Some of you may already know about this approach, but this can be a valuable tip for those who don’t, so I’ll risk boring the savvy ones with this info.
First, keep your entire book manuscript in one electronic file—it’s a huge time-saver. I know writers who use a separate file on their computer for each chapter of their book. Each of my novels is in one file—the whole thing. It would drive me nuts to have to open up, let’s say, a file for chapter 9 in order to check on information I needed for a scene in chapter 22—for example, maybe I need to make sure where I stashed a clue back in chapter 9 that now needs to be discovered in 22.
A file-per-chapter writer friend didn’t see how I could do the whole-ms-in-one-file thing and be able to navigate successfully.
The key is using bookmarks to move quickly and easily around a complete novel manuscript.
With the Microsoft Word and WordPerfect Bookmark tools, wherever you are in a manuscript you can insert a bookmark and easily come back to it from any other place in the manuscript. I used it frequently in putting this book together to jump from where I was writing to a previous section to check on something in another section. I’d insert the letter “a” as a bookmark where I was, go to where I needed to go, and then just use the bookmark to hop back. I use “a” because it comes up at the top of the bookmark list. And you can use it over and over—when needing to do the same thing further on in the manuscript, when I went to insert a bookmark the “a” was at the top of the list and it was simple to just click “insert” and have the “a” bookmark in the new place.
Another use for bookmarks is when you’re deep into rewriting or polishing your book and it’s time to hang up your brain for the night, your eyes having become loose in their sockets. If you’re on, let’s say, line 16 on page 174 out of 263, the quick way to return to that exact spot is insert a bookmark—the “a” will do, or perhaps “here,” or whatever is easiest—save the file, and shut down. Next day, you’re at the exact spot you left off with a couple of keystrokes.
In Word you click Insert; click Bookmark; type in a letter or word in the Bookmark name box, then click the Add button. For some reason, you can’t use words separated by spaces—which leads me to sometimes insert bookmarks such as “describebarn” or “describe-barn” so I’ll know what it’s about. In WordPerfect, you click Tools, then Bookmark, then Create, which lets you type in a name and say OK.
When you next open your document, to go to a bookmark you type control+g (PC) or apple+g (Macs), select Bookmark in the dialogue box that pops up, select the bookmark you want (there’s a little arrow button to show a list of all bookmarks), click okay and you’re there.
Let’s say that you’re really struggling with a passage, or maybe just chugging through the narrative, laying track, and you know what you’ve just written will need more thought. You can bookmark it and move on, knowing you can return with ease. Using bookmarks, I will revisit material that needs honing a number of times until I’m satisfied with it. With a bookmark, it’s easy to go back and keep at it; without a bookmark, I suspect it would get far fewer visits and less thought.
Here’s another one: deep into the umpteenth rewrite of a novel, it came to me that I needed to add a key visual and emotional element to a character’s scenes in several places in the story. First, I inserted bookmarks at each scene where the new material was to be added (necklace1, necklace 2, necklace 3, etc.). Later, I jumped easily from one spot to another to make sure I had kept things consistent yet varied and had done all I needed to make the new material blend with the old. Because my first drafts tend to be on the lean side, bookmarking those additional bits of narrative enabled me to visit them after they’d cooled a little to see if they needed more work.
Because you can give each bookmark a different handle, another handy use is the ability to check back to important passages. This is especially useful for continuity checks. Let’s say that early in the novel you created a detailed description of a room, and the things in that room are important to your story when they come up again. Put a bookmark there (“the-murder” or “crimescene” or some such) and it’s easy to refer back and keep later references to that place accurate. This could be darned handy for clues in a mystery novel.
Bookmark the first page of each chapter to hop to one instantly. If you know you had Heather shoot the green bunny in chapter 4 but can’t quite remember the sequence of events when you’re referring to the shooting in chapter 16, it’s easy to check.
Marking a passage for later use or change is another bookmark use. In one of my novels, I planned to move the description I’d written for a character to an earlier chapter during the rewrite. I bookmarked that passage so that, when I got to the new description point in the rewrite, I could jump there, cut the description from its page, then jump back to where I was (because I inserted a “here” bookmark before I left that point) and paste it in. No hunting, no searching for keyword strings, etc.
Might as well slip in a plug here. This is a chapter from the writing book I’m planning to publish this fall, Jump-start Your Novel with Kitty-cats in Action. It’s based on “lessons” and edits from my blog, Flogging the Quill.
Art by tabbyrox.