people at least need a name – and perhaps a description.

The pert waitress may come over and announce her name is Sally, interrupting your character’s dark thoughts. Sally won’t probably get even a last name. Heck, you probably could write the scene without giving the waitress a name.

But if your character runs into many of the same characters – perhaps who live in the same apartment building or down at the local bar, those people might be better off with names.

The other day, I was working on my current WIP. It is the first book in a second trilogy about Lina and Val, the main characters from my first trilogy, The Elemental. There was already a large cast of characters in that trilogy and now we are adding to that group. And that means naming more major, minor and bit characters.

I’ve written several posts about how to name characters. But the tricky thing is that after six books, I’ve used a lot of the names I like. Plus, I am writing fantasy so none of my characters have Christian names like John and Michael. I am for more unique names though there are a few common names mixed in.

Since I am working with a large cast of characters in this world, I do have a spreadsheet of the names. Actually, as I write any of my books, I usually have a spreadsheet with the character names, locations, travel times, timeline and chapter lengths.

It was when I was naming two thieves that my latest WIP that I realized that I might need a master list of names I’ve already used and in which book they appeared. It isn’t that I can’t use names again, but I would rather not always use the same names – no matter how much I like them. I mean I know not to use Val, Grayson or Soren as these were main characters, but what about Elias or Darius?

I’m not saying you need to do this, but it has turned out to be very interesting. I did find out that I have a character named Delwin and Elden in every one of my books. And I have 265 named characters over 5 full-length novels, my short story and my current WIP. That feels like a lot, and I expect this list to continue to grow as I write the rest of this trilogy.

Using timelines to organize information for your novel

Timelines can help you keep track of your information as your write your novel. These can keep your story consistent. A timeline suggests a past, present, and future or in the case of a plot, a beginning, middle and end. we can see cause and effect. We see patterns and turning points.


The most common timeline author use is to keep track of their character’s past. Charting their backstory helps you understand the character’s current attitude/characteristics. Or it can simply help you keep track of their past events or even the lineage of the royal family. If you keep timelines of your main characters, you can make sure the events work with one another.


Timelines can help with story planning. Or it can keep track of plot sensitive events like the order of battles or clues your mystery sleuth uncovers. You can track your hero’s movement as he journeys place to place. It can also help you plot storylines for dual protagonists or a protagonist/antagonist combo.


If you are a planner, instead of using an outline, you may want to plan out everything on a timeline. The benefit of the timeline is you can see at a glance what happens when. If you are unsure of when events need to happen, you might put the information on note cards which you can move around as you plan out the order of your story events.


There are many options on how to create your timeline and will depend on what type of timeline you are creating. For characters, you might be able to do something in Word or Excel. There are even programs online that can help you such as Timeline Maker, Timetoast and Timeglider.

When working on where my characters are since I often have multiple characters in different locations, I find Excel works well. Each column is a different character with each row being a different day. At a glance, I can tell where everyone, and it makes it easy to keep track of how long it takes to travel to the different locations. (I’m writing fantasy, so they are either riding horses or dragons to their next location.)

excel travel

If you have not tried timelines, give it a shot. You might just find that it keeps you organized, and your story flows better because of it.

E is for Excel #AtoZchallenge

EjpgWe are up to letter E on the A to Z Challenge. As an author, I thought I would write about how I use Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet software to help me organize and write my novels. Now I am talking about Excel since that is the software I have, but I assume any spreadsheet software would be able to work in a similar fashion.

When I was writing the second and third books in my fantasy trilogy, I had quite a few main characters that were in different locations. As they traveled or events happened, I used the spreadsheet to tell where everyone was at any given moment. This also helped me ensure that travel times were the same throughout the trilogy.

excel travel

In addition to the main characters, I had a whole bunch of minor players with magical powers. I needed to keep track of their names, power and location.

excel elementals

Both these pages are “sheets” in one Excel file. It helps me to be able to open one file and see everything I need without scrolling through pages in a Word file.

I am currently using an Excel spreadsheet on my work in progress. The first sheet is location (though all characters are traveling together this time) and the second sheet is a list of characters (major and minor) with names, where they are from and if they have any magical ability. (This also lets me keep track of who has died in the story.)