Indexing our Fiction
The “One and Done Technique”
The “Hansel and Gretel Magic Breadcrumbs Technique”
by Steve Hooley
Today we are discussing indexing our fiction. That is something that is not often done, so you are probably asking why would anyone want to do that.
Recently, Sue and JSB posted on the importance of a having a series bible if you are writing a series. If you’re like me, you agreed that we need to have one, but you groaned at the thought of all the work involved in creating one.
So, today, we’re going to look at a technique that should make the process of building a series bible quicker and easier.
We will call it the “One and Done Technique.” Or you can call it the “Hansel and Gretel Magic Breadcrumbs Technique.”
And now, you’re probably wondering why there is a picture of a target at the top of the post. The answer: I’m going to lay out a plan that you will think is either hair-brain crazy or worth improving and considering. So, you can shoot it full of holes and sink it (thus the target), or you can help improve the idea into something that works for you.
In nonfiction the index links the reader back to the desired subject by the use of page numbers in a physical book or by hyperlinks in an eBook. For our series bible “indexing” we’re going to use an outline of our series bible as the index, and use a code (our “magic breadcrumb”) to link (find) a word, line, or paragraph in our manuscripts via the Find search tool.
It would be nice to hyperlink the two locations (outline and text info), but I don’t think that could be done between two separate Word documents. And, in some cases, we want the code to link to more than one text location. So, in today’s discussion we will use the Find tool.
Hansel and Gretel used breadcrumbs, hoping it would help them find their way back out of the forest. Of course, that didn’t turn out too well. Our magic breadcrumbs are going to contain a code (and a bird repellant) to get us back out of our series bible outline, and to a specific item or fact in the text of our manuscript.
- We will set up our series bible with an outline of all the subjects/facts we want it to contain. And this is where reviewing Sue’s and JSB’s posts will be very helpful.
- Each item in the outline will be given an alpha-numeric code that will be case specific.
- Next, we print out a copy of the outline and codes.
- And then we read through our searchable copy of our manuscript ONCE. With printed outline in hand, we look for any place in our manuscript where there is a fact we want in our series bible. We refer to our outline, and insert the proper code (magic breadcrumb) in front of the fact or data. If we find something we want in our series bible (but is not in the outline or has not been given a code), we add it to the outline and give it a code at that time. Remember, the idea is to go through the manuscript only once.
Once and Done
When we’ve made it through our searchable manuscript once, the hard work is done. We didn’t have to search through our manuscript multiple times for multiple facts. We read it and tagged it once. We wipe our hands together and smile.
Now we have two choices: We can use the codes to pull the answers for a separate document (our series bible), or we can consider our outline and codes to be our series bible and be done. Guess which choice I plan to make.
How do you search for the code in your manuscript?
You use your Find tool. And be certain to check the boxes for “complete word” and “case sensitive,” so that you will get only the code you are looking for. And, note that you may have linked multiple locations in your searchable manuscript to that code.
In Word: The Find tool is on the far right of the top ribbon or tool bar. Click the down arrow, then “advanced find.” At the bottom of the box that opens, click “More.” Then check the boxes “match case” and “find whole words only.” You are then ready to insert your code into the box at the top and find your data in your manuscript.
In Pages (Mac): Under Edit, click Find. Click the down arrow beside the “settings” symbol (which is to the left of the find box). Then check “Whole Words” and “Match Case.” Then fill in your code in the find box, and you’re on your way. By the way, Pages can open Word documents, if you do your editing on Word on a PC, and you write on a Mac laptop (where you want your series bible to be handy.)
In Scrivener: If you’re using Scrivener on a Mac, the process is much the same. You find “Find” under the Edit tab. Click on the “Find…” in the drop-down menu. Underneath the Find and Replace boxes, unclick “ignore case.” Click on the menu choices in the box above “ignore case.” Click on “Whole word.” And you’re ready to search.
If you’re using Scrivener on a PC, ask someone familiar with both. I have an old version of Scrivener on an old laptop with Windows 7. I’m afraid my advice wouldn’t be up to date.
Below is the beginning of an outline and codes (for an example)
CH – characters
a – main character
b – secondary characters
c – allies
d – antagonists
e – shape shifters
f – misc. characters
g – pets and animals
1 – name
2 – description
3 – age
4 – birthday/anniversary
5 – special power/role
6 – favorite food, etc.
7 – character arc
So, in the above, the code for a shape shifters’ description would be CHe2.
You can choose to make your outline as detailed or general as you wish. You can choose to join all your manuscripts together into one manuscript, or keep them separate. Make sure to not create a code that is specific for one book if you are searching manuscripts separately as separate documents (so the same code will work for any of your books). If you join all books into one document, you will need to consider whether you want a code to be specific for one book in the series or for all books.
Here’s where those of you who’ve created a series bible can help the rest of us. How did you organize your series bible? Or, did you create an outline of your series bible, and how is that organized?
This process seems so simple, I would not be surprised to learn that someone has already described this approach. I searched the internet and could not find it.
When I searched “Indexing Fiction,” I found Stephen Ullstrom’s blog site and an article he had written on Indexing Fiction: Thoughts and Suggestions.
Ullstrom is an expert on indexing. In his article, he states that indexing fiction is rarely done, but not a new concept. He suggests three areas where it might be useful: creating a joke index in a humous book, creating an index for historical novels that are being studied with a focus on customs, beliefs, objects, and other historical details, and finally, in an extensive series (such as sci fi or fantasy) where it is difficult for the reader to keep track of all the characters, world building, fictional cultures, and geography.
Ullstrom did not mention use of an index system for building a series bible. I contacted him and asked for any thoughts he had on the subject, and invited him to join us today to help direct the discussion. He has commitments today, but may stop by. If you’re reading this, Stephen, welcome to The Kill Zone, a great place to hang out when you add fiction to your writing projects.
For those of you planning a nonfiction project, Ullstrom offers a free 7-day email course on how to index.
Okay, time for discussion:
- Do you think this idea is worth pursuing? Or should it sink?
- What modifications can you think of to make it better?
- Would a “streamlined” approach like this make you more inclined to create that series bible you have been avoiding?