What is an information guide?
An information guide is a much like a style guide. A style guide is a set of rules and guidelines for a publication. Typical style guides focus on issues such as grammar, usage, spelling and capitalization. When creating a guide for a novel, however, there many additional things to keep track of such as character names, character histories, plot points, place names and descriptions. This is why I prefer to think of the guide for a novel as more of an informational guide than a style guide. It is a collection of all the key information in your novel.
Why should I keep an information guide?
Keeping track of a novel length work is a difficult task. Novels feature multiple characters and places, plot developments that can change relationships between characters, and in many cases (especially science fiction, fantasy or historical pieces) complex rules for how people interact or for the equipment they use. If you have a place where you can keep track of these things, it will prevent inconsistencies within the novel, which will help keep your story believable.
How should I format my information guide?
Different systems work for different people. If you like to work with pen and paper, it is perfectly fine to create a notebook and write things down as you read. Spreadsheet programs and word processors are also perfectly workable solutions. For my project, I am using Microsoft OneNote, which I have discussed before.
Whatever medium you choose, you will want to create a series of headings and subheadings for the different categories that you want to keep track of. General categories include spelling and usage, relationships, characters, locations and plot. If you have been taking notes as you read and edited your novel, this is a way that you can now organize those notes into a useful document.
How do I use the information guide?
Once the information is created, you should consult it whenever you have any questions. You should also use it in future edits to revise for consistency. You should also be prepared to make changes as you move along. As long as you are still making changes to your novel, you shouldn’t consider your information guide complete. It is a living document that sets the rules for your novel, but is also flexible enough to be revised when you make changes to your novel.