poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – being consistent

with 6 comments

As I work on the Forth Draft of my novel ‘Crossing at a Walk’, I need to consult reference material.  I check the correct spelling and meaning of words, odd bits like ‘is Tim Hortons coffee spelled with an apostrophe?’ (no, it’s Tim Hortons coffee), and technical information such as the correct name for the shape of the windows of the Landing Church (‘Gothic with extended legs!’).


gothic window

The windows in the Landing Church are referred to as ‘Gothic with extended legs’. This is an old church in Upper Canada Village in Ontario.


I also keep a project-specific ‘guidance document’ (a ‘concordance’ or ‘style guide’) to make certain I am consistent about how I deal with people, objects and conversations within the text.



One of my main characters is Oliver, the former minister of the Landing Church. My ‘guidance document’ reminds me that Oliver always says ‘graveyard’ rather than ‘cemetery’.


A ‘guidance document’ is a useful tool to prepare from the beginning of writing a longer piece of fiction.  It provides a set of rules to follow, to help me remember how I have previously dealt with many aspects of the book.  In dialogue, it tells me if a particular character uses the word ‘dinner’ or ‘supper’.  It reminds me that I put all business names in italics. It tells me to use ‘towards’ instead of ‘toward’ (the words are interchangeable and I often can’t remember which of the two I have typically used).  It means I don’t have to remember the title of Sadie’s university thesis: ‘Consideration of the Contribution of Writers to the Field of Cinematography’.  It also tells me details about the characters: Pat has a brother; Minnie has bright red hair; Reid’s best seller was titled ‘No Small Truck’.


Some of the items I will only ever use once.  Often I have to look up information again and again, so I keep my ‘guidance document’ file open whenever I am working on the novel.



Matt Cromwell is a theatre student participating in the first writing weekend at Sadie’s writing retreat. The ‘guidance document’ reminds me Matt’s eyes are blue, he is 24 and he is a star-gazer in his spare time.


You may wonder why I would forget these things.  Some items ensure consistency between my two books. In dealing with 70,000 words and 33 characters, I don’t need to keep everything in my head if I keep my ‘guidance document’ up to date.


Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 17, 2015 at 5:56 pm

6 Responses

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  1. So interesting! I must admit, I’ve sometimes read books with lots of characters where I’ve needed to keep notes of who was called what, and what their relationship was to each other. Isn’t that window beautiful in the picture of the church? Stephanie.

    Liked by 1 person


    April 19, 2015 at 8:00 am

    • Hi I also love that window, with its white detailing. Upper Canada Village in Ontario is a whole community set up the way it was in the 1800s. Jane


      jane tims

      April 19, 2015 at 8:36 am

  2. I’ve never heard of a guidance document like the one you describe, but then I’ve never tried to write a novel. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a guidance document for our real lives?

    Liked by 1 person

    Steve Schwartzman

    April 18, 2015 at 8:54 am

    • Hi. Ha! A great idea, but I think I probably have one, in the form of my library of books! What about a flora for life … we could key out the symptoms, end up with a solution! Jane


      jane tims

      April 18, 2015 at 10:28 am

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